Socialist Worker

Brid Smith on the growing fight for abortion rights in Ireland

People Before Profit TD (MP) Brid Smith challenged the Irish government to prosecute her for possessing tablets which can be used to cause an abortion. She held up the tablets during a debate on a bill calling for a referendum to repeal the state’s anti-abortion constitutional amendment.

Issue No. 2527


Left wing AAA/PBP TD's (MPs) in Ireland's Dail this week tabled a motion to allow for a Constitutional Referendum on Repealing the 8th Amendment.

The 8th Amendment effectively bans abortion by giving an unborn foetus the right to life. A similar bill was put twice before in recent years and heavily defeated under a Labour/Fine Gael government.

This time it was put before a government led by Fine Gael and propped up by so-called Independents.

A growing mass campaign against the 8th Amendment has organised rallies, public meetings and protests outside anti-abortion counselling services. Crucially it has linked in with the Abortion Rights Campaign in Northern Ireland.

There, the bigots of the Ulster Unionists have stopped Britain's abortion laws applying to the six counties of Northern Ireland. In the South the Catholic Church colluded with the sectarian, bigoted state in 1983 to introduce a constitutional amendment that equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of a foetus.

Some 33 years on, young women - and men - are outraged that women are prevented from controlling their own bodies.

There has been a litany of barbarity towards women. The state's detainment of the 14 year old rape victim known as Ms. X in 1992 to prevent her travelling to Britain for an abortion.

The deaths of many women refused cancer treatment because it might harm their unborn child. The torture and inhumane forced exile of dozens of women who sought termination because of Fatal Foetal Abnormality.

The death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway four years ago who had been denied an abortion to save her life. The forced life support treatment of a clinically dead woman, against the wishes of her family, because she was pregnant.

Brid Smith campaigning for abortion rights

Brid Smith campaigning for abortion rights


The list does not include the estimated 250,000 women who left Ireland to procure an abortion since 1971. Nor the thousands of young women who procure the abortion pill online and treat themselves without medical supervision.

Last month an estimated 40,000 people marched through the city of Dublin. They demanded abortion rights and a Repeal of the 8th. Buses of women from Belfast and Derry, who are fighting a vicious anti-abortion regime in Stormont, joined them.

Farmers

The Coalition for Repeal 8th Amendment brings together dozens of groups throughout Ireland to campaign for abortion rights. It includes the Union of Students in Ireland, dozens of trade unions, the National Women's Council and even has a Farmers for Repeal branch.

Before the recent general election the coalition lobbied all candidates to support Repeal. Over 70 TDs and Senators pledged their support.

But you would never have guessed that if you were in Dail this week. When the bill was put to the floor there were about 12 of the 162 TDs present. The gallery was packed to the rafters with young women who had earlier been protesting outside. The debate was serious, passionate and lively. But the cowardly Independents had stitched up a deal with Fine Gael to support a so-called Citizens Assembly to adjudicate on Repeal.

Ninety-nine randomly chosen citizens, advised by lawyers, medical professionals and overseen by a judge, have been selected to tell women what they think they should do with their bodies.

But this won't wash with the tens of thousands of young people in the pro-choice movement. The genie is out of the bottle and we have learned that people power speaks louder than the Dail.

The water charges movement and the campaign for same sex marriage brought hundreds of thousands out onto the streets. Direct action and mobilisation have been commonplace. Recent successful strikes over pay by transport workers have taught people that you have to fight to get change.

We an never go back to the dark ages of the 1980s when priests and bishops dictated what people do in their bedrooms and their lives.

We have seen the carnage that rapists in the church inflicted on young boys and girls in their care. We have seen unmarried, pregnant women locked up, abused and their lives destroyed. That era has blown the church's grip out of the water. Ireland has changed and must continue to change.

I got a call from a young couple in my constituency who thanked me for my speech in the Dail. They are flying to Liverpool on Saturday because their baby at 20 weeks' gestation has been diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormality.

They are distraught with grief and feel abandoned. This has to stop. Repeal the 8th has to grow in strength.

We need the cowards and the traitors in the Dail to feel the pressure of people power again and again until we get a referendum of the people. We need free, safe and legal abortion North and South.


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