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The Eighth Amendment: How it affects People with Chronic Illnesses Part II

The Eighth Amendment affects people who have the ability to become pregnant In Ireland.

The Eighth Amendment states that the foetus has the same rights as the person who is pregnant. Ireland and Malta are the last two European countries where abortion hasn’t been made legal. The Eighth Amendment was added to the Irish Constitution in 1983. It means that abortion services are unavailable in Ireland. Even in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Approximately 12 Irish people per day are forced to travel to the UK to have an abortion.

Last week we discussed how the Eighth Amendment affected women during pregnancy and birth. This week we are going to explore how the Eighth affects people who are sick and have the ability to become pregnant.

Fellow blogger, Cripple, Baby! has kindly allowed me to share her story. Catherine like me, has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

How the Eighth Amendment could have affected Catherine with Cancer:

For me, the Eighth Amendment brings to mind of when I was diagnosed with cancer, back in 2013.

No I was not pregnant, no I was not planning to become pregnant, and no I was not planning on having an abortion. Yet the tone was set for many a discussion around such subjects, the very minute I was diagnosed.

One might assume this conversation would take the form of discussing options for egg preservation, in case of future fertility problems. Although this was never mentioned really, only glossed over. A simple “I’m sure you’ll be ok” was all that was given in this respect.

My period was a good sign

Something I realised was vastly different from the experiences of UK cancer patients, through discussions on support forums. I can only assume such options aren’t granted free by the HSE, and perhaps some doctors just see it all as a bit “icky”? I really have no idea. In fairness, I never pushed the issue. The only guidance I was given with that side of things was the nurse whispering to me during chemotherapy inquiring about my periods, stating that a regular flow was a good sign at least.

No, this was not the route of the pregnancy conversation. The one and only topic was around what would happen if I became pregnant during my treatment.

Of course I was advised to use all the contraception possible, to not purposely become pregnant during this time obviously, that would be insane. But as we all know, even with all the contraption in the world shit happens.

In this scenario the woman has two choices (in other countries) continue the pregnancy, reduce your treatment (or not, but it would be advised) or plan a termination, in order to give yourself the best chance of survival. Neither option is easy. Yet women make these choices for themselves, all around the world, every single day. And we trust they know what is best for them. Neither case in this regard deserves judgement, they are and should be, case-by-case decisions made by the women themselves and fully supported by both medical staff and loved ones.

The hypothetical foetus

So when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2013, I was quickly informed of what would happen if I became pregnant. They would reduce the treatment in order to give the foetus the best chance of survival. At first this seems like just good advice, a reassurance that if needs be they will do what they can to help me. I am a young woman of child-bearing age, so it’s all relevant. But this mantra was repeated again and again during my treatment, by various medical care professionals. Many a conversation about saving the life of my hypothetical foetus. To get the point across that in this scenario, in this country, I would have no choice.

It’s something I’ve looked back on often. Sometimes with amusement, but mostly with dismay. It just makes me feel very uneasy. My life is more important than a hypothetical, or real, foetus. The life of a fully grown adult is not equal to that of a zygote. Before we even bring choice into it, that’s simply the case.

As heartbreaking as that can seem in situations where a pregnancy is not viable, or comes with a hefty price. This statement excludes cases of late-term “abortions” due to fatal fetal abnormalities, as we all know that late-term “abortions” are simply not done for the craic (in any country) and any further explanation on that would frankly be stupid and I hope unnecessary. When a matured, wanted foetus is dying in its mother’s womb, it’s horrendous for the parents. It’s not something to be mocked, or mislabeled. And it certainly isn’t something Irish parents should have to deal with, alone, in a different country. A financial burden on top of saying goodbye to their child in peace.

Shit happens

Luckily I finished my treatments without any accidents. But shit does happen. It happens to Irish women each and every day. So I have to put myself in their shoes. What would I have done? Could I have been able to access medical support after coming home from England? Would I financially be able to even afford a termination? Is it possible that I would I be held by the state if I informed my doctors of my wishes? Would I even feel comfortable telling loved ones? Looking at such a broad issue, simply in my own terms, my own real experiences, just  does not cut it. And it shouldn’t cut it for anyone.

