An overwhelming 87% of the Citizens’ Assembly voted against retaining the 8th Amendment as it currently exists.
It expressed the view that socio-economic reasons were grounds for terminations up to the 22nd week of pregnancy.
It recommended that terminations should be allowed without restriction up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
The assembly took the view that the decision about whether to have an abortion or not must lie with the woman and recognised that she alone can make it. For example, in the tragic instances of fatal fetal abnormality, it recommended that abortion be permitted during any period of the pregnancy.
The Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations have caused yet another huge political upset for the government.
They had hoped to contain the mood for choice but the people at the Citizens Assembly considering all the options expressed the desire for full choice for women. 90 brave people calmly took on the monopoly of church and state.
Their recommendation to widen the grounds on which an abortion may be permitted – beyond risk to life and health, and as a result of rape – is a reflection of how much opinion on these issues have changed.
Not only did the citizens squarely put women at the centre of their recommendations, they also went well beyond the so- called ‘middle ground’ position on abortion.
Their verdict outs Fine Gael and Fianna Fail as woefully unrepresentative. The Labour Party, which favours a good deal more restrictions than the Citizens’ Assembly recommended, needs to catch up. Sinn Fein is not even at the starting post on this issue.
Only People Before Profit and Solidarity hold a clear women’s right to choose position.
The Citizens Assembly has sent a strong message to the Oireachtas Committee to take the issue of abortion head-on. It must legislate for abortion on the basis not of any one religion’s teaching, nor on the basis that the problem must be exported but realistically on what Irish women want and need.
Our People before Profit representative, Brid Smith TD, along with others, will be putting the pro-choice position on that committee.
Since the same sex marriage referendum and the growing numbers of young people for choice as shown by large mobilisations last Autumn and on International Women’s Day this year, the Citizens’ Assembly have resoundingly proved that the forces of Irish conservatism no longer hold sway.
In the same week of the Citizens Assembly bombshell, the sweetheart deal over the National Maternity Hospital between the Irish State and the Sisters of Charity came to light.
The idea that women’s reproductive rights should be left in the hands of the discredited Catholic Church was a step too far.
Many of those opposed to a Catholic maternity hospital have also been active in the Repeal campaign.
Some pro-choice activists may be disappointed that the assembly recommended to replace, not repeal, the 8th Amendment. The recommendation was that Article 40.3.3 should be replaced with a constitutional provision which would authorize the Oireachtas to legislate ‘to address the termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn and any rights of the pregnant woman’.
Certainly ‘unborn’ is a loaded and misleading term. It is the word the Catholic Church uses and which they managed to get introduced into the constitution in article 40.3.3. back in 1983. It is not a medical term and has no place in our constitution.
Some at the Assembly said that this replacement clause had caused some confusion amongst the citizens. And its inclusion may not be without difficulties for legislation in the future.
However the main message from the Assembly is that it managed to give voice to what has been hidden for far too long.
We need to pressurize the Oireachtas Committee not to back-track or give in to pressure from the anti-choicers.
Never have we had such an opportunity to overturn the barbaric ban on abortion in Ireland. We have support from the Trade Union movement which we have not had before. Women in working class communities have supported the call for Repeal.
Students were one of the largest contingents on International Women’s Day this year. We need to channel this mood for change into a movement which can take to streets and make our voices heard. We can win this.