No amendments, no “Citizens’ Convention”: Repeal the 8th now

By Ruth Coppinger TD

The demand for Repeal of the 8th amendment abortion ban is growing throughout Irish society. It has become a key issue among young people, although recent polls by Amnesty show support for change across every age and region.

More than ever before, there is a chance to remove from the Constitution a sectarian, misogynistic law that has endangered the lives of women. This law stigmatises and criminalises women who daily leave the country for abortion, or those who take medical abortion pills in their own homes which they’ve had to order online.

There is a democratic deficit that, while 80% favour a referendum to repeal the 8th, this is not reflected in the Dáil, the only place a referendum can be triggered.

Backward political establishment

The political establishment in Ireland is particularly backward, having clung to the Catholic Church since the state’s foundation. Ninety years on, the church controls health, education and key sectors of life, despite their weakened status. It’s incredible that the Angelus is broadcast twice a day by the national broadcaster, and that a Catholic prayer is said daily in the Dáil!

The political parties don’t reflect the shift in attitudes that’s taken place. Fine Gael wants to establish a “Citizens’ Convention” to kick the issue to touch and evade responsibility. Fianna Fáil opposes repeal,  but it’s not just the two big traditional parties. Labour had ample opportunity in government but chose not to vote for repeal and, belatedly, favours abortion with restrictions which would see women still criminalised.

Sinn Féin, despite a large youth vote, has been slow and contradictory on this issue and must be challenged. A year ago, the party wouldn’t even support abortion for women suffering the trauma of fatal foetal abnormality! While TDs, including Mary Lou McDonald and Gerry Adams, now pose for photo ops at pro-repeal events, northern leader, Martin Mc Guinness, spoke at their Ard Fheis of a party which only favours abortion in very “exceptional situations”. He also told the BBC that a mechanism had to be found to stop abortion pills being accessed online.

Of the parties in the Dáil, only Anti Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit (of which the Socialist Party is part) and a small number of independents have a full pro-choice position.

No more hypocrisy!

Firstly, we should be clear a “citizens’ convention” is a ruse and undemocratic, taking responsibility out of the hands of those elected. How will a representative sample of ordinary citizens be chosen? Will it have a majority of women of childbearing age? Will the Catholic Church be represented? Will decisions even be acted on or simply ignored as other recommendations of conventions have been.? And why is it called a “citizens’ convention” in the first place when this issue affects non-citizens in an acute way?

It is likely a convention can recommend change but of a restrictive or even rotten kind: a referendum linked to restrictive legislation, possibly even with Constitutional status, or, worst case scenario, an amendment to the 8th Amendment itself. The pro-choice movement in Ireland has always called for a referendum to simply repeal the 8th amendment, with no other wording, as this has proved disastrous. The Dáil should then either regulate or legislate the grounds for abortion. Abortion should be completely decriminalised.

It’s clear that to bring pressure on the Dáil to reflect the new reality and to move with urgency, an active campaign involving wide layers of society is needed. Otherwise, we are doomed to decades of more hypocrisy.

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