To truly look at this Eighth amendment and the restrictions it poses on Irish women rationally, we must not only look at it from how our own lives have gone to date. We must ask ourselves, “what if…?”. This is only one, small scenario that I can place myself in, even though it did not happen to me. Even though (under normal circumstances) I really don’t think I would ever choose an abortion in my life time. There are so many scenarios; so many stories that are not our own.

Abortion isn’t always an easy option but many have no regrets and know it’s the right choice for them; for all sorts of reasons that are none of our business. Many also have no choice.

No one can 100%, truly say “I will never terminate a pregnancy”, even when it seems completely unthinkable in our current lives shit happens.

Criminalising abortion doesn't stop abortion. The Eighth Amendment bans SAFE abortion. Click To Tweet

How the Eighth Amendment could affect Laura with Psoriasis:

I have psoriasis. I’ve had it since I was nine, I’m 30 now. It had peaks and troughs but since being an adult it has more or less stayed the same. It’s not just flaky skin that’s itchy. It’s unsightly red blotches all over. The Psoriasis is on my face, breasts and bottom. No where is safe.

It has affected my self-esteem greatly and at times my physical health when it cracks and bleeds. When I was 15 it was so bad on my arms that I couldn’t raise them further than my chest and my mother had to dress me. That was pretty humiliating.

I’ve been called several names because of it ‘scabby’ being the most popular and nothing makes me retreat to being a child who wants their mother, than an adult who stares.
I’ve had several treatments and have tried many diets and none have worked for an extended period of time. The most relief I had with these treatments was three months.

Hope for relief

So, this year I was informed I was a suitable candidate for a series of injections. These are relatively new. The injections work by changing how your immune system produces skin cells. Psoriasis is an overproduction of skin cells.

One of the main side effects is that my immune system will be lower than the average person. I will be more likely to get a cold/flu and it viruses and illnesses will be harder to shift.

The biggest warning I got was not to get pregnant. I probably wouldn’t carry full term and if I did, we both would have lasting damage. I’m a married woman and perform my ‘wifely duties’ as a certain religious organisation calls it. We use two types of protection but nothing is 100% safe.

This is why the Eighth Amendment needs to be repealed. If I were to get pregnant it could be very detrimental to my health and the foetus. I also know, from having relatives with these conditions, that I couldn’t care for a special needs baby, while ill myself. It would be a likely scenario if I were to have a baby.

Potential pregnancy

My injections are life long, so I can’t get pregnant at all. My health is more important than a foetus. I have a husband and family and friends.

If I were to get pregnant, I would be devastated, particularly as I use two methods of contraception. I would have to arrange an abortion and that would be very upsetting.

Nobody likes having to get an abortion but I firmly believe my health and well-being are more important.

I also suffer with my mental health and to be honest, I’d be afraid that pregnancy would make it worse, due to the impact it would have on my life. My physical and mental health would be put on a back burner if I were to get pregnant under the Eighth Amendment.

I know I would be pressured to put the foetus’ health and needs before my own, even before it’s born. Sometimes I struggle to care for myself, never mind a helpless baby.

People have asked me if I can come off my medication to have children. The truth is, I don’t want to. It may be selfish but I want a quality of life for myself and not having children is a side effect of that. I did initially grieve before starting treatment but now I am fine with that decision. A door has closed but a new one has opened and so far, I haven’t looked back.

No woman has an abortion for fun. —Elizabeth Joan Smith Click To Tweet

How the Eighth Amendment could affect me:

During my last pregnancy, I was in a wheelchair from the first trimester until my daughter was three-month old. Having EDS, there are some risks involved in pregnancy. You are at risk of pre term labour, miscarriage and of hemorrhaging, to name but a few issues. I lost my son’s twin at about seven weeks into my first pregnancy.

Almost immediately into my second pregnancy my pelvis became an issue. Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) is a pretty common condition during pregnancy; but not early on in pregnancy. Most women complain of the pain in their groin, back, legs and hips in their last trimester and usually manage with crutches.

The foetus growing inside me was just two inches when my body turned against me. The pain was unreal. I have put up with dislocated joints-even popping them back in myself but this was something else. I could not physically walk without crying. Some days I did try not to use it in order to stay mobile and avoid muscle wastage but even then I had to use special crutches. For days after I attempted walking I would be stuck in bed screaming in pain. Before pregnancy, I was on opiates and they barely took the edge of my chronic pain.

