The Truth About Ireland’s Abortion Law

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In a recent set of articles, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat once again puts his foot in his mouth when he argues that abortion restrictions can be compatible with gender equality. To illustrate his point, he cites countries in Europe, where second- and third-trimester abortions are restricted, and is particularly obsessed with Ireland, where abortion is banned, asking, “If abortion rights and easy abortion access are essential to female advancement, why have Irish women advanced without them?”

But Mr. Douthat is not only ignoring the reality of a women’s lives in Ireland, he misconstrues Ireland’s abortion law, overlooking the suffering it inflicts on women—most of which is too subtle to appear in maternal health statistics.

For one, abortion is hugely stigmatized in Ireland. Scores of Irish women who have travelled for abortion testify to the humiliation and shame they have experienced—forced to leave their own country only to assert their right to fundamental health care. This is to say nothing of the health consequences that delayed care implies, or the financial toll that traveling for health services in another country takes on women and families.

Second, Mr. Douthat’s suggestion that most women in Ireland have the option of simply going elsewhere to obtain an abortion is completely indifferent to economic inequality. Women who are unable to travel—poor, young, in state custody, or otherwise marginalized—are forced to give birth, creating a two-class system where women without resources are also without choice.

Far from assuring us that abortion restrictions are harmless, Ireland actually shows us that women can scarcely hope for dignity, let alone equality, in places that deprive them of essential healthcare.