Sunday 17 November 2019

Once more the Dáil spends a day talking about the business of a woman's womb

Anne Ferris
Anne Ferris

Lise Hand

The usual dead-rubber feeling which permeates the Dáil chamber on its vote-free fruitless Friday sittings was replaced yesterday by one of overwhelming deja-vu.

Another abortion debate was in half-swing. This time, it was anti-austerity deputies Joe Higgins and Ruth Coppinger who were taking aim at the Eighth Amendment, calling for the repeal of the law which has caused ferocious division and controversy ever since it was inserted into the Constitution in 1983.

And so not for the first time - and definitely not for the last - the business of a woman's womb was paraded through our parliament.

In fact, as Ruth Coppinger pointed out to an almost-empty chamber, it was the sixth occasion in the lifetime of this government that abortion legislation has been debated.

In her speech, the Dublin West TD got straight to the point.

"We must end the hypocrisy whereby we pretend that there is no abortion in Ireland. As we speak, 13 women are packing their bags and leaving this country in secrecy, in stigma and at huge personal cost to themselves and their families," she said.

"Who are these women? They are the relatives, friends, neighbours, wives and girlfriends of politicians in here."

Ruth added that banning abortion doesn't stop it.

"Our abortion rate is much higher than that of the Netherlands, where abortion is free and very unrestricted."

There were few speakers - not because politicians don't hold strong views on the matter, but simply because at this stage it's hard for any of them to find fresh arguments or new persuasions to bring to this debate - a reality referred to by Mick Wallace who told Leo Varadkar, "You'll forgive me if I'm repetitive. We have been here so often, I wonder at the merit of repeating things I've said before."

But despite so much having been said before by so many people on both sides of the abortion divide, it's an issue which won't go away quietly in the manner of the thousands of Irishwomen who tiptoe to England each year.

In fact, the 30 Year War is gearing up for another battle as a general election looms distantly on the political horizon.

For the Labour Party is determined to make abortion an election issue, while Fine Gael is equally determined to leave the thorny matter of dealing with the Eighth Amendment for the next Dáil.

And the disparate views rose during this latest airing. Wicklow TD Ann Ferris - who lost the party whip in February when she voted against the Government on a proposal to allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities - signalled she wouldn't vote against Ruth Coppinger's bill on Tuesday.

"Labour Party members, including me, have worked for many months on drafting the legislation that could follow a successful repeal of the eighth amendment," she said. "There's a careful plan of action in place."

There were no surprises when the Health Minister got to his feet. "As I've stated here a number of times, I believe that this matter should be dealt with in the 32nd Dáil when parties have a fresh mandate from the people for their policies," Leo stated.

"I don't want it to be an election or pre-election issue. It needs to be dealt with sensitively," he added.

The debate ended without drama. Everyone was saving their strength for all the other battles to come.

Irish Independent

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