Wednesday 21 August 2019

FG's worst nightmare - the abortion issue is back

Sinead Ahern, left, chairwoman of Labour Women, and Senator Ivana Bacik at the launch of Labour’s framework for the bill to repeal the 8th amendment
Sinead Ahern, left, chairwoman of Labour Women, and Senator Ivana Bacik at the launch of Labour’s framework for the bill to repeal the 8th amendment

Lise Hand

Calling Fine Gael: it hasn't gone away, you know. The whole abortion thing. What a sigh of relief was exhaled by the party after the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill passed in 2013. That was abortion done and dusted, kicked down the road for the next Dáil to deal with.

But they sighed too soon. For the Labour Party refuses to play nice and leave well alone until after the General Election. Au contraire - they're increasingly vocal on the need to repeal the Eighth Amendment as soon as possible, and this demand will get top billing in its election manifesto.

And worryingly for Fine Gael, a momentum is rapidly building, with some serious heavyweight figures backing the campaign.

Yesterday, in Buswell's Hotel, Labour Women unveiled the framework of their bill to repeal the 8th and had lined up some impressive speakers, notably former Supreme Court justice Catherine McGuinness and consultant obstetrician and former Master of Holles Street, Dr Peter Boylan.

Catherine pulled no punches over the continuing status quo. "What has disturbed me most over these 20-plus years has been the sheer hypocrisy of the situation - hypocrisy of law, hypocrisy of behaviour, hypocrisy of so-called ethics," she said. The veteran campaigner praised the draft heads of the legislation, but warned that any bill would need to be "carefully drawn". And she advised supporters to "think carefully in advance about how you're going to be attacked over this Bill and how you're going to disable the attacks - once you get into the argument, you lose".

Peter Boylan was also forthright about backing the campaign. "My opinion is based on 40 years' experience - I started off very conservative in my views, but as I experienced the women's stories and tragedies they were involved in, I changed my views completely. The 8th amendment has been a disaster for women," he said.

He pointed out that it's a criminal offence for doctors to refer women abroad for an abortion. "It's punishable by up to 14 years in prison. That's the reality of medical practice in Ireland."

Labour are on a roll, whether Fine Gael like it or not. "It is an election issue," stated Equality Minister Aodhán Ó Ríordáin after the launch. "The marriage equality referendum wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been in our manifesto, and the repeal of the 8th won't happen unless a political party makes a commitment to it." He added: "Fine Gael have to make their own decision. And the Taoiseach is the leader of Fine Gael - it's for him to decide what his position is."

But it's not just the junior Coalition partners who have hauled the abortion issue back into the spotlight. James Reilly's decision to call for an early referendum on repealing the 8th has landed him in scalding water.

Senior Fine Gael sources griped that the intervention "undermined the Taoiseach" because the party has yet to finalise its position on the issue. The same sources reckoned that James should have used the interview to "talk up the economy" instead of "making premature remarks about a highly sensitive issue".

But other members of the parliamentary party rushed to his defence. "Being vilified for expressing a different opinion? Sounds like the sort of stuff associated with the Sinn Féin party," sniffed one minister.

But all politicians can expect to get embroiled once again in the abortion question. During a doorstep interview yesterday, Renua's Lucinda Creighton got hit with the same curveball question recently put to two candidates in the US presidential race - if she could go back in time, would she abort Hitler?

A gobsmacked Lucinda kept her answer brief. "I haven't followed that [debate] and thankfully I think the debate hasn't descended to that low level in this country yet," she replied.

Dear oh dear. Just when politicians thought it was safe to go back into the water, abortion is back to bite them.

Irish Independent

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