At the end of June, the UN ruled that failing to provide an abortion for 40-year-old Siobhán Whelan, who was carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality, amounted to a violation of human rights.
In the same month figures showed that among the thousands of women travelling to Britain for an abortion, 15 were under the age of 16 and 520 felt too ashamed to give Irish addresses.
Also in June, there was the case described above in which a girl who wanted an abortion was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
It is truly extraordinary that the Irish political establishment has got away with this for so long.
As in so many social issues – whether it be housing, poverty or mental health – the vast majority of women matter little to those in power.
What have we got from our supposedly mould- breaking Taoiseach?
The promise of legislation for a referendum on repeal in 2018. .
He could easily have chosen to speed things up and commit to a referendum once the Oireachtas committee on the Citizens Assembly has reported back in the Autumn.
His social liberalism is paper thin. Back in 2014, with an eye on the Fine Gael leadership Varadkar went as far to say that he was “pro life” and that while on demand’, he thought current laws put lives of women at risk, he opposed ‘abortion on demand’. “There are two lives involved in any pregnancy.
“For that reason, like most people in the country, I do not support abortion on request or on demand.”
Further back, in 2010, when asked whether he believed Ireland should legalise abortion, he simply answered “I do not”.
Varadkar may model himself on the ‘neither left nor right’ of France’s new President but his position on abortion puts him markedly to the right of Macron who has said that he will never stop defending a woman’s right to abortion.
Varadkar must be forced to bring forward the referendum and put an end to the archaic laws that humiliate women.
Young people are impatient for change and the broad and strong campaign to repeal the 8th needs to seize the window of opportunity to win free safe and legal abortion – nothing less.
We must challenge the anti-abortionists when they mobilise
On July 1st they will hold their annual so called pro-life rally in Dublin. Its numbers will be swelled by support from the Catholic Church and conservative politicians. Repealers should not fear being labelled confrontationist. We need to show them that their day has gone.
The Citizens Assembly showed that liberalization of abortion is realizable. They leap-frogged all the caution of mainstream politicians and openly declared that ‘socioeconomic issues’ and ‘on request’ are grounds for abortions.
But, steered by legal ‘experts’, the Citizens Assembly also left the door open to replacing the 8th amendment with a wording to allow the Oireachtas to legislate which also might include the rights of the ‘unborn’.
This concession to Catholic teaching is unacceptable. It again takes choice away from women. People Before Profit TD, Brid Smith, at a recent rally for repeal in Dublin put it very clearly: “We need to build pressure to repeal, not replace, the 8th Amendment. We will accept nothing less”.
Even so-called left-wing parties still bend the knee to Catholic conservatism. The Labour Party’s policy is to support abortion only in cases of rape, incest, sexual assault, risk to life, fatal foetal abnormality and risk to mental and physical health. In 2015 they even felt the need to include in their policy that ‘sustaining embryonic and fetal life should be recognized as an important social role’!
Sinn Fein is no different. They support abortion only in limited circumstances and have rejected pro-choice positions in previous Ardfheiseanna. Louise O’Reilly, one of their representatives on the Oireachtas committee, stated that they support the Citizens Assembly but then, in direct contradiction, said that they want to ‘repeal the eighth and enact legislation on the grounds of rape, incest, and fatal fetal abnormality’.
This is a lot more restrictive than the Citizens Assembly.
Now is not the time to make concessions to a mythical middle ground. Anger at Church domination is running high as the reaction to the Sisters of Charity over the National M aternity Hospital proved.
That incident also showed that people power can stop the old order in its tracks. There are new political forces, like Strike for Repeal who can give expression to the frustration that many young people feel.
Winning abortion rights for women in Ireland is not just a woman’s issue. It is about power and control and allowing working class and marginalized women to have the access to abortion facilities that wealthier women can have.
- People Before Profit is gearing up for a summer of mobilization to win repeal. The March for Choice on 30th September will be an opportunity to come out en masse to show that women can wait no longer. We will be organizing local meetings and street activities. Text 087 283 9964 to get involved.