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Ireland might decriminalise abortions, so let's talk about Australia's own abortion laws

The Emerald Isle legalised same-sex marriage before us and looks like they could pip us to the post with reproductive rights too.

By Kate Wagner

After months of campaigning, Irish constituents will have their say on some of the strictest abortion laws in the world. Their constitution as it stands effectively bans terminations. The 8th amendment essentially gives an unborn foetus the same rights as the pregnant woman, barring very specific cases when there is a threat to the mother's life.

Given the country's deeply religious roots, the fact criminalising abortion is enshrined in their constitution may not be shocking, but it is deeply troubling.

On top of restricting female autonomy, banning abortions doesn't actually stop them; it merely forces women to seek illegal services or even measures more likely to result in death.

Irish people around the world are flying back to vote in the monumental referendum, sparking the hashtag #hometovote.

Prepare yourself: they're real tear-jerkers.

Those wanting to #Savethe8th insist women will tap into "abortion on demand", but a study from 2016 proves in countries where abortion is legal on a woman's request, 34 women in every 1,000 have one as opposed to the 37 women in every 1,000 in countries where abortions are always illegal or legal only if a woman's life is in danger.

"Restrictions make it more likely that women will turn to unsafe practitioners, whose methods range from counterfeit drugs to industrial poisons or wire coathangers," explained a spokesperson for Marie Stopes International when the study was released.

"Every 11 minutes, a woman dies from complications related to unsafe abortion. In 2016, this is unacceptable and entirely preventable."

The devastating ramifications of Ireland's strict abortion laws were proven by the death of an Indian woman denied a termination while in the country.

After rushing to hospital in severe pain, Savita Halappanavar was told she was miscarrying. After returning to hospital three times and pleading for an abortion three times, Halappanavar and her husband were told: "This is a Catholic country – we cannot terminate because the foetus is still alive."

The 31-year-old died seven days after she was first admitted to hospital despite pleading that as Hindus, they were not morally opposed to the abortion that would have saved her life.

Her death caused such outrage that in 2013 the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed into law. This meant abortion was legalised in one of three scenarios: risk of loss of life from physical illness, risk of loss of life from physical illness in emergency, or risk of loss of life from suicide.

Like Ireland, Paraguay bans abortions except in cases where the pregnancy endangers the mother's life, but a case in 2015 drew ire from the international community.

A ten-year-old girl was allegedly raped by her stepfather and fell pregnant. The stepfather was arrested, the girl's mother charged with negligence, but still she was denied an abortion by the powers that be.

A young child — who was still drawing pictures with crayons when visited by Amnesty International — was forced to give birth by caesarean. She was just one of 684 girls aged between 10 and 14 to give birth in the most Catholic country that year.

The fact she didn't die doesn't negate that Paraguayan doctors and authorities gambled the life of a child rape victim by forcing her to go through with an extremely risky pregnancy, both mentally and physically.

In Australia, it's easy to distance ourselves from such backwards laws; women can easily have an abortion if they need to, right?

Actually, it differs drastically from state to state — from inducing a miscarriage with RU486 at home alone, to needing approval from two doctors before terminating or even facing imprisonment, Australia is a long way from wearing a pro-choice hat.

In Queensland and New South Wales, abortion is in the criminal code, meaning both women undergoing terminations and doctors administering them can be liable for years in jail. While there may be a gap between what happens in the real world and legislation, it's terrifying to think you could go to jail for seven years.

When reform bills were introduced to the respective states' parliament last year, 17 years into the 21st century, they were rejected.

Australian social media lit up with people chastising women for "taking the easy way out" — a mind-numbingly ignorant argument of what could be an incredibly complex situation.

To further confuse the situation, women in NSW, QLD, WA and Tassie can access RU486, an abortion pill, to terminate a pregnancy at home up to eight weeks.

In other states, the practice isn't illegal, but the different stipulations are enough to make your head spin.
Though legal in South Australia, it must be performed in a hospital and only have two separate doctorsdetermine the pregnancy would be harmful to the woman's health, or there's risk the child could be severely handicapped, physically or mentally.

In WA, abortions are legal up to 20 weeks and only a medical practitioner, not the patient, faces fines if the termination is deemed "unlawful". After 20 weeks, a woman needs approval from two doctors on a panel of at least 6 medical practitioners.

You only have 14 weeks of legality in the NT, and only if the pregnancy is considered a physical or mental harm to the patient, or if there is risk of the child being seriously physically or mentally handicapped.

In Victoria, it's legal in the first 24 weeks. After that, one practitioner must determine if an abortion is in the patient's best interests.

The practice was decriminalised in Tasmania in 2013, now legal up to 16 weeks and in ACT it isn't illegal at all, but must be performed in a hospital.

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Ireland has a dark past when it comes to their treatment of "fallen women", but this referendum is finally confronting centuries of stigma, humiliation, pain and fear experienced by women — a recognition men have always been conspicuously absent from the ridicule.

We stand in solidarity with Irish women today and ask, isn't it time for Australia to follow suit?