In April of this year, the government parties, including the Labour Party that claims to have a pro-choice position, shamefully rejected a bill to legislate for the X Case, introduced by Socialist Party TD, Clare Daly. The persistent conservatism of the political establishment was exposed and women in Ireland (like the estimated 150,000 women who have travelled abroad to access a termination since 1980 before them), continue to suffer the consequences.
Furthermore, with the ‘Expert Group’ report on question of abortion legislation due to report back in September causing rumblings in the government, with certain Fine Gael TDs in particular leaking it to every media outlet imaginable that they will never vote to even legislate for X, it’s becoming increasingly clear to growing numbers of women and indeed many men, that a fight and a struggle must be waged, as the only way to achieve the basic right of women to choose when and if to have children. The Socialist Party welcomes this, and its reporter, Laura Fitzgerald, spoke to some women who have gotten active for choice in recent months, with a view to encouraging others to do the same.
Suzi, aged 18, student, North County Dublin:
Can you tell me about your experiences in getting active on this issue?
I first got involved as I was following the X Case Bill. I saw information about it on Facebook and I went to the gallery when the vote took place. When I learnt about the X Case from 20 years ago, I felt that the treatment of the 14 year old girl was terrible – it was clear that they didn’t have her best interests at heart. After the vote in the Dail, I was so frustrated. I was shocked at the outcome, as I did expect them to legislate for the X Case. I was shocked at how anti-choice the government is. This provoked me to get more active, including attending the rally at the Dail against the Youth Defence poster campaign and a pro-choice rally in Belfast.
Do you think we can win abortion rights in Ireland?
I think we can. Society is so much healthier when women are in control of their reproductive rights so it’s vital. The situation here is so unjust. Most of my friends are pro-choice and the youth can make a big difference in making change on this issue.
Kate, aged 28, receptionist in Dublin City:
Why have you gotten active on this issue now?
I have always been pro-choice, and aware of the issue, since I was a school student during the 2002 referendum. (Conservative referendum to try to increase the restrictions on access to abortion in Ireland that was defeated – ed.). It was the recent spate of Youth Defence ads that made me angry and provoked me into properly getting active. I was incensed that the regulating bodies were not taking any action, despite the volume of complaints they received, to curb these inaccurate and grossly misleading ads. Through the “Unlike Youth Defence, I trust women to decide” group on Facebook, I found information that allowed me to get involved.
How do you feel about the rejection of the X legislation bill in the Dail?
I think it’s a disgraceful stalling exercise on the part of the government. The politicians only care about votes and for them; it’s too contentious an issue. Labour is stalling. In the past I would have been a Labour supporter so it’s disappointing. I would also be very cynical about this Expert Group – another method of delaying making a concrete decision.
I think despite Labour Party backtracking, this issue does have potential to break up a government. So the groups coming together to rally for choice, broad, non party-political protests and movements are really good and useful.
Do you think the pro-choice campaigners can win?
It will take a hell of a lot to get there. The culture of shame and silence needs to be examined more carefully in order to change society’s attitudes. In other countries where abortion is legal, it has been so since the introduction of the pill and other contraceptives. Education in this matter needs to go hand-in-hand, the standards of which are very poor in this country. I want to see more protests, not just stuff on the internet. I brought a friend of mine to the protest against the Youth Defence ad campaign outside the Dail. She is not usually politically engaged or interested, but she herself had an abortion ten years ago and did not want the ad campaigns manipulating anyone’s decisions or feelings about the matter. She really enjoyed the protest and definitely wants to come again and do more.
The Socialist Party stands for the immediate passing of legislation flowing from the X Case ruling. It stands for access to free, safe, legal abortion provided for through a public health service – women should be able to choose when and if they have children. The separation of church and state, excellent, progressive sex education programmes in schools for all students and free accessible contraception all must be implemented. Free, comprehensive, state provided, quality childcare, as well as massive state investment in quality job creation are all part of our programme, and part of the struggle to achieve genuine choice for women. You can read more here.