Wednesday 18 July 2018

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub


From Linda Kavanagh to Tracy Harkin: A guide to who's who in Ireland's divisive abortion debate

With Ireland's landmark referendum on the Eighth Amendment looming, voices on both sides of the abortion debate are getting ­ louder. But who exactly is lining out?

Pro-choice groups campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment protest at the 'Rally for Life' march in Dublin in July last year. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Pro-choice groups campaigning to repeal the Eighth Amendment protest at the 'Rally for Life' march in Dublin in July last year. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Katie Ascough
Michael McGrath
Maria Steen
Peter Boylan
Anna Cosgrave
Colm O'Gorman
David Quinn
Ruth Cullen
Vicky Conway
Anna Cosgrave
John Meagher

John Meagher

It has been a momentous week for campaigners on both sides of the great abortion debate as it was finally confirmed that a referendum would be held this summer.

Friday, May 25, is thought to be the most likely day for the referendum, one that pro-choice supporters hope will forever lift the ban on abortion.

But despite a series of opinion polls that indicate that the majority of the country wants change, the pro-life side believes a large cohort of people opposed to abortion have not had their voices heard.

This week, Toaiseach Leo Varadkar said he would favour not just a removal of the contentious Eighth Amendment to the Constitution - which guarantees an equal right to life for the mother and the unborn child - but also a regime where unrestricted terminations would be available in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

But the cautious remarks of Tánaiste Simon Coveney demonstrated that many politicians - and much of the populace at large - don't support wholesale change.

Over the next four months, the debate will intensify as the disparate groupings on all sides vie to get their point across and their leaders will have a part to play in the eventual outcome, especially when it comes to swaying the hearts and minds of the sizeable 'don't know' segment.

PRO-CHOICE

The Campaigners

Veteran campaigner Ailbhe Smyth has campaigned for women's rights for more than 40 years and has talked about the discrimination she says she suffered in the past as a single mother, and the challenges of coming out as gay later in life. She was instrumental in pulling together the disparate organisations seeking to legalise abortion in Ireland and there are some 70 bodies under the auspices of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Linda Kavanagh is co-founder of the Abortion Rights Campaign and she has helped popularise the 'Free Safe and Legal' slogan. The graphic design professional has long called for abortion laws to match those in Europe. "We want broad access for abortion," she has said. "We are not here because we want a bit of abortion."

Amnesty International Ireland chief Colm O'Gorman (below) is the most high-profile male campaigner for a liberalised abortion regime. He has consistently argued that denying women the choice to have an abortion is a violation of their human rights. Recently, he has been criticised for not returning a donation of €130,000 from the US, as ordered by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).

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Colm O'Gorman

A number of pro-choice campaigners have talked about their own experience with abortion, including the Cork comedian and actress Tara Flynn, and she has taken part in several events in the past few years which aimed to galvanise support for liberalised abortion services here. She has spoken about the online abuse she has received, including a tweet from former Fine Gael executive council member Barry Walsh in which he wrote, "from what Tara Flynn says, she was pregnant and just couldn't be bothered having a baby. So she had it killed. Why is she a feminist hero?"

The Young Breed

Caoimhe Anglin's 'Everyday Stories' initiative is encouraging other women to share their tales of abortion. The 28-year-old has openly spoken about her own abortion experience in 2016. She is planning to take Everyday Stories to every county in the Republic. "Given that I have that background in rural middle Ireland, I understand how important it is to go out there into every county, into as many rural towns and even villages to tell my story."

Black jumpers bearing the word 'REPEAL' in white lettering have become a commonplace sight. The idea was conceived by Trinity College sociology graduate Anna Cosgrave (below) after attending a vigil in honour of Savita Halappanavar, whose 2012 death would galvanise a new generation to campaign for abortion rights. "Wearing a jumper is like a statement of solidarity, like the YES equality badges."

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Anna Cosgrave

Rita Harrold is the spokesperson of campaigning group ROSA, which spells out 'for Reproductive rights, against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity". As well as a liberalised abortion regime, she wants to see the separation of Church and State. She has been involved in a number of controversial initiatives including an 'abortion pill bus' and the flying of a drone bearing abortion pills into the North from the Republic.

