By Rita Harrold
Banning abortion does not stop it from happening, it just makes it more difficult and dangerous to access. According to the World Health Organisation, 21.6 million women experience an unsafe abortion worldwide each year. Deaths due to unsafe abortions remain close to 13% of all maternal deaths. The so-called “pro-life” campaigners fighting constantly to keep abortion illegal in Ireland don’t seem too bothered by this.
What is “Women on Web”?
The only reason we have not had countless deaths in Ireland is because of the safety valve of the UK. Now under the pressures of austerity and a jobs crisis, along with the new information out there on the internet, women are having safe, illegal abortions at home using the abortion pill.
Women On Web (WOW) (www.womenonweb.org) is the brain child of Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch doctor and activist. Women on Waves sailed a ship to Ireland in 2001 in an attempt to take women out into international waters to circumvent Ireland’s abortion ban, the 8th amendment to the constitution. But one ship could not help the thousands of women around the world who need access to safe abortions where they are illegal. WOW was set up to utilise the internet to spread information on how to have a safe abortion and to establish networks assisting in getting the necessary pills to women who need them.
Women’s bodily autonomy
In the UK and other places where abortion is legal and medical (non-surgical, with pills) abortions are used, women usually come to a clinic and talk to a medical professional in person. Womenonweb.org replaces this face to face consultation with an online consultation with a pro-choice doctor. The philosophy behind this is that women are capable of accessing their own bodies and diagnosing their own pregnancies. These pills are safe. They are on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines and there are very few reasons you wouldn’t be able to use them safely.
Mifepristone and Misoprostol are used to induce medical abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The first pill is taken on day one and often has no visible side effects. It terminates the pregnancy. The second pills are taken hours later, placed between the gum and cheek, inside
the vagina or under the tongue. These pills cause contractions.
Bleeding, pain, nausea and intense cramping are all normal but usually pass as soon as the abortion has been successful. Heavy bleeding occurs with less than 1% of medical abortions. If this or any other complication arises women should go to a hospital. A medical abortion presents in the same way as a natural miscarriage. If pills were inserted into the vagina they should be removed before going to the hospital. A doctor will not be able to tell that you deliberately caused the miscarriage.
Repeal the 8th amendment
WOW give practical assistance to women to put power back into their hands over their bodies and lives. ROSA was central to organising the Abortion Pill Train on 28 October in which activists ordered pills from WOW and travelled to Belfast to collect the pills that had been delivered to friends’ addresses. These pills are also illegal in the North but WOW posts the pills there for women in the North and South.
That the heroism of WOW is still necessary in Ireland in 2014 is a disgrace. We need to repeal the 8th. A referendum should take place alongside other referenda planned for 2015.
An early medical abortion would have saved “Miss Y” the extreme abuse she faced from the Irish State. These pills should be available in Ireland along with other abortion services. As with the Abortion PIll Train that emulated the Contraceptive Train of 1971, we need to break unjust laws and really challenge the establishment. A mass campaign, aimed at Labour in particular, demanding our democratic right to lift the abortion ban now is what’s needed. To help with the fight, join ROSA’s campaign to repeal the 8th in spring 2015.