The Bill that Socialist Party TD Clare Daly and Deputies Joan Collins and Mick Wallace have written and brought forward to the Dáil coincides with the 20th anniversary of the X Case, when a 14 year-old girl who became pregnant after being raped by a neighbour was prevented by the High Court from travelling to England for an abortion. Two weeks later, after massive public pressure and protests, the Supreme Court upheld her right to an abortion in England on the basis that her life was threatened because of the risk of suicide.
One year ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights by not having legislation which gave effect to this right which the X Case established constitutionally and which has been upheld in two subsequent referenda.
Ireland has been unequivocal in bowing to EU pressure for bailouts and cuts, but it has remained, as it has historically, shamefully slow in legislating for women’s human rights, health and reproductive freedom.
The Bill is being brought forward- entitled Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012, it will be discussed during ULA private member’s time on the 18 and 19 April and has been carefully written so as to comply fully with the Supreme Court ruling and the referenda.
In this way, it is quite a simple matter of parties voting yes or no to give effect to this constitutional right. The Bill will not pass if Labour does not support it, however, it is Labour Party policy to legislate in relation to this and given that Labour Women are pushing for them to support it, a free vote could be given which could allow the Bill to pass.
Whether the Bill is successful or not, this is a hugely important step, taken at a key moment, partly to re-open a debate in Irish society about an issue which affects thousands of women every year.
One government after another has chosen to ignore the issue, to deny women their right to life saving medical treatments and to export the broader problem of abortion to Britain, an Irish solution to an Irish problem pretend that it does not exist and allow the emotional and financial cost to fallen to the shoulders of individual women, often in vulnerable positions.
The Socialist Party is proposing and supporting the Bill, as a means of pushing the government to legislate for the X Case. If passed, it will only allow for highly limited abortion rights. From the point of view of the Socialist Party, it’s only the beginning in terms of what’s needed – namely a new struggle in Ireland, that should be actively supported by the trade union movement, for full abortion rights for women, provided through a public health service. This is essential to protect the health and lives of women – and this fact is coming into sharp focus in the context of an economic crisis.
The Irish State has, over decades, failed women in relation to their reproductive health and their right to have autonomy over their own bodies. Where rights were won, they have been hard fought for every step of the way. This Bill represents a small but important step in continuing and reigniting that struggle.