2013: A pro-choice victory?

Abortion dominated Irish politics in the Dail and on the streets this summer, Francis Donohoe reports.

Over 200 pro-choice activists held a successful picket outside the Dublin headquarters of Youth Defence in late June.

The protest was organised on Facebook in response to a Youth Defence mobile bill board being parked outside the offices of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre for a period on 27th June. Three days later pro-choice activists picketed the Youth Defence offices on Dublin’s Capel Street in the largely good natured protest.

The Facebook call for the protest stated, “Too long have Youth Defence gotten away with their lies, manipulation and deplorable behaviour.

It’s time that we stood up, spoke up and fought back. Their posters littered all over the city are not representative of the majority of the country’s views; we cannot be the silent majority anymore.”

The period following the death of Savita Halappanavar who was refused an abortion in Galway University Hospital and subsequently died in October, 2012, to the passing, in July, of the Republic’s new law allowing abortion in extremely limited circumstances has seen a resurgence in activity by both pro-choice and anti-abortion groups.

With the statements of the Catholic Hierarchy largely ineffective it was the lay anti-abortion movement which led the publicity campaign against changes that would enact into a law a Supreme Court ruling that had been ignored by Government since 1992.

This ruling dealt with the so-called X Case, which involved a suicidal 14 year old rape victim who was initially refused the right to travel to England to avail of an abortion.

It’s time that we stood up, spoke up and fought back.

The ardent anti-abortion message was strongly challenged by pro-choice activist groups. The major poster and mobile billboard campaign by Youth Defence in the weeks up to the vote was subject to a campaign of defacement.

Anti-abortion groups also held two large marches in the lead up to the July vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. The numbers involved were greatly disputed but were in the tens of thousands.

A counter protest against the “Rally for Life” march on Saturday, 6th July, attended by several hundred pro-choice activist was heavily policed, resulting in one arrest. In the lead up to the vote the media focus was squarely on which Fine Gael TDs would vote against a Bill which was championed by Labour members of the coalition.

In the end six rebelled and lost the party whip, including Junior Minister Lucida Creighton. Some pro-choice independent TDs – Joan Collins, Clare Daly, Joe Higgins. Richard Boyd Barrett, Mick Wallace and Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan – voted against the Bill which was easily passed by 127 to 31. All parties supported the Bill except for Fianna Fail, a majority of whose TDs voted against it.

Explaining her vote against the Bill, Clare Daly, said: “In the absence of a referendum to repeal Art 40.3.3 of the Constitution – for which we call – we were willing to support legislation in line with the X Case Ruling of 1992.

This Bill however, will put more obstacles in the way of access to life-saving abortions than are required by the Constitution.”

If a woman says it, that should be it

Independent TD John Halligan said he felt “obliged to vote in favour of the legislation” but was strongly critical of it. Speaking in the Dail he said it was an “offence” to women who had suffered rape or were carrying a foetus with a sever abnormality not to believe them if they stated that they feeling suicidal.

He stated that “If a woman says it, that should be it”. He added that the key thing for women in such situations was “To believe that woman, to trust that woman.”

Halligan added that he wanted the end to the approach of merely seeking to export women in such situations “out of Ireland.” Aggressive but non-violent confrontations between pro and antichoice activists also occurred outside the Dail in the hours surrounding the vote.