By Diana O’Dwyer
A special Oireachtas Committee has now been set up to consider what proposal should be put in a referendum on the 8th amendment next year. Socialist Party member, Ruth Coppinger is Solidarity’s representative. She will fight for repeal and implementation of the progressive Citizens’ Assembly recommendations to give all pregnant people the right to choose.
Aside from a hardcore ‘pro-life’ or ‘conservative’ minority of mainly male TDs / Senators like Mattie McGrath, Ronan Mullen, and Fianna Fáil’s Anne Rabbitte, a clear majority on the Committee support holding a referendum on the 8th amendment. Unfortunately, most are not pro-choice but will likely only favour access to abortion on restrictive grounds like fatal foetal abnormalities and rape. Unsurprisingly, this includes most of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael representatives that are not virulently anti-choice.
It also includes the three Sinn Féin members who will toe the party line of allowing abortion only in “cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest” and where a woman’s “life and mental health are at risk or in grave danger”. Many prominent Sinn Féin members are not even fully behind this weak position. Peadar Tóibín marched alongside the misogynistic religious fanatics on the so-called ‘Rally for Life’ while Committee member Jonathan O’Brien has said he “personally wouldn’t be in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment”.
The final positions of Labour and the Social Democrats are less clear at this stage. Neither is fully pro-choice and Joan Burton’s denigration of “the ‘ultra’ sides of either side” as “shrill” inspires little confidence Labour will be any less useless than in the past.
Repeal not replace
In contrast, Solidarity will be advocating a strong pro-choice position based on two core demands: a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment early next year; and an advisory vote or plebiscite to give people a chance to vote on the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations.
Holding a referendum early next year is vital because allowing it to drift into next summer and beyond would play into the hands of the anti-choice lobby, who are hoping the Pope’s visit next August will trigger a wave of religious reaction and block reform of the 8th. It is also essential that the question posed must be to repeal not amend or replace the 8th.
The Citizens’ Assembly voted narrowly to ‘replace’ the 8th but only because of misleading legal advice that a simple repeal would cause legal uncertainty and a lack of trust in the Oireachtas to follow up with abortion legislation. Their lack of faith in the establishment parties is understandable, however the Socialist Party believes repeal is the best way to take women’s bodies out of the Constitution once and for all.
Solidarity’s second demand is for a plebiscite on the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations. This would be held at the same time as the repeal referendum but rather than changing anything in the Constitution would consult the people on follow-up abortion legislation. This would consist of four key options based on a simplified version of the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations, such as: abortion on request up to 12 weeks, on grounds of health, foetal abnormalities and for socioeconomic reasons up to 22 weeks.
Working class people, women and young people are light years ahead of the political establishment on social issues from same sex marriage to abortion. Empowering them, rather than the Dáil, to decide on future abortion legislation is far more likely to produce a progressive outcome. It can also mobilise a mass movement of women and young people, who could be disillusioned by a campaign for minimal reform, but will be spurred into action by clear repeal and pro-choice demands. A historic opportunity exists to build a mass movement on abortion rights. We must adopt the right tactics to seize it.