8th Amendment repealed – what next for pro-choice activists?

Now that the 8th Amendment has been repealed the focus of the pro-choice movement rightly moves on to what comes next. Repeal has provided the opportunity to provide women in Ireland with access to abortion services supported by appropriate medical care here at home. But the reaction of the anti-choice side following the referendum campaign, backed by senior figures in the Catholic hierarchy, has made it clear there are still many battles to be fought.

The first of these will be over the content of the government’s proposed legislation to replace the draconian Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.

The government’s proposed legislation falls far short of meeting the full aims of those who believe in women’s right to choose. One of the main organisational expressions of this perspective at the current time is the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) whose primary stated objective is:

“To educate the public and policy makers about the need for access to free, safe and legal abortion options in Ireland for all who need it, regardless of citizenship or financial capacity, in line with provision of other basic healthcare options.”

While the government’s proposal of abortion access on request up to 12 weeks is to be welcomed it must be noted that during the referendum campaign they went to great lengths to make it clear that abortion access after that initial period would be highly restricted. Their proposal also puts the final decision about requests for access to abortion services after 12 weeks in the hands of medical gatekeepers rather than with the women herself – as it would be in the case of any other health care request.

At the time of writing this blog it is also unclear whether provision of abortion services will be free and how issues of conscientious objection and associated referral’s will be dealt with. This may well be a critical issue for women living in isolated rural areas.

Opposition to time limits and gatekeepers for access to abortion services along with a belief that the provision of those services should be free and available to all women who need them are core tenants of pro-choice groups like ARC. The government’s proposed legislation should therefore be seen as the bare minimum that pro-choice activists would call for TD’s to support in a Dáil vote.

The pro-choice movement will have to walk a fine line in regard to the government’s proposed legislation. Defending the core supportable element – abortion access on request up to 12 weeks – against attacks from the anti-choice obscurantists while highlighting the deficiencies of the legislation as compared to the full pro-choice position women really need and at the same time seeking amendments to improve the legislation as much as possible.

As was seen with the referendum campaign it is possible there will be political pressure from some elements within the wider women’s rights movement to tone down, or perhaps even completely disappear, any demands relating to free, safe and legal provision of abortion services for all women who request access along with any associated criticisms of the weaknesses and limitations of the government’s proposal.

Anyone active in the trade union movement will recognise the tactics of “realism” and “pragmatism” where the bureaucratic leaders seek to moderate the demands before going into negotiations thereby guaranteeing the final result is even more moderate and further from the real (“unrealistic”) needs of the members.

As a general rule political negotiating – and lobbying around legislation is exactly this kind of negotiation – is much more a contest judging the relative social weight of the contending positions than it is about the sides coming together to achieve a reasoned compromise in the best interests of everyone. The stronger the pole openly arguing for all aspects of women’s right to choose the better the legislation will be.

The political struggle around making sure there is no censorship (including self-censorship) of those advocating women’s right to choose will therefore be vitally important in the immediate future.


Responding to the exit polls

*** Update Monday 28 May***

It has been brought to my attention that some people have interpreted this blog post as being disrespectful to the work done by activists in the TFY campaign, as somehow implying that wasn’t important as we would have won anyway due to the work of earlier pro-choice activists.

That was not my intention and I want to make it clear that I believe the TFY campaign played an absolutely essential role in winning the referendum.

There was a barrage of lies and dirty tricks from the No side as they threw who knows how many millions of euro at the referendum campaign. Left unopposed that could well have undermined the support for a Yes vote that the polls of the past decade indicated was already there. Indeed that is probably what we saw represented in the pre-referendum polls as the No side had got out ahead of Together for Yes with their bill-boards and posters going up so much earlier than ours.

But as our campaign got up and running, and particularly in the last couple of weeks where we completely overwhelmed the No side with our multitude of canvassers and the sheer number of people out and about with badges and t-shirts, we were able to tap into that earlier support and overcome the doubts put in their minds by the No side’s campaign.

