We watched the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale this week, and it was very difficult not to compare and contrast Gilead with Ireland. In Ireland, a pregnant woman cannot have an abortion until her life is at risk. She can be imprisoned for 14 years if she attempts to procure an abortion. She has virtually no autonomy during pregnancy and if the State so desires, she can be taken to court during pregnancy and full legal representation granted to her foetus. She is essentially treated as a handmaid, all because of hysteria fuelled by Roe v. Wade.
Of course, there had always been a don’t ask, don’t tell policy around women, their wombs and their choices. Rich women like me could get the name of an accommodating doctor through a friend and pay a large sum for a safe D&C. Poor women got the name of a local woman who was known to provide the required services and took their chances on their kitchen tables. And women, after 1983, continued making their trips to the UK for medical services. ‘Going to England’ was a nod and a wink to the notion that Ireland didn’t really think too deeply about what women wanted, but if the really wanted it no one would stop them.
Then suddenly there was a court case, wherein the State took a 14 year old child, pregnant following rape, to the High Court of our land, a place of wigs and polished wood that smells of bureaucracy and judgment. The State didn’t want this girl to have an abortion. The State wanted to force her to bear the child of her rapist. The Supreme Court decided no, a suicidal child shouldn’t have to bear the child of the man who raped her, the State should allow her to have an abortion because her life was at risk.
And a lot of people huffed and puffed and thought it was indeed a bit mad that women and children should be brought to court if they wanted abortions, and were probably a bit annoyed that the girl didn’t just have her abortion in England and maybe thought secretly her parents shouldn’t have caused a fuss by asking a policeman if the foetal remains could be used as evidence. Making a show of us, they said.
So we huffed and puffed a bit more and the State held another referendum, on three proposed constitutional amendments. One was about not preventing women from travelling, one was on the right to information on abortion. And the third wanted to stop children like Ms X, who’s life was at risk from suicide, from being able to get abortions if they couldn’t slink off elsewhere.
The third didn’t pass. But for 21 years, the State did nothing about legislating for abortion in those cases where children and women are at risk of death from suicide and are allowed to have abortions here. In 2013, the Government got around to it and passed a law regulating the grounds on which women and children can have abortions.
And we heard about floodgates and loving both and all the usual guff we’ve heard for the past three decades and before because to be perfectly bloody honest about it Ireland hasn’t trusted women since the foundation of the State and didn’t intend to start now. Ireland forces any pregnant women or children who can’t travel outside the state to stay pregnant, and that’s where we are unless you’re at risk of dying.
So if you’re looking for somewhere that makes you feel like a handmaid, get pregnant, come to Ireland and get the real Gilead Experience. You might not get any scans during pregnancy, because what can you do if there’s a problem anyway? You might object to a nurse breaking your waters, but she knows best and you have no say. You might be taken to court by the State and given no choice in the delivery of your baby, but sure we love both.