Government defeated again

By Kevin McLoughlin
Socialist Voice March 2002

The government's attempt to rule out the possibility of suicide as a basis for abortion in the South has been defeated. Forget the spin doctoring, that is the simple fact of the matter. There are some issues relating to confusion around the referendum wording but this result does show a definite shift in public opinion since 1992.

This is a big blow to the so-called 'Pro-Life' Campaign and in particular to the Bishops, who strongly rowed in behind the government. Ironically, at the time of writing, a more vigorous battle is being waged over what the result means than many of the contending forces actually waged during the campaign. Such wrangling adds to the confusion and isn't accidental. For some, it is just another attempt to do what they failed to do in the campaign itself i.e. hold back legislation and social change.

The argument which we will undoubtedly hear from the political establishment is the need to proceed with caution, the country is split and so on. Prepare yourself for more attempts at political fudging and backsliding on the abortion issue. What this vote does is to give specific public endorsement to the key point in the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case. The Socialist Party demands that any new government must immediately legislate to allow abortion in this country where there is a threat to the life of a woman, including from the risk of suicide.

42% of people voted. 49.6% voted yes and 50.4% voted no. The last result to come in may have been in Galway West but the crucial point was that the main urban areas strongly rejected the proposal and this narrowly carried the day. The higher than average turnout in Dublin (47.5%) was crucial. The no majority in Dublin was by 100,000 votes 37% yes and 63% no.

William Binchy on the basis of this result stated that there is a clear 'pro-life' majority in this country! Not surprisingly, once again he flies in the face of reality. This vote if anything actually significantly understates the change that has taken place in attitudes on abortion. When it suits the powers that be, they say the Irish electorate is extremely sophisticated. Now we are told people were very confused. There was certain confusion but that must not be overstated. The strong no vote in urban areas clearly indicated that the no vote was overwhelmingly against rowing back on abortion rights and in favour of a more liberal situation than has operated.

Again, the vast majority of those who voted yes did so accepting that where there is real and substantial risk to the life of a woman, abortion within this state should be provided for. On any reading of the figures, a significant majority of those who voted are opposed to any blanket ban on abortion. This is absolutely in line with the recent opinion polls where that specific question was posed. The Socialist Party believes that people should vote but what is indicated by the 58% of people who didn't vote? Why did this referendum not capture the focus of the majority in this society.

Certainly if these people were strongly anti-abortion they would have turned out and voted yes. A very large section of these people didn't vote because they had no enthusiasm for dealing with abortion through referendum (three in less than twenty years have made people weary) also there is a definite sentiment that it is up to a woman to decide. Many also accept the reality that 7,000 women travel to Britain each year for an abortion and voting in this referendum won't change that situation one iota. Legislating for abortion where there is a serious risk of suicide must now take place but that is only the beginning.

Official hypocrisy that ignores the reality of abortion in Ireland once the operation takes place in Britain must be ended. There are very serious medical, economic and social reasons why women choose to terminate a pregnancy. The basic rights of people belong to individual people themselves. The choices of women must be respected and legislation to provide for abortion through the Irish health service must be implemented. The only time this issue should be dealt with again through referendum is to take all reference to abortion out of the constitution, in particular the scrapping of the 1983 Amendment.

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