In the South, the Citizens’ Assembly (CA) on abortion rights, made up of 100 randomly selected citizens, was set up early this year under pressure from below. It surprised the conservative Dáil (parliament) when it recommended that women and pregnant people be trusted – that abortion should be legalised upon request up to 12 weeks; for socio-economic reasons up to 22 weeks; for health; and for fatal foetal abnormality.
As a member of the parliamentary committee established off the back of the CA and tasked with reviewing the anti-abortion 8th Amendment to the Constitution, I will be arguing for a referendum on full repeal of the 8th. I will also be saying that neither the committee nor the Dáil has the right to bury the CA recommendations or to cherry pick only a few. Pro-choice legislation should be prepared in line with the spirit of the CA recommendations. Does anyone seriously believe the Southern establishment — with its relationship to the Catholic Church — will bring in the ground-breaking Citizens’ Assembly proposals without the public forcing them to?
One way of doing this is, on the same day we have a Repeal referendum, to have a plebiscite on any options put forward by the Citizens’ Assembly that the Dáil Committee tries to bury. In Portugal in 2007, the government held a plebiscite for abortion on request up to 10 weeks. They wouldn’t have enacted abortion legislation had they not had this endorsement.
For the first time in Ireland, a forum where members of the public were given control has recommended abortion on request in the first trimester, when 85% of abortions occur, even for socio-economic reasons. This speaks volumes about how fundamentally societal attitudes have progressed.
We are entering a crucial time in the fight for abortion rights in the South. A referendum is likely before summer 2018. Major mobilisations must be organised for. Furthermore, a massive campaign of political pressure on the parties and their deputies in the Dáil Committee on the 8th must be launched. This can affect the nature of the referendum we get next year and the shape of the legislation to follow. The more far-reaching the change advocated, the easier it will be a build a large, radical social movement of women and young people to ensure a ‘Yes’ vote for change and abortion rights.
By Ruth Coppinger TD