Crucial juncture in struggle for abortion rights

Savita Halappanavar’s death prompted the vast majority of ordinary women and men in this country to ask the same question as Savita’s husband Praveen: “How can this happen in a country like Ireland in the 21st century?”

From the outset, the Irish capitalist state, in its weakness, leaned on the Catholic Church, entwining the latter up with the state in a way that can only be described as medieval. Any progressive changes since have come – including the X Case ruling itself – as a result of and in the context of ordinary people’s attitudes being light years ahead of the establishment.

20,000 marched for Savita. Huge public pressure means that the government have indicated that they intend to legislate for X in 2013. A Red C poll indicated that, not only do 85% of people support legislation for the X case, but 82% support constitutional change to allow for abortion where women’s health is threatened by her pregnancy, as well as for cases of rape. There has never been a more opportune moment to build the fight for abortion rights in Ireland. The pro-choice movement must put repealing the 8th amendment at the forefront of its agenda. A referendum is needed to remove this clause that denigrates women’s health and choices, equating a woman’s life with that of a foetus.

The government and the establishment in general, and especially the Labour Party who are under pressure on this issue, want to limit the debate as to whether suicide should be a grounds, or not, for a legal termination. We must not let the debate be narrowed in this way! Legislation for X, including grounds of suicide must be implemented and is in fact nowhere near enough – as Savita’s death itself illustrated that immediately women’s health as well as their lives must be a grounds for a legal termination.

The Catholic Church have stated that “a culture of death” will be inculcated if any easing of abortion restrictions is implemented by legislators – just how hypocritical and hateful this is, given the institution’s systematic cover-up of heinous abuse is hard to articulate. The Catholic Church’s weighing in on the debate will make politicians jittery. Many stone-age Fine Gael and some Labour TDs are “morally” opposed to legislating for X, but there is also tremendous pressure exerted on the government from below counteracting this. A campaign and movement that fights for more than legislation for X makes it most likely that enough pressure is exerted both to counteract the Catholic Church’s growing intervention and to maximise the scope of whatever legislation and regulation is implemented.

Such a movement must highlight the on average, 11 women a day from the south of Ireland forced to travel to Britain to seek a termination, as well as the dangerously increasing number of ordinary women who can’t afford to do the same given the government’s vile austerity agenda – women deserve no less than the right to choose.


Submission from the Socialist Party to the Joint Committee on Health and Children Hearings re Abortion (abridged)

Successive governments have ignored this important issue for decades and turned their backs on 150,000 women who have had to leave this country to access abortion, many in desperation and at great expense.

Health must be priority

The Socialist Party is disturbed by the extremely limited abortion legislation currently being considered by government. Pregnant women’s health is jeopardised by Article 40.3.3. of the Constitution which equates women with unborn embryos/foetuses. This Article must be repealed. Church and state should be separated and healthcare provided on a non-denominational basis.

The distinction being made between women’s lives and women’s health is particularly concerning. The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar has shown no such distinction can or should be made. The Socialist Party fully supports legislation to implement the Supreme Court Ruling on the X Case as a step forward. However, it is not clear that this would be sufficient to prevent another tragedy like Savita’s death. This is because life and health are separated and doctors may be left gambling that there is a threat to one and not the other. The health of a woman must be grounds for a safe and legal abortion.

It is reprehensible that women pregnant with foetuses, victims of rape or incest and seriously ill women (e.g. undergoing cancer treatment) who require abortions are not cared for within this country. Any legislation must cater for these women.

This necessitates Repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. It also requires immediate Repeal of Articles 58-9 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act which criminalises doctors who perform and women who have abortions.

Suicide

Within the confines of Article 40.3.3., the Supreme Court declared that there is a right to abortion where a woman’s life is at real risk, including by suicide. This must be upheld in any forthcoming legislation, and in a real way, not made so restrictive that the right is practically never granted.

Criminalisation does not work

The international and historic experience is that criminalising abortion does nothing to lessen the incidence, and women risk unsafe or self-inflicted attempts at abortion.

The lowest abortion rate in the world is in the Netherlands which provides abortion for free and up to viability if necessary. This is due to very accessible contraception and comprehensive sex education.

Travel to seek abortions involves huge expense and excludes immigrants and many working class women who cannot leave or raise these funds. Austerity will increase this number. The growing poverty arising from austerity policies will also take away the choice for more women who would like to have children. In the USA abortion levels have fallen generally, but have risen among poor women.

Summary
  • X Case legislation must not be made restrictive
  • No distinction should be made between the life and health of a woman
  • Abortion legislation should include grounds of health, rape and incest
  • The 8th Amendment must be scrapped
  • Remove Articles 58-9 of the Offences Against the Person Act
  • Contraception at no cost and comprehensive sex education programmes
  • Stop exporting this problem – safe, legal, free abortion in the Irish health service for all women who request it