It is very clear that the Repeal Referendum on May 25 will be a watershed moment for Irish society. Either we will continue on the course set by the Marriage Equality referendum towards a freer, more enlightened and more equal society or we will take a major step backwards towards the dark ages of repression, abuse and religious bigotry from which we have only recently emerged.
Either the Catholic hierarchy and the conservative far right will be find their power fatally weakened, paving the way for winning bodily autonomy for women, and ending church control of education and health or the bishops and the right will be enormously strengthened for a generation to come.
So the stakes are very high and therefore the question of HOW to win a YES vote in this referendum campaign is very important.
We in People Before Profit believe there are two central issues that need to be addressed in order to win. The first is the question of a woman’s right to choose. We believe this is the central argument that has to be put to the Irish people at every level: in the media, on posters and on the doorsteps. There are a number of reasons for this:
- It is both principled AND popular. It is principled in that we really do believe that the question of abortion should be the free choice of the individual woman concerned. It is also popular in that it enables many women and men who feel personally uneasy about abortion, say for residual religious reasons, to also say ‘but it should be the woman’s choice’. An opinion poll by the Irish Times in January showed that there was a higher YES answer (60%) when the question was put in terms of a woman’s choice than when it was put in terms of voting to change the constitution.
- It is a very simple straightforward one line argument. When canvassing the vast majority of interactions on the doorstep are very brief. It is very rare that people want to engage in lengthy arguments. ‘But it should be the woman’s choice’ cuts through lots of complicated arguments and everyone understands it. Even in debates on the media with the likes of Cora Sherlock or John McGuirk it will still be a crucial point that people will remember and ‘take away’ from complex or heated exchanges.
- It fits perfectly with what needs to be another key theme in the campaign , the need to ‘Trust Women’. The anti-choicer campaign will try to play the populist ‘dont leave it to the politicians’. They will say you can’t trust the politicians and this will have a resonance with a number of working class people. We have to counter with ‘We are NOT saying trust the politicians, we are saying “trust women”, it must be the woman’s choice.
- Choice, as in we are Pro-choice and March for Choice, is the term traditionally and popularly associated with the Repeal movement. People recognise it and it resonates with them. Moreover ‘Our bodies, Our choice’ is a slogan that crosses over and links to the rage about rape, sexual abuse and harassment as seen in the response to Belfast. It fits the moment.
For all these reasons CHOICE should be the key ‘slogan’ and message of the YES campaign
The second thing the campaign must face is the fact that abortion is, and always has been, a class issue. The truth is that in Ireland and elsewhere rich women, women of the upper classes, have always been able to get abortions. It is ordinary women, women of the working class, poorer women, migrant women, women in direct provision etc who are the most affected by all bans and restrictions on abortion rights. But traditionally working class people are less likely to use their votes than middle class people. It is vital therefore that the YES campaign fights energetically to get out the votes of working class women and men. In this matter the support of leading Fine Gael and establishment politicians – the likes of Varadkar, Harris, Murphy, Donohoe and so on – is a mixed blessing. Yes, they may win over some votes from the liberal right, but given their posh boy image and their association with cuts, austerity,water charges, the housing crisis etc, they may alienate working class people. This is potentially very damaging to the campaign.
To counter this it is vital that the Left are seen standing up strongly and visibly in this campaign and that the class argument for abortion rights is clearly put. This includes relating the call for CHOICE also to the positive right of ordinary women to choose to have a child if they wish to and that means linking this to the need for affordable public housing and affordable childcare .
It also means that the YES campaign should not self censor itself into ineffectiveness in the desire to appease the liberal right or the so-called middle class middle ground. Even in the simplest arithmetical terms the key to winning the campaign is winning and getting out the working class vote. That in turn demands a vigorous hard hitting campaign.
We in People Before Profit are absolutely committed to throwing everything we have got into winning this vital struggle for Ireland’s future.