A renowned obstetrician, a mother of three who waited five weeks for her terminally-ill baby to die in her womb, and a GAA footballer have joined politicians and campaigners in calling for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment at the launch of the Yes vote campaign in Donegal.
Over one hundred people attended the launch of the Donegal Together for Yes campaign where Nicola Cavanagh, a mother of three from Inishowen, told how she was 19 weeks pregnant with her second child when she learned the baby boy she called Sam would not survive.
She said the financial cost of having an abortion in England combined with the prospects of leaving her two-year-old son stopped her from travelling to have an abortion.
“Sam survived for five weeks in my womb and I went every Monday to have an ultrasound sound to see if my baby was dead,” she said,
She received a rousing applause after telling her story.
“I don’t see where the compassion in this is. I feel anger every day. I felt sad but now I feel anger.”
She said she felt ‘so glad’ to be able to tell her story.
“We need to repeal the Eighth Amendment and we need to look after vulnerable women. We need to show compassion to them.”
Donegal All-Ireland winner Eamon McGee told the launch that people could no longer turn a blind eye to the stories of women such as Nicola who have suffered because of the Eighth Amendment.
“In the hard light of day it is an ugly thing, it is a prehistoric thing, and it is something that shouldn’t be there,” he said.
Safe and legal
The campaign was launched in Jackson's Hotel in Ballybofey on Friday night.
Donegal independent TD Thomas Pringle said voting Yes for repeal is the necessary first step to ensuring that safe, legal, and compassionate medical care is afforded to women across Ireland on an equal basis.
“People are ready to repeal the Eighth Amendment and there has been a change in attitudes and the nature of the discourse over time,” he said.
“However, abortion is still treated as a dirty word because the public discourse on the issue has been suppressed for so long.
“We must have a system that supports all women regardless of what decision they make, noting that it is their decision and our role is simply to support them.”
Grave harm to many women
Dr Peter Boylan, Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said the Eighth Amendment has caused grave harm to many women in Ireland, up to and including death.
He said the use of abortion pills bought online without medical supervision is a serious risk to the health of women and has the potential to cause death.
“Abortion is happening here in Ireland but illegally and unsafely and it is effectively backstreet abortion, which we thought we had left behind 50 years ago.”
Orla O’Connor, Director of the national Together for Yes campaign, said the focus of the campaign has to be about change.
“The overwhelming majority of Irish people want to bring about change,” she said.
“The constitution is too blunt an instrument to regulate women’s health care decisions.”
Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, said there “are about 1,000 reasons to repeal the Eighth Amendment”.
“When you are canvassing and people speak to you about the Eighth Amendment, you have to ask them is it humane for a woman to carry a child that is incompatible with life until she is 41 or 42 weeks pregnant against her will?”
She said the Eighth Amendment is forcing the most marginalised women to travel for abortions.
“I don’t think that is okay and the majority of Irish people do not think that is okay.”
Dr Anna McHugh, a GP trainee in Donegal, said women from all over Donegal have suffered crisis pregnancies due to sexual assault or foetal anomalies.
“There are young mothers in Donegal who have been diagnosed with cancer who have had to delay their treatment because of this,” she said.
Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty and his party colleague Senator Pádraig MacLochlainn were also at the launch.
The event was attended by Sinn Féin councillors including Donegal's mayor Gerry McMonagle, and local independent councillors. No local representatives from Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil were at the event.
Former Donegal Labour senator Jimmy Harte was also in attendance.