Access to abortion is extremely limited in Ireland, and many who decide to have a termination will have no choice but to travel to another country to access abortion services.
However, not everyone is in a position to travel for a variety of reasons, including the cost of travel, if a person has migrant status that doesn’t allow them to travel, or if they have a disability that reduces their ability to travel. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people also face additional barriers that can make accessing abortion services particularly challenging.
Deaf Community Together for Yes have outlined a number of ways that the 8th Amendment disproportionately affects Deaf or hard-of-hearing people in Ireland, including issues with language, travel, literacy, and the cost of an abortion.
Irish Sign Language (ISL)
Around 6,500 Deaf people in Ireland use ISL as their first or preferred language, which involves using your hands, face and body to communicate. English is often the second language for people who use ISL, which can lead to literacy and communication issues when accessing services.
In Ireland, Deaf people are legally entitled to an ISL interpreter when accessing healthcare. Having an interpreter means doctors and patients can fully understand each other, which can help patients explain their symptoms, and doctors explain treatments. Without a vital service like ISL interpretation, there could be issues of misdiagnosis, or patients might not understand how to follow a treatment plan properly.
Accessing information on abortion
Finding information on healthcare services like abortion in ISL can be challenging. Virtually all of the information online is available in English, and if a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person is looking for this information, English may not be their first language. This means they might not have access to clear information that they can understand.
It can also be a challenge for people who are seeking crisis pregnancy counselling services through ISL. The waiting time for an ISL interpreter can be up to three weeks, or longer for some rural areas. If a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person wants to have a termination as soon as possible, this wait time could impact on the type of procedure they can have.
Accessing services in your own language
If a Deaf or hard-of-hearing person travels abroad for an abortion, they won’t have access to an ISL interpreter. Sign language is different in every country, including in the UK, where there are little to no similarities between British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language.
Not being able to access abortion services in your own language adds to the stress and anxiety that many people already feel when having to travel abroad for a termination. It can be expensive to provide your own interpreter, especially when you add this to the cost of travelling for an abortion.
Abortion pills and literacy
Research from the Irish Deaf Society has shown that many members of the Deaf community who use ISL are in low-paying jobs, with only 24.6% of the Deaf or hard-of-hearing community in employment at the time of the 2016 Census. Those who are unemployed are eligible for a disability allowance of €198. With the cost of travelling for an early medical abortion at around €1,000 – €1,200 (with this cost increasing if the pregnancy is in a later stage), travelling simply is not an option for many people.
For those who cannot travel due to economic or other reasons, some decide to order abortion pills online. This is illegal and could result in a 14 year prison sentence if they are caught. Despite this, 3 people in Ireland take abortion pills every day. While these pills are generally safe to use if they’re taken correctly, it is important that the person taking them reads and fully understands the instructions.
Research has shown that literacy levels among the Deaf community in Ireland are quite low. This creates an additional barrier for people taking abortion pills, because they may not be able to fully understand the information that comes with the pills.
Support Deaf Community Together for Yes
Deaf Community Together for Yes are calling on everyone to vote Yes in the upcoming referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment. If abortion care was available in Ireland, those who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing will be able to access these services through their own language, making it a safer, more inclusive process.
You can find out more about Deaf Community Together for Yes by visiting their Facebook page.