I just want to recognise the importance of the work of the early pioneers in the dark days of the 80’s, 90’s & 00’s (women like Sandra McAvoy and Mary Favier in Cork who I have had the privilege of campaigning alongside over the eleven years since I arrived in Ireland) who in my opinion laid the basis for this historic victory – an analysis I consider to be consistent with the RTE exit poll combined with the opinion polls of the past decade.


One interesting thing coming from the RTE poll is that most of those polled (82%) did not change their mind during campaign and only 7% saying it was as contact with campaigners. Also only 2% said it was a result of either the Citizens Assembly or JOC. The reaction to Savita’s death was a factor for some but mostly it pre-dated even that.

Therefore it seems this result is not primarily the result of the TFY campaign but rather the result of the years of hard work by pro-choice activists up and down the country. Combined of course with the increasing recognition of abortion as a reality in Ireland and the 8th Amendment has not stopped that – which no doubt is partly due to those pro-choice activists highlighting this reality publicly.

Howevet only 52% are in favour of 12 weeks on request so still lots of work to do for those of us believe who support women’s right to choose without time limits or gatekeepers to that access.

But we start that work from a position of great strength.

And just as importantly the door has been opened to making wider social change paeticularly breaking the chains of religious control in schools and hospitals.

Now I’m looking forward to a fantastic day celebrating this victory at the Cork TFY office and in particular hearing the reactionary dinosaurs in the No leadership having to deal with the reality of what has happened and that all their lies had so little affect.


On the brink of victory in the referendum

The beginning of a big day in Irish history. I feel confident that we will get the result Irish women need and deserve. It will open the door to providing them with the health care and support they need here in Ireland but in some ways it is also just a step on the way. A giant step to be sure but still not the end of the journey.
Even the best case scenario for the legislation to follow repeal will still be well short of what is required for women’s right to choose to become a reality. And the size of support for the No vote would indicate that many more struggles remain in this area of women’s lives not to mention the wider struggle for women’s liberation in a general sense.
But all that is for the future.

This is a time to reflect on a campaign which while suffering from significant organisational weaknesses from its inception has still been amazing. In my role as Liaison Officer for the Cork Together for Yes Committee I have been privileged to get to know and work with so many women, and some men, in activist groups across Cork city and county who have made this campaign what it is and been at the centre of putting us in touching distance of this historic advance for women in Ireland.

This especially true of the women in Cobh Together for Yes who, as my local group, I have campaigned particularly closely with over these past weeks. Some I knew from the Household and Water Charges campaigns and some I met for the first time. All of whom making up a group of strong and courageous women who I am proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside as part of the team here in Cobh.


So what if abortion really is “murder”?

Some questions for anyone who says “abortion is murder”.

If you also believe human life begins at conception why aren’t you protesting against provision of the morning after pill?

Why aren’t you calling for prosecution (and the 14 year jail terms the current law provides) of the thousands of Irish women who self-medicate with abortion pills bought online?

Why aren’t you calling for compulsary pregnancy tests of all women and girls at the airports and ferry terminals to stop these “murderers” from carrying out the “murder” overseas?

Why aren’t you calling for compulsary regular pregnancy checking of all fertile women so they can be put in a controlled space to stop them buying the abortion pills online?

The answer to why most people who use the “abortion is murder” phrase wouldn’t call for the above is because they don’t actually believe it.

They know that to follow through on the logic of that view would require the creation of a barabaric anti-women police state similar to the dystopia portrayed in The Handmaid’s Tale.

However the leaders of the No side really do believe that all abortion is murder. They opposed the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act as being too liberal – they would prefer that women ran the risk of dying.

When they occasionally let their guard down in a debate you can see that despite all their claims to “love both” they would actually be prepared to control women in ways very similar to my hypothetical questions.

