Wednesday 13 December 2017

A leap of faith on abortion law

GOVERNMENT should always be cautious in approaching polls that send mixed messages. The ongoing capacity of abortion to divide not only Ireland, but all Western democracies, is evidenced by the extraordinary menace that has accompanied this administration's conservative response to the X case. However, those who would threaten to cut the throats of democratic politicians should recall we had 30 years of a far more vicious attack on democratic procedures in this State and it was the extremists who were brought to their knees.

The many faint hearts within our political establishment will undoubtedly be cheered by the high level of support in recent polls for its legislative proposals. They would, however, be wise to avoid being excessively self-congratulatory. Enda Kenny has received much praise for his 'not a Catholic Taoiseach' declaration, but a growing tension exists between the Government's excruciating caution and the support of the voters in a series of separate polls, for this paper and the Irish Times, for a more radical approach to abortion in cases of rape, incest, foetal sustainability or where the woman's life, as with Savita Halappanavar, is at risk.

The Government also has to balance the public desire for change with the reality that Irish opinion is still at a delicate tipping point. The ongoing opposition, revealed last week, of most voters to a liberal abortion regime indicates that a strong majority of the voters still want the current Irish solution to the Irish abortion problem. This unease with the concept of 'social' abortion is confirmed by the comparatively ambivalent rate of just over 50 per cent in support for abortion where the threat of suicide exists, once the legal imperatives of the X case are stripped away.

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