My waters broke weeks before I was due to give birth. I went into the maternity hospital and told them I felt a pop and a trickle. So they examined me and came to the conclusion that my waters hadn’t broken. I went for an appointment in the high risk clinic a couple of weeks later and mentioned baby had been a bit quiet. So they scanned me and lo and behold, half of my waters were gone. So I was induced that night.

Traumatic birth

I was put on IV antibiotics to prevent infection. We were both pretty lucky we hadn’t picked up an infection with my waters leaking.

Several hours later I gave birth but then I started to feel very unwell. I was vomiting and passing out. I was having a massive bleed and the midwives were calling for blood. Luckily, they stopped the bleeding on time and I lost half my blood volume. It took a year and high doses of iron for me to feel “normal” again. The whole experience traumatised me.

Three months and a lot of hard work and I got myself out of the wheelchair for the most part. I still have to use it if I am out of the house for an extended period of time. My pelvis is almost always dislocated and affects my back and legs as well.

Pregnancy could leave me permanently immobile

Progesterone plays a massive role with my condition as it causes my joints to become even more lax. If I were to get pregnant again, it is very, very likely that I will not be so lucky (not so much luck as I put in a tonne of work) to get out of the wheelchair. I have been warned not to get pregnant again. The contraception I am on at the moment but it will have to come out as it is affecting my health. I can not have any “unnecessary” surgery like a tube ligation or hysterectomy. A C Section can not be performed without it being an emergency because I am susceptible to infection, stitches don’t hold well and I would suffer with chronic regional pain on top of the wide-spread chronic pain I suffer with now.

I have two children. I have a husband who is my carer. He does almost all the cooking and the cleaning while looking after our two children and a budding business. There are days where he must help me get out of the shower and even dress me.

If I were to have another baby, I would never have a “good day”. I would be in even more pain than I am in now. An American doctor who used to be an Oncologist has stated that EDS would be one of the top three most painful conditions to live with.

Abortion would be the best decision for our family

I can not put myself in more pain. It is not possible to put my family through more than what they already experience. I have to be a mother to the children I have now

. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is an inherited condition. My children have a 50/50 chance of having this condition. Both our son and daughter have EDS. Our two-year old daughter is more affected than my son-suffering three dislocations already. I can’t subject another child to this life of pain. I will not. Accidents happen and if I were to get pregnant accidentally, I would have to have an abortion no ifs or buts.

Travelling for any amount of time leaves me bed/couch bound for days. Stress causes my symptoms to flare. If I should need to have an abortion, I should be able to go to my local hospital, have the procedure and go home that night to my own bed, to be surrounded by my family. I should be able to be open about what had just happened and not hide it in shame. I would be making the right decision for my family. The family that is living and breathing.

Up until pretty recently, I was anti choice. It was when I had to travel to the UK for treatment not available in Ireland that my mind was truly changed. I empathised with all the Irish women who had to travel. I cried at the thought of these women being alone because their partners couldn’t get the day off work or because they were raped and didn’t want to tell anyone.

The Eighth Amendment needs to go.

I’m fighting for repeal of the Eighth Amendment not just for me, but for my daughter. EDS gets worse when a girl hits puberty and most of the time, during pregnancy. If she’s already this affected now, it does not bear thinking of how the condition will manifest later on in life. She needs to have bodily autonomy. This condition takes away so many freedoms over our bodies, we do not need anything else taken away from us.

I have started a Facebook page, Disabled People for Choice in Ireland to show the world that despite what the anti-choice might think, there are those with disabilities who believe in choice, no matter the situation.

You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes… Click To Tweet

Some facts from the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland:

  1. The Eighth Amendment equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo.
  2. The vast majority of women who want and need abortions are unable to access them in Ireland under interpretations of this law.
  3. Women have already died in Ireland having been denied life-saving abortion procedures.
  4. At least 150,000 women have travelled to other countries to procure abortions since 1980.
  5. Thousands of women are unable to travel for abortion services due to family, legal status, financial situation, or health.
  6. People who procure abortion within the country risk a 14 year jail term. Doctors can be jailed too.
  7. The majority of people in Ireland support much wider access to abortion than is permitted under the 8th Amendment.
  8. The life and health of a pregnant woman has a much greater value than our constitution places on it.

Thank You to Laura and Catherine for sharing their stories with me.

If you would like to tell your story, email hello@thezebramom.com