Monday 16 September 2019

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub

Result won't bring closure - abortion will continue to dominate our politics

A man leaving a polling station in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A man leaving a polling station in Dublin. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

The polling booths are closed. Boxes sealed. But Article 40.3.3 rows will endure for many more years - irrespective of the result. Like the Brexit vote campaigning in Britain, what the result's consequences mean will continue to dominate our politics - either with attempts to rerun the vote if defeated or stymie liberal legalised abortion regime if passed.

The debate this time was more informed, reasoned, and civilised than in 1983. Then it became a proxy vote on loyalty to the Catholic Church. If you adhered to that institution, had that faith, you blindly supported the religious rationale that Ireland should be a bastion against global liberalism that legalised abortion by pre-empting legislative change through permanent constitutional prohibition.

Irish society has transformed, modernised, and pluralised in the intervening 35 years. Awareness of the outside world is much less ignorant.

The original, absolutist blanket ban on Irish women procuring abortions has been significantly diluted. Subsequent referendums and legislation, in 1992 and 1995, freely facilitate pregnant women obtaining terminations abroad. Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (2013) provided for legalising abortions here where there was a real/substantial risk to the life of the mother.

So we're on the verge of repealing the Eighth, but what next? All your questions answered…

Yesterday's choice was whether to retain the status quo by continuing with British or internet solutions to terminate unwanted Irish crisis pregnancies or legalise a regime within the State. Key arguments ran on parallel tracks - rights of women to take control of childbirth versus the human rights of unborn babies to life. A head versus heart confrontation.

The logic of trusting clinicians to safeguard expectant mothers' health risks; terminating unviable babies, not carried to full term; preventing babies from being born from incidents of rape and incest. Set against: the emotion of saving human life of an unborn child after conception by graphically revealing gestational milestones, even within the first trimester, of developing organs, features and functions.

"Care and Compassion" versus "Love Both" are slick slogans, with significant fine print of terms and conditions.

I even-handedly, respectfully moderated broadcast debates on radio and television. Passionate commitment on both sides was sincerely motivated to respectively liberate women or save lives. Arguments were better absorbed by legal and medical points rather than personalised abuse.

Retain campaigners performed more effectively than repealers. They acknowledged those that can afford terminations can readily and legally do so by clicking on the internet or making an appointment at a UK clinic. They honed their arguments to say that Irish restrictions lead women to reflect longer before individually deciding to terminate - hence saving a total 100,000 lives over four decades, if nominally comparing international abortion rates relative to Irish statistics.

They painted screening scenarios of abortion selection for parents on grounds of detectable non-fatal disability, resulting in abortion where there is a diagnosis of Down syndrome or cleft palate. They argued victimising the unborn baby in cases of rape is unfair. They blurred fatal foetal abnormality foreign horrors by outlining hospice care here and disputing certainty of diagnoses.

These contentions succeeded in closing the gap from a perennial polling Yes majority of almost 2:1 towards a single digit percentage margin between both sides.

The likelihood of older rural conservatives having cast their vote over younger urbanised millennials on a sunny Friday evening puts prospects as unpredictable.

Default positions of the Irish electorate on referendums tends to be negative. If in doubt, confused; vote No. Notionally large majorities in favour of abolishing the Seanad and giving Oireachtas committees more powers to investigate serious scandals evaporated. Despite political establishment advocacy, voters were spooked at the last minute and retained the status quo. A cocktail of confusion and vested interests procured ill-considered results.

I'm not an advocate for either side and never sought to influence the outcome. But, being an opinion columnist compels me to clarify that I voted Yes, while respecting a No result.

My top reason was because I believe in the primacy of parliament. Despite constantly railing against politicians and body politic, ongoing legislative amendment is the optimal way to govern our daily lives. Constitutional provisions can't cope with complexities of clinical protocols, harrowing human circumstances. Binary choices are blunt instruments for complex cases that aren't black and white.

The US constitution, as far back as 1791, gave citizens under the Second Amendment the right to "keep and bear arms". That might have been justifiable for an uncivilised era, but prevents today's generation of legislators from introducing sensible gun-control laws.

On the central question of "trusting the politicians", I believe the answer always has to be Yes. They can be fired. They're ultimately democratically accountable to the people. The likelihood is that we'll have a series of health ministers, governments and Dáils that'll deliberate and fine tune the healthcare regime if terminations may be legalised here.

I was persuaded by the arguments, testimony and expertise advanced and deliberated upon at the Citizens' Assembly and special Oireachtas committee hearings.

All other EU states faced the same human dilemma of crisis pregnancies. The international norm across Europe is to facilitate legalised terminations during the first trimester. This varies between mostly 10/12 weeks; exceptionally up to 22 weeks in the Netherlands and 24 weeks in Britain. Only Malta and Poland are outliers. Ireland uniquely bans terminations.

The Oireachtas game changer has been internet access of abortifacient pills for €90 on demand. These postal deliveries provide desired outcomes for women who either don't want to have parental responsibility for a baby at that time in their life or in those conception circumstances.

However it's dangerous, leading to serious secretive health complications of haemorrhage bleeding and infections. Legalising represents safer woman's healthcare.

Trusting vulnerable Irish women seems a civilised reasonable proposition rather than adding to their isolation, alienation and stigmatisation.

My abiding enduring compass on public social policy issues is to place the axis on what outcome makes Ireland a more modern, pluralist, inclusive society. Yes ticked that box yesterday.

Irish Independent

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