There is a woman who is too sick to leave her bed, and there is a fire. She is worried, but the fire is in the house at other end of the terrace, and the firefighters are here.
She asks to be evacuated, but the firefighters remind her that she lives in Ireland, where a woman cannot have an evacuation unless there is a big risk to her life.
That’s The Rule.
The firefighters want to help, but they say it’s hard to know what “big” means. Would a lit match be a big risk? After all, a match can light a candle or start a forest fire. And if anyone breaks The Rule, they can spend 14 years in prison, which is…big!
So they wait, just to be sure. They check in on her from time to time, but mostly she is alone and scared, as the fire moves from house to house, until, finally, it is downstairs. Then, the firefighters try to save her, but they have waited too long, and she dies.
A lot of people are very angry and they want to get rid of The Rule. But some people want to keep it. The Keepers say that it wasn’t The Rule that killed her, it was the fire.
A firefighting expert says that if she had been evacuated when she asked she would have survived. Another firefighting expert says that women are so scared The Rule that they are fighting fires on their own, and it won’t be long until one of those women dies too.
The Keepers say that we have one of the best firefighting services in the world, but the experts who run that service say they also want to get rid of The Rule, so they can be free to decide how best to do their jobs – which everyone agrees they are usually very good at.
One firefighting expert – I will call her Louise – says that other women have died because of The Rule, and that it is a lie to say otherwise.
However, Eamonn, a retired firefighting expert, says that no woman has ever been harmed by The Rule, but when he is asked about two women, he says he can’t remember one, and that he doesn’t know much about the other.
A man called John, who is not an expert in anything, says that these complicated firefighting situations are a tiny percentage. He is hoping that by taking a small number out of his bum and showing it to people, that it will make them forget about the real people behind that number, which is a trick that sometimes works.
Because of The Rule, Irish women often have to call on English firefighters to help, which is very expensive, and the English firefighters say that there may come a day when they don’t have enough firefighters to keep helping Irish women, so they think we should get rid of The Rule too…
…but all of this is nonsense. Of course it is. We would never dream of coming up with a rule that ties firefighters’ hands like that, and yet, that is what the 8th amendment, and the legislation that flows from it, does to our obstetricians.
We should never have a rule that forces any Irish emergency service to play chicken with a woman’s life. And I understand that some people think The Rule we have actually saves lives. It doesn’t, and we might disagree about that, but that should not be a constitutional argument.
You might not want abortion on demand, but you might still think that in cases of fatal fetal diagnosis, or rape, or cancer that we should legislate to help those women, because, like most people, you have compassion. But legislators and doctors cannot do much to help, because the 8th is too blunt an instrument with which to make such sharp distinctions.
By voting no, you will not stop abortion on demand in this country: it will carry on, as it does, off our soil, or by women taking pills they bought online, alone and scared. And we will continue to turn our backs on Irish women, in the worst moments of their lives. At least the country next door has the good grace to treat those women with the dignity they deserve, and not as mere vessels. When it comes to caring properly for these women, we are an outlier among civilised countries. It is no wonder that the UN calls us cruel and inhumane. It is with good reason.
And, have you considered this: what if Savita, or a woman in a similar situation, had a termination when she first asked, and a pro-life nurse reported the doctor to the Gardaí? There would surely be people who work for the No campaign today who would say that the doctor should be imprisoned. In Facebook comments, people would write anecdotes about friends in similar situations who survived and went on to have healthy babies. There would even be a few obstetricians who would say that, in their professional judgment, they didn’t think there was a substantial enough risk to the woman’s life to terminate. Because – let’s be honest about this – it is not about best medical practice for some people. It is about ideology.
I think – I hope – that for most people, their ideology would not survive the fire. You might consider yourself ideologically pro-life, but if someone you loved were even in a little bit of danger or distress, you would want them to be helped. You certainly wouldn’t want anyone to wait until the danger was “big” enough, would you? Imagine your daughter died because a “pro-life” doctor had set a very high bar for what they considered to be a substantial risk? Imagine your daughter was crying for help, only to be told, “I’m sorry, this is a Catholic country.” You would roar from the rooftops, because you would understand all too well that one woman’s death is one too many.
We must vote to repeal.
Knowing what we know, we cannot in good conscience keep The Rule.