Undecided on Eighth Amendment deserve better than current debate

Social Democrats' Niall Ó Tuathail.

Social Democrats' Niall Ó Tuathail.

Two groups intended to be representative of Irish people - the Citizens’ Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee – went in with different views on abortion and were exposed to a calm and reasoned debate that got into the nuance, difficulties, and reality of the 8th amendment. Both groups came out with a strong majority in favour of a Yes vote.

On Friday May 25 this process will face its greatest test, and unfortunately there has been no comparison between the RTÉ debates and the presentations to assembly and Oireachtas committee. The cheering and clapping from the Claire Byrne show audience was in poor taste, especially given the people in the audience and watching at home who had lived experience of terminations. My heart goes out to them on what must have been a deeply upsetting spectacle. For the undecideds, I don’t think it did much to help them make an informed decision.

I’ve met a lot of people undecided or leaning towards voting No who have genuine respect and empathy for people in difficult situations and their core values are being pulled in opposite directions. The No side is being smart in their campaigning to try to get people to vote No so that the “hard cases” of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities can be put directly into the constitution. I wish they would be more honest with people. No side spokespeople have been asked multiple times whether they would force child rape victims or parents of babies that will survive for minutes or hours to give birth against their will. They make sounds that make it seem like they struggle with this but the reality is that they would force these victims to give birth against their will. They forcefully campaigned against the right of suicidal women to have a termination. If Ireland votes No, I would not be surprised to see the same campaigners suddenly against any change at all. They are entitled to have that view but they should be honest about it.

Much of the No campaign focus is on the 12 week limit. Part of the rationale for 12 weeks was to protect victims of rape who become pregnant. There is no alternative solution to treat a rape victim with compassion if she has to prove she was raped in the courts. Another No side argument is that mental health grounds isn’t a serious reason for seeking a termination, as they argued with suicide in 2013. This is not fair to Irish people struggling with serious mental health issues. The No side continues to use the example of terminations on the ground of disability when the proposed legislation does not allow for this.

Same campaigners on moral issues

Every time we have these referenda or law changes on moral issues, like divorce, contraception and marriage equality, the same campaigners come out on the No side. They make bold predictions about the impact change will have on society. Despite these yes votes, the sky hasn’t fallen in. If we vote Yes on May 25, the sky won’t fall in because abortion is already very much a reality for Irish women. It’s just that it happens in England. We are not really voting on whether we allow abortion, as it will happen anyway. We are voting about whether we will judge, disgrace and shame these women or whether we will show them compassion, dignity and make sure their healthcare is of the highest quality. It’s about whether we will send them away on a cold plane or boat, or keep them close to the warmth of friends and loved ones in their hour of need.

In the hysteria of a campaign, it’s important to remember that no-one will be forced to have an abortion. Couples will continue to have children they didn’t intend to have. Babies with fatal foetal abnormalities will be born into loving families and receive great neo-natal palliative care. Rape victims will continue with a pregnancy. We must support their decision with compassion and care as equally as the people who decide differently.

No-one is pro-abortion. We all want the rate to go down. Countries that have legalised terminations, introduced proper sexual education and contraception access have reduced the rates of terminations. Making abortion illegal or harder to access makes that termination more likely to be a late-stage termination and more dangerous for women. If we vote Yes, the indications are that it would reduce Ireland’s abortion rates and protect women’s health.

This vote is going to be very tight. Please do seek out good impartial information. Whatever way you are voting, please vote on the day. If you want a Yes vote, please start talking to your friends and family about this. Real people talking one-to-one is more powerful than two bubbles clashing against each other on national TV.

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