Inaction on Abortion is Unacceptable:
As Irish people we are renowned for the ease with which we can strike up light conversation. We excel at “shooting the breeze” and “small talk”. Once the subject is “easy-going” then so are we. Decide to slip an inconvenient topic such as abortion into the chat and watch what happens.
It’s one of those polarising issues that people prefer to steer clear of because it’s easier to do so. Politicians do likewise. Irish social history is scarred by battles on the subject. Each time our abortion laws are questioned – from whatever quarter – respectful debate breaks down. As sure as night follows day one of the Pro-Choice or Pro-Lifegroups will accuse the other of pedalling an extreme agenda. What these accusations fail to acknowledge is the silent majority who know to do nothing is a failure, and yet who feel paralysed to seek out workable solutions.
The UN Human Rights Committee recently ruled on the case of Amanda Mellett who was twenty weeks into her pregnancy when doctors told her that her pregnancy was non-viable and travelled to the UK for a termination.
The Committee declared that we have an “obligation to take steps to prevent similar [human rights] violations occurring in the future”. So what does this mean? It called for the state to “amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy, including if necessary its Constitution, to ensure compliance with the Covenant”. A major footnote for our leaders: Try tip-toeing around that one. Within hours the debate had kicked off.
Let’s be clear on one thing: this situation will happen again unless there is a change to Ireland’s laws. It may not happen to you orto me, it may not happen today or tomorrow. But one day, a young woman experiencing a fatal foetal abnormality will decide that she wants a termination. Whether you think that decision is the right one or the wrong one the fact remains our laws are not fit to address the varied circumstances a pregnant woman can find herself in. Something needs to be done.
Dialogue and consultation will be critical for solutions to be delivered. Equally critical will be the participation of our political leaders in a process that will almost certainly involve a change to our laws. The Government response has been lukewarm. Health Minister Simon Harris calls the existing situation “unacceptable”, his predecessor Leo Varadkar believes the 8th Amendment was “ill conceived”. Based on these comments it would appear that
change is afoot. But what “steps” will be taken? And who will take them? Will the tragedies continue to occur as our country looks the other way?
Calm conversation is essential before any workable solutions can be forged. An assembly of citizens could achieve the conditions forsuch a calm consideration of the issues. And that is precisely what the Fine Gael government say they will set up, by no later than October this year. Politicians love to play their cards right. Compared with the alternatives a citizen’s assembly could be the ace in the deck. And it might just work for society’s benefit too.
It’s worth remembering that it was a convention of Irish citizens that recommended a referendum on same sex marriage in May 2013. Two years later gay marriagebecame a legal reality. On other occasions, such assemblies amount to no more than a public relations exercise.
If the government’s true reason for holding a convention is no more than a ploy to stall the calls for action – or worse, a cynical testing of public opinion – it would be a shocking betrayal of Irish people. Deputy Harris is correct in saying the situation is ‘unacceptable’. At the same time political experience will tell him that change can take time. That’s understandable. Inaction however is not. The price of doing nothing on this important issue will be paid not in coins or in votes but in human suffering.
Modern Ireland, of every outlook and persuasion, must be given its chance to come together, free from undue influence and fear, to take the measured steps its leaders for so long evaded.