By a vote of 74:69, the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrat Government has taken a step further in restricting access to abortion for women in Ireland by passing the 'Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy' Bill through a second reading in the Dail. They now intend to rush the Bill through the next stages of the legislative process and have a final Dail vote before the Christmas recess, despite protests from all Opposition parties.
The Bill has two central aims: to roll back the right of pregnant women to an abortion where continuing the pregnancy would put their lives in danger because of the risk of suicide - the 'x' case judgement of the Supreme Court in 1992; and to criminalise women who end a pregnancy themselves. Conversely, the Bill will maintain "freedom" to travel abroad for abortions. This is a clear case of one law for the rich and another for the poor: if you can afford to travel and pay a British clinic, go ahead. But if you can't get to Britain, suicide is preferable to abortion in the eyes of Fianna Fail and the PD's.
The Dail debate revealed the Government's justification for this. Bertie Ahern's argument that allowing the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion would "commence an inevitable slide towards social abortion in Ireland" was repeated in various guises by Government spokespersons, 'pro-life' Independents and Fianna Fail TDs. Noel O'Flynn went so far as to say that "the X case effectively permitted social abortion in Ireland, which those of us who support this Amendment are trying to stop".
This argument is spurious. Since the 'x' case, no abortion has been carried out in the state on the basis of the risk of suicide. Fianna Fail and the PDs are slandering Irish women and psychiatrists by suggesting they will collude with women who may lie about their mental condition. They also ignore the reality both of mental health practise and the stigma surrounding mental illness: that threats of suicide usually result in committal to a psychiatric hospital; and that women are not likely to risk ending up in a psychiatric hospital in the hope of getting an abortion.
The claim that this Referendum about honouring pre-election promises is also false. Where was the promised referendum on Partnership for Peace? The real purpose is about keeping the so-called 'pro-life' Independents on Fianna Failís side for post-election coalition deals. Fianna Fail TDs also are using the issue to force political opponents to go public on what is seen as a 'vote-loser' immediately prior to the General Election. And last but not least, the Government will be looking for the votes of the so-called pro-life constituency next summer.
Despite a lack of evidence to support the 'slide towards social abortion in Ireland' argument, Sean Power says that if the Government is defeated in the forthcoming Referendum, "abortion will become a reality in Ireland". This rhetoric denies that abortion is already a reality in Irish life: 19 Irish abortions are carried out every day in British clinics. So while Michael Martin cites research that indicates most of these are for social reasons - the likelihood of poverty, inadequate housing and childcare, risk to education or career, and stigma - his Fianna Fail colleagues thunder on about "stopping social abortion" here.
All talk of "compassion" and "sensitivity" are revealed as hypocritical blather by the discussion on the right to travel and the new criminal offence in the Bill. Sean Power says that if faced with a situation of a young daughter who was pregnant as a result of rape, he "would like to think that ... I would give the same consideration to the unborn child as to my own". Are we really to believe that he would compel his daughter to go full term with such an unwanted pregnancy? Is this what reasonable parents want for a young daughter in such a crisis?
Noel Ahern at least has the merit of being the Governments honest hypocrite. "I cannot be sure I would not be on a plane to the UK with my daughter ... . However, it is perfectly right for people to lay down what they consider to be a reasonable standard of behaviour by which to live" says he - while rejecting accusations of hypocracy.
Evidently Noel's standard applies to other people - especially those who cannot afford the £700 costs (for the woman alone). They - and suicidal women unable to travel for mental or physical health reasons - will face criminal prosecution if they try to end their pregnancies here in Ireland. Similar prosecutions - with the threat of 12 year jail sentences - face those who help such women. So much for "compassion" and "not being judgemental".
Fianna Fail and PD Ministers and TDs hypocritically denounce the evil of "social abortion" but legislate proudly so that Irish abortions - which they know in most instances have 'social' motivations - can continue in Britain. As Frances Fitzgerald and Liz McManus have said, no part of this Bill will alter the daily reality of Irish women going for abortions in Britain.
The Alliance for a NO Vote condemns these cynical actions by the Government and we congratulate the Labour Party, the Greens, the Socialist Party and the Fine Gael TDs who have spoken out against this fundamentalist Bill. We call on the PDs - who have remained silent supporters of Fianna Fail in the debate - to break from this cruel attack on the rights of the most vulnerable of Irish women.