The principle that should inform all support for a rape survivor is that nothing after the crime, especially to their bodies, happens without their consent. When a survivor is pregnant after rape, the same principle stands.
The polls consistently show that the majority of Irish people agree that rape survivors need compassionate and non-judgmental access to abortion. This cannot happen unless this country repeals the Eighth Amendment.
In the Rape Crisis Network we know that survivors make every choice imaginable regarding their pregnancy. Their emotions and reasoning are as varied as each and every rape survivor is in their individual contexts.
We want these people to be given judgment-free access to healthcare professionals who can ensure that they have the necessary information. Abortion will by no means be every survivor’s choice.
Our hope is that they will be surrounded by their loved ones who can support them in this traumatic time. The situation under the Eighth, in which a rape survivor may make decisions in isolation, without adequate information, in ways that are unsafe and unsupported, are the opposite of the type of response we want to offer.
Currently, if a rape survivor chooses to have an abortion she will either, illegally and with no medical support, order abortion pills online and take them, or travel abroad. This secretive and in itself potentially traumatising process will almost certainly mean that the survivor will be separated from their families and friends as well as from their trusted healthcare providers.
The government has said that if the Eighth Amendment is repealed it will seek to legislate for wider access to abortion. There will be no “rape clause”. Instead there will be abortion on request up to 12 weeks.
Asking survivors to prove the rape happened in order for them to have access to abortion is not workable. It is notoriously hard to prove rape in the courts and the process can take years. Neither is there any way to medically prove rape.
Any attempt to make a survivor prove that they were raped will only punish, shame and fail them. No “rape testing” regime will deliver what the majority of Irish people want.
If the Eighth Amendment is repealed a 12-week abortion-on-request law is the only viable way to provide access to the procedure for survivors of rape. It will also be a powerful message from us, to all these survivors, that we trust them.
Clíona Saidléar is executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland
Published in The Times on 3rd of May 2018