Pro- Choice or Pro Repeal? That is the question for Labour.
We pride ourselves on being pro- repeal of the 8th Amendment. Yet our current policy on abortion still groups women into two categories; those who can and those who can’t.
“Only in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.” said I as I tried to reassure a kind faced, middle aged mother of three on a dim and cold night in the leafy suburb of Clonsilla, during a grueling General Election campaign.
She had asked me if I wanted to see abortion on demand become a reality in Ireland. I had wanted to tell her no; I don’t want abortion on demand because I do not want to live in an Ireland where I have to demand an abortion. I would like to live in an Ireland where I need only request one.
I did not say that. Instead, and with more than a mild sense of guilt, I rattled off the party line for this election. “Only in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities”.
In 1983 we campaigned against the 8th Amendment. It is a destructive, cruel and demeaning Amendment with horrendous real life implications for the women of Ireland.
Repeal of the 8th Amendment is crucial, and I am proud to be part of the party who have consistently stood against it. Yet, as momentum for another referendum grows and we face into the potential of a ground campaign on this issue in the coming years, we need to answer a very simple question: Are we pro-repeal, or pro-choice?
What is next for Labour if the 8th was to be repealed? Would we be content with the position we put forward in the general election, which is, at its most basic level, an approval of abortion for the most tragic of cases? Our current position draws a clear dividing line between the deserving and the undeserving when it comes to access to abortion.
Obviously repealing the 8th Amendment is a crucial aim in the fight for women’s right in Ireland and the tactically smart next step. However it seems to me that by identifying as pro-repeal, without being willing to identify as pro-choice, we give ourselves a get out of jail free card. We can criticise our political opponents for their lack of compassion on the issue and recall our proud history in the fight for equality, yet never ask ourselves the tough question. What happens after? And are we going to have that discussion?
If the entirety of the current Labour policy was implemented, there would still be a need for women to leave the country or risk prosecution by ordering drugs online. As Labour members we care about a more equal Ireland for all. At the moment our policy on abortion would still require women to board trains, planes and ferries to access medical treatment because the State does not approve.
Moreover our policy at the moment still does not address the blatant class issue in regard to abortion in Ireland. We fought in government for a universal healthcare system and yet now are taking a policy position which disenfranchises the poor. Does that sound like a position we should take?
Labour could lead on this issue. We could actively identify as pro-choice. We could stand up and say that we believe in full and free bodily autonomy for all women. We would be the only party that has served in government to have ever said that. Labour uses the 8th Amendment as a political stick to beat others with. But it is also a shield, behind which we hide and have a phony debate about abortion in Ireland. A debate which isn’t actually about abortion but is instead about how we should or shouldn’t legislate for it.
It is my firm belief that one day the 8th Amendment will be a thing of the past. I know that Labour will be part of making it so. Yet, we need to see the 8th Amendment for what it really is; one hurdle. Yes, we need to overcome it but we should be aiming to reach the finishing line beyond it – an Ireland where I don’t need to demand or justify an abortion, I need only request it. An Ireland where I can stay with my own GP for my medical care. An Ireland where we don’t ask any women to leave and deal with their issue elsewhere. An Ireland where not only the tragic cases can access abortion.
We have often been on the right side of history, willing to fight for those who others did not. Let’s be the party willing to say that no one need justify medical care, they need only ask for it. Equality comes with no caveats, so let’s not accept any in our own party policy on this issue.
Ellen is a Labour Youth member from Dublin West and Women’s Officer on our National Youth Executive