OK, look folks, it’s Referendum week and I really don’t feel like I have any option but to make one last desperate plea for a YES vote this coming Friday because, as so many commentators have said, this really is a once in a generation vote and as such its importance simply cannot be overstated.
I realise there are other significant public issues of concern right now, not least the ongoing cervical check scandal and the associated issues but here’s the thing; they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Vicky Phelan, the brave woman whose willingness to lay her tragedy bare so that this scandal would be aired, articulated that so perfectly in her tweet last week where she called for a YES vote on the basis that “we must place women at the centre of their own care and allow us to make the choice about our own care.”
Last week on here I wrote about Cervical Check. In another recent column I wrote about the National Maternity Hospital and the religious control issues at play there. I mentioned how women’s healthcare, particularly when it comes to anything below the bellybutton, has always been second rate.
By second rate I mean, there is almost some other influencing factor that is considered before the actual women (or sometimes girl) facing whatever situation confronts her.
For too many years in this country for the many young girls and women, who found themselves pregnant outside of wedlock, the primary consideration was the supposed shame that would ensue; shame on both her and her family.
A shame borne from an overbearing Church which controlled society to the point that families shunned their own children because they had brought ‘shame’ on the family. In too many of those cases those girls were sent into the care of church run Mother and Baby homes or Magdalene Laundries.
I don’t have to go into the detail of the atrocities that were perpetrated against those girls and women in those institutions but suffice to say, the health of those girls and women, both through pregnancy and after, was not considered important.
There is a list of examples of the kind of second rate healthcare for women that exists in Ireland and a short column just doesn’t allow for detail to be provided but I could mention the Hepatitis C scandal, the symphysiotomy scandal, I could even talk about how we had to fight to get access to bloody tampons for Christ’s sake and how a Bishop decried them on the basis that they might encourage sexual activity.
That’s before I’d get into talking about how we were denied contraception should any such sexual activity occur (If I could insert emoji’s here there’d be serious eye-roll emoji activity).
The list would be endless but primary among the horrors would be the continuation of a regime of forced pregnancy. Of continuing to enslave hordes of Irish women in a macabre experiment which sees women become something less than human the moment they become pregnant. They go from being a female person to an incubation machine which other people have the remote control for.
Other people are handed the power to determine how this incubation machine must operate. During the public hearings of the all-party Oireachtas Committee on the 8th, veteran anti-choice lawyer William Binchy was put on the spot about whether he believed women should have an equal right to healthcare. He emphatically said yes.
When he was further asked if he believed women had an equal right to healthcare when pregnant he procrastinated. Because the fact of the matter is, no matter which way you dress it up, a NO vote quite simply ensures that a pregnant person will not have equal access to healthcare.
I absolutely respect a person’s choice to vote No. I understand people have reservations and concerns about abortion. In fact I would suggest that most people have reservations about abortion. It is never something that is taken lightly.
However while I respect people’s right to vote whichever way they choose, I do believe it’s important that the hyperbole is removed from the conversation and the basic facts of what that vote means is laid bare; a NO vote is a vote for women to continue to be treated as second-class citizens in our healthcare system and to be denied equal access to healthcare.
A YES vote is recognition that even though you, if faced with a situation, may make an entirely different choice to another woman, you would not seek to impose what’s right for you on her. A NO vote is a vote of control, a YES vote is a vote of compassion and understanding.
And lad…please get out and vote on Friday. We need you.
Anne Marie McNally is Social Democrats Political Director and General Election candidate for Dublin Mid-West.
Top pic: Rollingnews