Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Legalise Abortion; Legislate for X; Dublin Demonstration Monday March 4

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Trade Union Flags mingle with “Never Again” images of Savita Halappanavar on a bitterly cold evening at Dublin City Hall.

Paula Geraghty’s Short Video Report of the Event :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wYYObj1PXMM

 

Brendan Young reports on the demonstration, and makes proposals for more useful activities.

Today, March 5, is the 21st anniversary of the X Case ruling. Yesterday evening we had a great rally of 500 – 600 calling for legislation. Yesterday and last Friday, we had a historic first when major trade unions and other mass organisations – SIPTU, UNITE, the Women’s Committee of ICTU, the NWCI and USI joined together in calling for legislation that is not so restrictive as to make abortion inaccessible in practice. Both events were organised by Action on X.

Yet despite all the discussion about legislation at the January meetings of the Health & Children Committee on the Expert Group Report on abortion, we are still no clearer on when legislation will appear. There were press reports in early Feb about a memo to cabinet from health minister Reilly with proposals for a bill. The reports suggested that this memo contained proposals which were very restrictive: up to five consultants might be required to sign off approval for an abortion in the case of a woman being suicidal due to unwanted pregnancy. Previous comments suggested there would be very few locations where abortions could be carried out. These proposals provoked a row and the memo was withdrawn. So there is now no timeline for any proposals on X legislation; nor any indication of what the legislation might contain.

When Reilly announced before xmas that there would be legislation on X, people may have thought that it was a done deal. But Kenny was saying that the legislation would be as restrictive as possible. Labour are opposing the most restrictive aspects – but details are scanty and the outcome is undecided.

We cannot assume therefore, that legislation will be forthcoming before the summer. When legislation is published the anti-abortion minority will go into overdrive. So we should be clear on what we are doing over the coming months: there must be legislation for X, in the least restrictive form possible; it must include risk to life by suicide as grounds for abortion. It would be a setback for the pro-choice movement if legislation is passed that requires three, four or five consultants to sign off on an abortion; or if services are restricted to one or two hospitals, such as the Mater where Prof Patricia Casey – long-time anti-abortion campaigner – runs the suicide clinic. Such restrictions would simply deter a woman from even trying to use the services – with all of the risks that would entail.

Legislation on X will, by definition, be restricted by Art. 40.3.3 – the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. But restrictive legislation on X would be a setback. It would make a campaign for repeal of the 8th Amendment more difficult.

So we should not deflect the focus of the current debate by arguing for abortion on grounds of health (or other non-risk-to-life grounds – apart from fatal foetal abnormality) to be included in this legislation. These arguments are easily dismissed because they are excluded under 40.3.3 – the removal of which requires a referendum to change the constitution. Until X legislation is passed, without unnecessary restrictions, we should focus on that. We then move on to the launch of a campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment.

A useful activity for keeping pressure on the government (and other parties) would be for teams of people to visit TDs and councillors in their clinics. The visits would be to ask them what they are doing about implementation of the X ruling and the ABC ruling; and about when legislation will be published. They can be asked about their own position on the details of legislation – restrictions, etc; about the position of the party locally; and about what information they have regarding government proposals. If the TDs / Cllrs don’t know, they can be asked to find out.

A picket on the Dáil before the easter break on March 28 would also be useful.

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