The Lawyers

Vicky Conway (below) of Dublin City University's Law School was part of a 10-strong group of lawyers and law academics who wrote a draft 'Access to Abortion' bill in 2016 which would "bring Irish practice closer to that of other European jurisdictions… almost every European jurisdiction allows abortion de jure or de facto on request up to 12 to 14 weeks."

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Vicky Conway

Máiréad Enright, senior lecturer at Birmingham Law School, is a co-founder of Lawyers for Choice. "We hope to contribute to the movement for abortion law reform in Ireland both by supporting pro-choice activism and by contributing to public understanding of the relationships between law and reproductive justice." She has just published a book, Repealing the 8th.

Fiona de Londras, co-author with Máiréad Enright of Repealing the 8th, appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment and noted that "constitutions should enable the government to meet the needs of those it governs. Article 40.3.3 does not allow for a legislative structure that meets the needs of the thousands of women in Ireland who every year access abortion outside of the healthcare structures in this state."

The Medics

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Peter Boylan
 

Cork city GP Mary Favier is a founder member of Doctors for Choice and has been vocal in her support of a liberalised abortion regime. "People have very strongly held views in Ireland," she told a student newspaper, "and they're entitled to their views… but just don't impose them on anyone else." This week, buoyed by the Government pledge to hold a referendum, she tweeted: "As a doctor, I now feel confident we will be able to soon offer women full and appropriate reproductive healthcare in Ireland."

Peter Boylan (above), the former master of the National Maternity Hospital, has been critical of perceived church intervention in healthcare and strongly opposed the hospital's move to a St Vincent's campus under the ownership of the Sisters of Charity. This week he argued that the focus on Down syndrome in the Eighth debate was misplaced. He says it is "virtually impossible" to diagnose Downs in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Veronica O'Keane, professor in psychiatry at Trinity College, Dublin and consultant psychiatrist with Tallaght HSE Services, told the Oireachtas Committee that "the mental health of every person in Ireland is being damaged by the Eighth Amendment... we are all shamed by the current situation."

The Politicians

Although TDs as diverse as Fine Gael's Kate O'Connell and Ruth Coppinger of Solidarity-People Before Profit had made it clear that Ireland's abortion laws needed to be liberalised, it was the contribution of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that attracted most attention.

In a move that antagonised some party members and took others by surprise, he announced in the Dáil that he would support not just repeal of the Eighth but also the rights of women to have an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. "We must have a system which actively encourages women to seek support from medical professionals as soon as possible."

Like Martin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also changed his long-held views when he announced that he supported abortion rights in the first trimester. Abortion, he argues, should be "safe, legal and rare" and, in a press conference this week he urged voters to "trust women".

Ruth Coppinger, meanwhile, was accused of point-scoring when she tweeted: "It's very important to realise that it's movement in society that's forced [the] Government to its position tonight. Varadkar previously voted down #repealthe8th as did Labour & FF."

PRO-Life

The Campaigners

The founder of the Catholic advocacy group Iona Institute, David Quinn (below), has been among the most vocal of the anti-abortion campaigners over the past decade. The former Irish Independent columnist argues that if the electorate votes to abolish the Eighth Amendment, "we will have explicitly declared that the unborn have no right to life under our constitution. The legislature, or the courts, would quickly move towards a very permissive abortion regime."

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David Quinn

Catholic Comment was established by Petra Conroy to ensure that lay Catholic voices would be heard in the media, particularly in the run up to the marriage equality referendum. "The tactic of the abortion campaigners seems to be reduced to a simple 'My body, my choice' line, but the reality is so much more nuanced and complex than that," she told the Irish Independent.

Niamh Uí Bhriain co-founded the anti-abortion group Youth Defence in the early 1990s and came to nationwide prominence for using graphic pictures of aborted foetuses in their campaigns. She now heads the Life Institute and has been in the news in the past few weeks for an initiative built around the story of Joseph Cronin, a young man with Down syndrome. "We have every right to put a human face to the horrible statistic that is coming out of so many countries such as Britain, where 90pc of children (with Down syndrome) are being aborted."

