Labour Youth Submission to the Citizens Assembly on the Eighth Amendment
Dylan O’Keeffe, Policy & Education Officer
Chloe Manahan, Women’s and Trans* Officer
Labour Youth is the youth wing of the Labour Party, with members in colleges and communities across Ireland. Membership of Labour Youth is open to anyone between the ages of 16 and 30.
We are a socialist organisation committed to the principles of equality, social justice, trade unionism and feminism. This is reflected by our comprehensive set of policies, which have been democratically decided on by our members at annual national conferences.
Labour Youth has a strong record of campaigning for our principles and policies, and challenging the injustices in our society. Our campaigns include the rights of workers and those on low pay, publicly funded and free education, migrants’ rights, LGBTQ* rights and gender equality. Labour Youth opposed the insertion of the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution in 1983 and has done since.
Labour Youth is a pro-choice organisation and supports free, safe and legal abortion.
Labour Youth believes that the Eighth Amendment must be repealed and therefore submits to the Citizens Assembly a recommendation for a referendum be called on whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment or not.
This submission will highlight the reasons Labour Youth is advocating for the Eighth Amendment to be repealed
Since its insertion into Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Eighth Amendment has served as a tool for discrimination against women and those who were female assigned at birth.
It allows for an unequal health system where pregnant people have only a qualified right to healthcare. The Eighth Amendment puts women’s lives at risk through precarious situations for doctors, and increasing the number of unsafe abortions carried out.
Basic health care is a human right, in preventing this, the Eighth Amendment is a violation of human rights in Ireland.
The Eighth Amendment disproportionately affects underprivileged women, such as women on low incomes, asylum seekers and undocumented women, who can’t travel with ease to obtain an abortion.
Labour Youth is a feminist organisation that supports women’s fight for independence and equality. Reproductive rights are essential to this, and the Eighth Amendment is the greatest barrier to reproductive rights in Ireland today.
Labour Youth further believes that it is inappropriate to deal with complex social issues constitutionally.
The Eighth Amendment endangers women’s lives. The Eighth Amendment means that doctors must follow a thin line, under the threat of criminal sanction for providing appropriate health care to pregnant women. This may prevent doctors from acting in their best interests, intentionally or not. We saw this with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.
Further, the Eighth Amendment diminishes the rights of pregnant women in the health service by giving them only a qualified right to healthcare.
Noting the condemnation of the Eighth Amendment by various international human rights groups, Labour Youth views the denial of basic health care – free, safe and legal abortion, as in violation of their human rights.
Ireland’s prohibition of abortion subjects thousands of women in the country to what has been described by the United Nations as “intense physical and mental suffering”, noting that often, pregnancies are terminated due to foetal health problems.
This is illustrated by the case of Amanda Mellet and the pain she and her husband endured, a prime example of a common scenario faced by many Irish families. It is unacceptable that a couple who found that their pregnancy carried a fatal foetal impairment, making survival outside the womb impossible, should have had to travel to another country at their own financial and emotional expense to terminate the pregnancy. No woman should suffer detriment to her health resulting from “the shame and stigma associated with the criminalisation of abortion”. This case resulted in the United Nations Human Rights Committee calling on Ireland to revise the archaic Eighth Amendment – a demand that cannot be ignored without choosing to overtly violate human rights. As a further result, the Irish state agreed to pay reparations to Ms Mellet based on the ruling. This, of course, is an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. However, it should be pointed out that Ms Mellet is the only woman among thousands who will receive such compensation.
As a member of the United Nations, Ireland has committed to uphold human rights laws. However, it fails to do this as long as the Eighth Amendment remains in the constitution. Ireland will also continue to be in breach of its obligations under international law.
Labour Youth feels that to ignore the demands of the UN and other human rights monitoring entities is to represent Ireland as a regressive and apathetic nation and society to the international community, as well as to let down all the daughters of Ireland.
Women on low incomes Labour Youth notes with concern the economic implications of the Eighth Amendment. Most notably, that legislation effectively permits those who can afford to travel to get an abortion to do so, while restricting those without economic resources. Each year, thousands of women travel abroad to obtain abortion services. This comes at a significant cost and places a financial burden on women on low incomes. Expenses include flights, accommodation and access to the services. It is estimated that these costs can amount to between €800 and €3,000, and sometimes more. In Ireland, most workers on the minimum wage and on low incomes are women, with 50% of women earning €20,000 or less a year. This means that the cost to a woman on a low income to travel abroad to get an abortion is equivalent to 15-20% of their annual income. These costs force many women to either borrow money or seek illegal and sometimes dangerous alternatives. This situation is counterproductive to the creation of a fair and egalitarian society as it indirectly affords the right to abortion to those with more economic resources than others. 2. Asylum Seekers and Undocumented Women
Migrant women, and particularly women in the Direct Provision system have strict travel restrictions imposed on them. Asylum seekers are not allowed to leave the jurisdiction and may be arrested and brought back to Ireland if they attempt to. This makes access to abortion far more difficult. The case of Ms Y illustrates this. Ms Y was an asylum seeker in Ireland, who on arriving in Ireland, discovered she was pregnant as a result of rape. She immediately sought an abortion but was refused. In July, 2014 she travelled to the UK but was arrested on arrival and sent back to Ireland. Upon returning she was confirmed as suicidal by two panel psychiatrists. Despite the fact she was raped and confirmed suicidal, which would have permitted an abortion under the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, she was still refused an abortion by the HSE. Ms Y went on hunger strike, desperate to end the pregnancy. The HSE obtained a High Court order to forcibly hydrate her until her baby was delivered via caesarean section at 25 weeks gestation in August, 2014.
Labour Youth is an organisation of young people aged 16-30. We represent young people of all different backgrounds and types. We represent members of the LGBTQ* community. We represent minorities of all sorts. We represent young men and young women in Ireland who are committed to equality and to progressive values. We are passionate activists for good – whether it be ensuring a living wage for all workers, for providing an education to every person in this country, or promoting the rights and equal status for refugees in this country, fighting for the state to stop treating them as second class citizens.
We see reproductive rights as a force for positive, not just halting discrimination in our health service and society and preventing the infringement of human rights. Reproductive rights give women the right to choose. Decisions that are fundamental to our lives and bodies should not be taken by the state, by the Church, or by your neighbour, but by the individual themselves. That is freedom, liberty and independence.
We feel it is now time that the Irish people are asked, through a referendum if they wish to see the Eighth Amendment repealed.
We in Labour Youth, along with every citizen under the age of 52, have never had the opportunity to vote on this issue. When almost all the people who are affected by the Eighth Amendment have never been consulted, it is time to ask.
Opinion polls consistently show that the public no longer support the Eighth Amendment; when this is the case it is time to ask.
When women have died, and every day more are put at risk; when our health system discriminates against women and pushes them into dangerous situations at home and abroad, it is time to ask.
When the state disproportionately discriminates against those less privileged in society, whether they be an ethnic minority, a religious minority, from a disadvantaged socio-economic group, or otherwise, it is time to ask.
When the state infringes on people’s human rights, to the scrutiny of NGOs and international organisations such as the UN, as well as the public, it is time to ask.
When we want to see a feminist republic of equals, it is time to ask.
Labour Youth urges the Citizens Assembly, ask us, give us the opportunity to make good.