The stalling tactic concocted by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to evade the issue of abortion reform has backfired massively.
The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly are far more progressive than anything they expected. The majority of the assembly voted to allow abortion not only on socio-economic grounds but also without restrictions on reasons.
Although pushed by the legal experts to Replace rather than Repeal the Eighth Amendment, there is a clear indication from the Citizens’ Assembly that they want women’s reproductive rights to be legislated for by the Oireachtas and not restricted by the constitution. A referendum to Repeal the Eighth is now necessary, there is no need to reference women’s bodies in the constitution.
It is disappointing that some parties cannot support the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations in full. We strongly suggest that these parties return to their party conferences and Ard Fheiseanna if they want to keep up with the demands of the Irish people.
It already well-known that the two-headed beast of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is afraid to disturb the hegemony of conservative Ireland. However, those parties such as Sinn Féin and Labour who paint themselves as the progressive opposition must also rethink their parties’ policies which are extremely limited and anti-choice. Abortion rights are fundamental to women’s equality and no party calling itself progressive should be limiting availability to victims of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.
We will strongly oppose any move by the establishment parties to push for exception-based legislation which excludes over ninety-percent of women and continues to export our healthcare needs to England. Any system which requires women to prove they were raped in order to procure an abortion should fill any decent person with horror. The vast majority of sexual assault crimes are unreported and fewer still are brought to court. This will not only traumatise women who have already been through a horrific ordeal but will cause them additional stress and harm as they face a complex legal system where the outcome cannot be known. This proposal by some parties is cruel and unworkable. We advise them to reconsider.
The only system which will work in practice is one based on choice which allows women to access reproductive healthcare if they need it. There should be no legal distinction regarding the reasons for accessing healthcare and there should be no arbitrary term limits imposed by the state. Any termination should be decided between a woman and her doctor, not subject to constraints devised by conservative politicians.
The fight also continues for full decriminalisation. This issue, unfortunately, was not addressed by the Citizens’ Assembly and so the women who are currently taking the safe abortion pills recommended by the World Health Organisation may still be subject to prosecution.
Bríd Smith TD said, “The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly have destroyed the myth of so-called middle Ireland. The people of Ireland are miles ahead of the politicians in Leinster House. People want a more progressive model for women’s reproductive rights and have shown that they are far more pro-choice than most of our politicians. The establishment parties will do everything they can to water down these proposals. I will continue to make sure the pro-choice position is heard loud and clear in the Dáil. We will also be taking to the streets to remind our politicians that the people power movement behind Repeal is more energised than ever.”
The abortion rights movement in Ireland has always been a thirty-two county one. Although progress on basic social demands is often lost in the North’s sectarian state as Green and Orange issues dominate discussion, the effects of the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations cannot be understated. Just as the demands for marriage equality in the North have got louder and more determined since the successful referendum in the 26 Counties, these recommendations will shift the discussion on reproductive rights in the North.
The energy and creativity of the Repeal movement will not cease. We will continue to see people on the streets putting pressure on the politicians who will try to maintain the cosy relationship between Church and state. They will not be permitted to ignore the desires of the majority of Ireland. The International Women’s Day demonstrations and the water charges movement have shown that power does not reside in Leinster House, it resides with the people.