By Laura Fitzgerald
In October, the Government refused to give the AAA-PBP bill for a Repeal the 8th referendum, proposed by Socialist Party member, Ruth Coppinger TD, a second reading. It elucidated its interminable time-table for a referendum, namely six months for the Citizens’ Assembly to report, and another six months for the special Oireachtas committee to report to the Dáil – at least a year before the issue begins even initial debate at Dáil level.
The pro-repeal Government Independents fell pathetically into line. First to stand by Kenny was Katherine Zappone, whose wrestling with her conscience was less than momentary. Kate O’Connell, token Fine Gael pro-choice TD and darling of those in the pro-choice movement who employ a lobbying strategy, used her Dáil speaking time to launch a vicious and slanderous attack on the Left before voting against the repeal bill.
Sinn Féin supported the AAA-PBP’s bill, but used their speaking time to clarify that it supports very limited legislation, namely the status quo (abortion allowed if life is in danger, including through suicide), plus fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest.
Building a powerful movement
All this serves to reinforce the need to build a growing, active, powerful movement outside the Dáil to force through change. Part of this is educating abortion rights activists about the necessity to make it unacceptable now, that any future proposal for a referendum would be linked with continuing some sort of constitutional restriction on women’s bodies.
David Quinn, key strategist of the anti-choice brigade, who himself opposes any referendum, has mooted the possibility of a constitutional clause that necessitates a referendum before any legislation on abortion can be changed. This is precisely the sort of rotten compromise that the political establishment may propose in an attempt to continue to block pro-choice legislation.
As arch-right winger, Quinn himself raises if the 8th is repealed and nothing else is put into the constitution, all it would take is the election of a left-wing government for restrictive legislation to be replaced with pro-choice legislation!
Tone Police have it wrong
“Repeal activists would lose referendum” (Examiner, 8 October 2016), “Moderate voices needed in the abortion debate” (Sunday Business Post editorial, 3 October 2016), “Has one tyranny been replaced with another?” (Irish Times 1 Nov 2016), “Silence of centrists kills decent debate” (2 October 2016)…. Just a taste of the mainly pro-repeal print media’s ‘tone policing’ of the pro-choice movement – as the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
We need to learn a lesson from Poland – the unapologetically radical movement that organised an audacious and brilliant 100,000 strong women’s strike to block the government’s attempt to bring in a full abortion ban, was not seeking cross-party support, nor “toning it down”. What has the movement achieved? Not only was the Government pushed back, but as a Polish anti-choice website conceded, opinion polls have shown an increase in pro-choice sentiment in the broad population since the movement erupted!
Here in Ireland, there has been a clear development of a pro-choice sentiment within society. In poll after poll, two-thirds want increased abortion rights.
Once there’s a recognition that abortion is a difficult but necessary decision for women in certain circumstances, it’s more than possible to win people over to the notion that, as opposed to the church or state, whether or not to continue with a pregnancy has to be the woman’s own decision. A bold pro-choice movement, especially a movement that is also raising about the need for public housing, for massive investment in state childcare, and for equality generally, will be greeted with solidarity and support from the majority of people.