Partnering with Amnesty helped us globalize our campaign to change Ireland's abortion laws
When Amnesty activists in Ireland said “She is #notacriminal” for needing an abortion, Gaye Edwards was standing with them. She tells us what the campaign has meant to her.
In September 2014, Amnesty contacted Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) Ireland – the organization I belong to. They wanted to know if any of us were prepared to speak at the launch of their report She is not a criminal, part of Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign.
I had already seen how other women and men from our group had been so selfless in telling their stories. So when the call came, I felt it was time for me to do likewise.
It’s been 15 years since I lost my first baby, Joshua, to anencephaly (where part of the scalp, skull and brain are missing). However, it’s only been four years since I became active with TFMR Ireland, a group of parents who have received diagnoses of fatal foetal anomalies but have been denied our chosen care paths in Ireland.
The only treatment being offered by Irish hospitals was, and still is, to continue with a doomed pregnancy.
Finding the courage to reach out
Fifteen years ago, fatal foetal anomalies were only ever spoken of in hushed tones, if at all. But one day I saw the founder members of TFMR on the Late Late Show, an Irish national talk show. Here were three women, all of whom had been affected by fatal foetal anomaly, and all of whom were speaking openly about their decision to terminate their pregnancies. For me, that was the lightbulb moment.
I admired their bravery, but that admiration was tinged with shame – that I had not done enough to stop them and others like them from enduring the same lack of choice that I had. I resolved there and then to reach out to them, and to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to effect the necessary change.
My experience was from over a decade ago – I had been forced to travel for a termination because the law forbade me to have one in Ireland, even though my pregnancy had no future. Despite my appealing to all members of government to find a solution to this, nothing changed. The only treatment being offered by Irish hospitals was, and still is, to continue with a doomed pregnancy.
Our collaboration with Amnesty gave me the opportunity to tell my story to leaders in Ireland and abroad.
Participating in the My Body My Rights campaign has given TFMR a reach we could never have hoped for. I had already experienced that a lone voice has little impact. But our collaboration with Amnesty gave me the opportunity to tell my story and help raise awareness of the Irish context to leaders in Ireland and abroad.
I like to think that our collective input influenced the recommendations that so many UN member states made when Ireland’s human rights record came under review in May 2016. Together, they called on Ireland to change its highly restrictive abortion laws. Working with Amnesty has also given weight to our assertion that we are not criminals, and that by denying us treatment in our own country, Ireland is violating our human rights.
I feel that sharing my experience has helped to spark a public discourse in Ireland which was previously absent. The Irish people are getting a better understanding of how the 8th Amendment to the Constitution (which puts the right to life of the foetus on equal footing with that of the woman), affects not only people in circumstances like mine, but in other circumstances too. It is no longer a simple black and white argument, but a rich and nuanced discussion, full of the complexity of real-life situations.
The majority of Irish people are caring and compassionate, and don't want suffering to continue. This needs to be reflected in our laws. I have realised from my interactions with Amnesty that these views are shared by people all over the world. Witnessing their support for me has been both humbling and uplifting.
Working with Amnesty has also given weight to our assertion that we are not criminals...
Easier to talk openly
In my own experience, some older, more conservative relatives had expressed sympathy and support for my husband and me as we tried to navigate our own tragedy. Yet they never discussed the injustice of it with anyone else as the subject of abortion has always been considered taboo. Now, however, they share our story freely, and are proud of our quest for justice.
So, what next? Well I think the short answer is "more of the same!" We will continue to tell our stories in order to help educate people generally about the nature of fatal foetal anomalies.
We will continue to tell our stories to help women who have suffered losses in secret, realize that they did nothing wrong – that they are not criminals, and they are not alone.
We will continue all this until we have a legal and social environment that respects women’s choices and no longer punishes tragedy.
We will continue to tell our stories... until we have a legal and social environment that respects women’s choices and no longer punishes tragedy.