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After repeal referendum

Is abortion legislation another Irish solution?

28 Jaunary 2019

The first test of Ireland's new abortion legislation came in January when a woman carrying a foetus with fatal foetal abnormality was refused an abortion at the Coombe Hospital, Dublin.

Two left TDs, Brid Smyth and Ruth Coppinger, essentially alleged that the new law had been breached. They met with a robust response from the government, arguing that the new law was in force, and with a cautious response from women's groups, who called for more information.

Later came clarification. Surgical intervention is allowed in very restrictive circumstances and one of these is fatal foetal abnormality. This is defined as death within a short period after birth, In this case  the foetus could possibly have lived longer than the test period and this was deemed sufficient grounds for delay by the medical team also required by law to approve the abortion.

The women found herself at square one, back before the new legislation, and took the lonely road to Britain for termination.


No it's not. It's shocking in the sense that it's barbaric, not in the sense that it's unexpected.

Does anyone remember the Ms Y case of 2014?

The state had tried to fix the issue of abortion legislation within the existing framework, arguing that the constitution, by giving equal rights to mother and foetus, allowed legislation for abortion where the life of the mother was in danger. However the chief concern of the government was to minimise friction with the church and it tossed the issue of implementation to committees within the medical profession, itself heavily influenced by the religious right.

It was agreed that Ms Y, who was in the care of the HSE, met the criteria set by the new legislation and should be offered a termination, but the doctors in charge decided that ”termination” meant going to term with the pregnancy! The young women ended on hunger and thirst strike, with the HSE seeking Court orders for force-feeding.

A similar process is at work here. The legislation that worked its way through a reactionary Dail at the hands of a right wing government is extremely restrictive. The administration then worked out an "Irish Solution” with elements of the medical establishment. Abortion facilities are available, but essentially as an opt-in by a section of the profession. The church and their supporters are free to operate a guerilla war and use the legislation to suppress women's rights.

In the aftermath of the Coombe Hospital case the government made it clear that it was happy with the new normal. Minister Simon Coveney said that the new legislation had been passed in line with the repeal referendum and government proposals and would now apply to all.

The question now is: where is the mass mobilisation around the referendum? The argument at the time, put forward by many leftists, was that we should go for what is achievable. That may have been the case. It may have been that the restrictive legislation put forward was as far as the electorate would go - although there is little evidence for that position. The church were on the run and that was the time to press forward.

Where the leadership of the campaign went wrong is in counterposing repeal to the right to choose. Everyone  supported repeal, but there was an opportunity to build an independent movement of feminists and socialists that was not taken up. The political timidity restricted action, so only postering and leafleting were carried out until late in the campaign when major demonstrations took place.

Where are we now? A great deal of pressure has been taken off women’ in the early stages of pregnancy, when treatment via abortifacient is suitable. Once into the hospital system an "Irish solution to an Irish problem” applies once again.

Opportunism led to much of the left passing up the task of independently organising the large mass of young woman during the repeal campaign. That task still faces us,

We give credit to the Socialist Party for raising the "right to choose” demand. Unfortunately they did so in their front campaign"ROSA” rather than as a battle in the main campaign. Also SWN/PBP distributed right to choose posters, again without bringing the issue to the main campaign.

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