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Ireland - Vote no to stop anti-abortion fundamentalists!

March 2002

Brendan Young, (Press Officer, Alliance for a No Vote)

The outcome of abortion referendum taking place in Ireland on March 6 will be of critical importance to Irish women, to working class women in particular and to Irish culture and society in general.

If the proposals are passed, the abortion regime in Ireland will be akin to that of Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran – states that are much criticised for their anti-woman regimes.

As Prof. Tom Fahy says, if Irish women feel stigmatised by having abortions they will have good reason under the proposed law. It can only deepen what Niall Tobín has described as ‘the national neurosis’ created by the denial of Irish women’s experience of abortion.

Under the referendum proposals, women who are suicidal as a result of a crisis pregnancy will not be allowed to have an abortion in Ireland. The ‘x’ case of 1992 - when a 14-year-old who was pregnant after being raped was allowed an abortion because of the risk to her life from suicide – will be overturned.

Contrary to the recent assertions of Health Minister Mícheál Martin, Health Boards will be denied the power to take rape or incest victims in their care for abortions overseas – even if they are suicidal.

The only grounds for abortion will be risk of the loss of the woman’s life from physical causes – neither rape, incest nor suicide are included. In the ‘c’ case of 1997, the Health Board was only able to take the girl for an abortion because she was suicidal – risk to life from suicide having been established as grounds for abortion by the ‘x’ case.

Women who try to perform an abortion on themselves, or anyone who helps a woman to get an abortion in Ireland, will face twelve years in prison. Under the proposed law there is the possibility of a trial like that we saw recently in Portugal – with fewer avenues for a legal defence.

A woman with complications in pregnancy will only be allowed an abortion when there is a risk that the she may die. Current practise – where abortion is legal when there is a risk to a woman’s life – will change because the new law says there must be the risk of the loss of her life.
In some states in the USA laws like this have meant that abortions are delayed until there is more than a 50% chance the woman will die.

A woman carrying a non-viable foetus, perhaps with severe abnormalities like anacephaly (where the foetus does not have a brain), will be compelled to go to full term or wait until her life is threatened – rather than have an early, safe termination.

Doctors will only be allowed to perform such abortions in a limited number of "approved places" – rumours say 16 – which could be many miles from a local hospital. Lives and health will be risked as women are ferried from place to place.

Current practise allows abortion in local hospitals under remote direction from specialists in teaching hospitals – a system the new law will end. Hospital consultants are only now waking up to this restriction and are taking legal advice.

There is a conscience clause which allows a doctor to refuse to perform an abortion. The Commonwealth Medical Association says that in such circumstances, there must be provision for emergencies. Ahern’s proposal has no provision for emergencies.

Ahern and Harney argue that this is the best they could do under the circumstances – and that it is a reasonable and compassionate solution to the lack of legislation. Their hoped-for consensus however, is nowhere to be seen. It is reduced to a section of Fianna Fáil (22% of FF voters say they will vote no), the Progressive Democrats ’s (who are split – with Minister of State Liz O’Donnell now saying she is against the proposal having voted it through the Dáil), and the Catholic Church.

Against the referendum proposals are Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party TDs, Sinn Féin, the National Women’s Council, the Irish Family Planning Association, many women’s organisations, the pro-choice movement and the far left.

The Women’s Health Council – a state appointed body advising the government on women’s health policy – has sharply criticised the proposals. So has the Adelaide Hospital Society – in terms similar to the ANV. And it has recently been revealed that the psychiatric evidence submitted to the government is not the position of the Royal Society of Psychiatry of Britain and Ireland – who say it is a misrepresentation of their views.


So the claims of William Binchy – leading spokesperson for the so-called Pro-Life Campaign – that the referendum proposals are "what the psychiatrists want" – are untrue. The unravelling of the ‘consensus’ is such that Mícheál Martin recently said to an ANV member … "I wish I had never heard of the abortion referendum".

To date the Alliance for a NO Vote has led the active campaigning and has established a national profile as the leading pro-choice organisation opposing the government’s plans. Our approach has been to work with all who oppose the referendum and who are not part of the anti-abortion movement.

Opinion poll evidence indicates approximately 35% for, 33% against, 20% undecided and the rest abstaining. There remains however, much confusion as to what a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote means – including amongst supporters of the right to choose – some of whom think a ‘yes’ vote means more choice.

So we are working to win over a majority of the undecided’s by explaining the implications of the referendum, while making it clear that supporters of choice should vote ‘no’. This is a delicate task, as there are many who would say they oppose abortion and do not support the right to choose, but would not want to see another ‘x’ case. And while some polls indicate significant support for increased abortion services in Ireland, this is no guarantee of a majority ‘no’ vote. There is no suicidal 14 year-old being denied an abortion – as in 1992 – to humanise the choice for the voters.

The Labour Party and the IFPA have recently launched mass ‘no’ campaigns, with poster campaigns and in some areas mass leafleting is planned. While these campaigns have raised clear arguments against the proposals as such, they have not made arguments for greater availability of legal abortion in Ireland. Sinn Féin has formally stated its opposition, but as yet has done little campaigning. There has been a deafening silence from the trade union movement.

Despite changes in attitude towards sexuality and abortion amongst the population, the outcome of this referendum is not a foregone conclusion. Either result will have a profound impact on Irish society. Defeat for the government will mean that no further referendums will be possible and abortion will be legalised for certain circumstances – specifically on grounds of risk of suicide. The pro-choice movement would be hugely strengthened.

Victory for the government will be a setback of enormous proportions for the struggle for reproductive rights in Ireland. The anti-abortionists have served notice that they will try to get the morning after pill and IUD outlawed. And needless to say the Irish women who go for abortions in Britain – and now to Russia where it’s cheaper – at a rate of 7 to 10,000 a year, will be further criminalized and stigmatised. And there will be the ongoing litany of pub quizzes and other fundraising that women in working class communities organise to send poorer women with crisis pregnancies – often alone – to Britain for abortions.

International support is very important. It will help show the world the misogynist and reactionary intentions of the Irish government. It helps maintain pressure on Fianna Fáil and the wobbly PDs. While we are confident of defeating the government, we need the solidarity of our comrades, sisters and brothers overseas. Letters to the Irish press, to embassies and consulates, and messages of support are vital.



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