Don’t give these reactionary social dinosaurs the confidence to push other aspects of their anti-woman agenda.

Vote Yes on Friday.


The danger of political expediency in the referendum campaign

So things are moving along very well in Cork. Not only is there a central office with canvassing having started in the city but the whole county is being organised in a federal manner.

Cork County is split into 4 main areas, West, North, East and Mid (Macroom and the N22 corridor) which coordinate work between the towns in those areas – helping each other out with stalls and canvassing etc. Plus there is a county-wide committee which oversees any county-wide activities that may be decided on.

However I have realised (well had it pointed out to me) that a diary outlining the day-to-day organisational details of the campaign is not really what a Marxist should be writing about. The politics are what is important.

In my next blog post I’ll be outlining the arguments I’ve found to be most effective – both for engaging undecided voters and deflecting the dirty tricks of the antis.

But in this blog post I’d like to deal with the problem of political expediency which is raising its head in the Together for Yes campaign.

Specifically a position paper produced by the national office of Together for Yes dealing with the Govt’s proposal for 12-week unrestricted access to abortion – https://www.togetherforyes.ie/12-weeks.

This position paper has gone beyond what I had previously understood to be the Together for Yes position – that the campaign considered the Govt’s proposed legislation, based on the Joint Oireachtas Committee recommendations, to be the MINIMUM required. Instead this position paper makes a much more positive endorsement of those proposals as providing THE answer.

“Together for Yes considers that these [AG: the Govt’s proposals] are workable and reasonable proposals to allow women and girls to access the abortion services which they need, in a safe and regulated medical environment within the Irish health system.”

As it is written this statement is simply untrue. To be factual accurate it would require a “most” qualifier before “women and girls”.

It also seems to be implicitly implying the campaign believes that allowing abortion only in cases of, what the position paper itself describes as, “exceptional circumstances” (and we can be absolutely sure the circumstances will indeed by very limited and exceptional), for terminations beyond 12 weeks is “reasonable”. What this will concretely mean is that some women will still be forced to travel if they need a termination. In my opinion that is very far from “reasonable”.

When I have raised my concerns about this with other activists the most common reply is that this changing of the content of our message, as opposed to the tone and use of particular words and phrases, is necessary to win over the infamous “middle ground” of undecided voters who are open to being swayed by the “this will open the floodgates” rhetoric of the anti-repeal side.

I could perhaps understand this as a “clever tactic” if the referendum represented the complete and final end of the struggle for abortion access in Ireland. But even in the best case scenario – a big majority in the referendum followed by legislation based on the most liberal interpretation of the Govt’s proposals – there will still be a mountain of work to be done by pro-choice activists.

The post-referendum legislation will still be significantly short of what is required to meet the needs of all women and girls. That is the complete decriminalisation of abortion access with appropriate health care regulations to ensure safe provision of the service – just as with any other medical procedure.

The Together for Yes leadership do not seem to see how having actively promulgated the idea that the Govt’s legislative proposals are THE answer will negatively impact on the future struggle to extend abortion access to cover ALL women and girls who make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy.

Alan Gibson
Personal capacity



“Crisis Pregnancy Clinics” – coming to Ireland?

See John Oliver’s report on the scourge of “Crisis Pregnancy Clinics” in the USA.

Coming to Ireland after we repeal the 8th?

Mobile clinics sitting outside the surgeries of GP’s providing medical abortions – could it happen here?

Is there any link between anti-choice activists in the USA and those in Ireland? Would they fund this kind of thing?

I think we all know the answers – the struggle will continue after 25 May.

So get organised to win the referendum and stay organised to push back against the inevitable reaction of these bastards and their well-funded friends from across the Atlantic.


Repeal the 8th Amendment

I plan to start a diary charting my involvement in the Together for Yes campaign to remove the 8th Amendment (article 40.3.3) from the Irish Constitution. So watch this space – assuming I have any followers left after a long time away from WordPress.