Liz McDermott of anti-abortion group One More Day learned her baby would be born with severe physical disability, but she continued with the pregnancy undeterred. She attracted controversy recently when suggesting that Danes were trying to "eradicate" Down syndrome, an assertion strongly refuted by the Danish ambassador to Ireland.

The Young Breed

Katie Ascough (below) grew up in a staunchly conservative family - her father, Tom Ascough, is on the board of the Iona Institute. Last year, she was voted president of UCD's student union and had made no secret of her conservative views. But there was controversy at the university when it emerged that she had removed a page on access to abortion information from the student union's freshers' magazine. "University should be a place for freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of association," she said.

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Katie Ascough

Ben Conroy is a student at St John's College, Oxford and the treasurer of Oxford Students for Life, a group that pledges to "promote a culture of life at the university and beyond". His mother is the conservative newspaper columnist Breda O'Brien and her talk at Oxford University last year was interrupted by protests.

Every Life Counts canvasses against abortion, especially when disability is diagnosed during pregnancy. Spokeswoman Tracy Harkin has talked about her 10-year-old daughter, Kathleen Rose, who was diagnosed with the rare Trisomy 13. "Terms like 'fatal foetal abnormality', 'incompatible with life', they're such harsh sounding, dehumanising terms… for the many parents throughout Ireland who have lost their little ones to these conditions, that's not how they see their children at all."

The Medics

Orla Halpenny, a long-established GP based at Blackrock, Co Dublin, is one of the leading spokespeople for anti-abortion group Doctors for Life Ireland. The group states that "the Eighth Amendment does not compromise the care of expectant mothers. Ireland remains one of the safest places in the world to have a child." Dr Halpenny is also a member of the Irish Catholic Doctors Learning Network.

Clinical psychologist Ruth Cullen (below) has been involved in the Pro Life Campaign since her time as a student. She spearheaded the Stop Gendercide Now campaign, an initiative which highlights the issue of sex-selective abortion. She has focused on the impact of abortion on women: "There is also mounting peer-reviewed evidence showing that abortion has negative consequences for women with no prior mental health problems."

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Ruth Cullen

Patricia Casey, professor of psychiatry at UCD and the Mater Hospital, has long argued that there was no evidence abortion was a treatment for pregnant women with a suicidal ideation. Psychiatrists should not be involved in assessing a woman's need for abortion since the procedure harmed women, she told an Oireachtas hearing.

The Lawyers

Dublin barrister William Binchy, a Trinity College professor emeritus, is a veteran of several campaigns including the constitutional ban on abortion in 1983 and he was opposed to the divorce referenda of 1986 and 1995 as well as the marriage equality referendum in 2015. "[The Oireachtas] Committee's report facilitates abortion for disability for the first 12 weeks of the child's life on the proposed ground that requires no reason to be given," he says.

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Maria Steen

Dublin-based barrister Maria Steen (above) has consistently argued that abortion should not be permitted in Ireland under any circumstance. She recently said that the fact that women were already going to the UK for abortion did not mean it should be legalised, arguing that it was analogous to the notion that speeding should be permitted on the roads simply because some people chose to break the speed limit.

Louth lawyer Cora Sherlock has been a pro-life campaigner since her college days in UCD in the early 1990s and rejects abortion in all cases. Sherlock has been highly critical of the Oireachtas Committee recommendations, arguing that not enough research was done to "explore lives saved by the Eighth Amendment... [They] are exclusively focused on taking away all meaningful protections from unborn babies."

The Politicians

Senator Rónán Mullen has long been the Oireachtas member that is most trenchantly opposed to abortion - even in the case of rape or fatal foetal abnormality. He was widely criticised last year when he suggested that in an environment where "abortion-on-demand" was permissible Savita Halappanavar "wouldn't have been in hospital because she wouldn't have been pregnant".

Independent TD Mattie McGrath has also been unwavering in his opposition to abortion and was highly critical of both the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee chaired by Catherine Noone.

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Michael McGrath

Elsewhere, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has made it clear he does not support abortion within 12 weeks, although he does support terminations in the case of rape and fatal foetal abnormality. It's a stance shared by some of his Fine Gael colleagues and on the backbenches. And it's a sentiment shared by Fianna Fáil's Michael McGrath (above) - considered by many to be a future party leader: he has called the abortion recommendations a "step too far".

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