The panel discussion organised by Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) campaign to repeal the eighth amendment has just wrapped up. The panel was entitled “Why Should We Repeal the 8th Amendment? and was opened by TCDSU president Lynn Ruane. Speaking at the event were TD Clare Daly, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland Colm O’Gorman, coordinator with Coalition to Repeal the 8th Ailbhe Smyth, Irish Times journalist Roisin Ingle, Dr Peadar O’Grady and student activist Kalianne Farren.
Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, advocated for the repeal of the 8th amendment in an article that he wrote for the Irish Times in July, in which he called for the introduction of “laws that finally and fully respect the human rights of women and girls in Ireland.” Amnesty International Ireland has long held a pro-choice position. The organisation openly welcomed TD Ruth Coppinger’s bill proposing a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment in May, with O’Gorman saying that it provided the government “with an opportunity to finally step up to the plate.”
The constitution criminalises Irish abortion but provides the right to travel for abortion, something which O’Gorman described as hypocrisy. “When people say that limited provision for abortion is a door to abortion on demand, we have to examine what they’re really saying. The idea that women can’t wait to go out and get pregnant so that they can get an abortion is misogynistic” he declared. Amnesty International’s ‘My Body, My Rights’ campaign was also launched in the arts block recently by the Trinity branch of Amnesty and the SU. Volunteers asked students to sign a petition to repeal the 8th, alongside two creative installations meant to demonstrate the campaign’s message.
Irish Times journalist, Roisin Ingle, became a major voice of the pro-choice campaign when she wrote about her personal experience of abortion in her weekly column in mid-September. Her article was circulated widely and garnered huge public support. “They are not criminals. We are not criminals,” Ingle said of women who choose to have an abortion. During the course of the panel, Ingle described her experiences of abortion and the actual prevalence of it in Irish society, saying: “you might be sitting here thinking you don’t know anyone who’s had an abortion, but you do; you just don’t know it. I don’t want my daughters to have to leave the country like second-class citizens if they have a crisis pregnancy.”
Ailbhe Smyth said that the current generation of young people is the group for whom this issue matters most, and the group that can help win a referendum on the issue. She echoed some of O’Gorman’s comments about womens’ rights, arguing that “having the freedom to have a child, to not have a child; this is really central to the existence of women and therefore everyone.” Citing the recent poll of famers on the matter, and the evolution that society saw when it came to the issue of same-sex marriage, Smyth was confident that the repeal could take place. She warned that “in order to win a referendum, we must not underestimate the ability of the opposition to make the conversation difficult” and outlined her “four P’s for this campaign: We have the Purpose, the Passion, the Power and the People.”
Clare Daly, United Left Alliance TD has brought a number of abortion bills before the Dail, and has been a vocal campaigner on this issue. She said that “when [she] was a student, you didn’t talk about abortion.” She went on to say that “the people who can’t have abortions in Ireland are refugees, people in poor health or economically disadvantaged. For too long, a noisy minority has dominated this debate. The quiet majority need to be more vocal.” Daly criticised what she perceives to be the trivialising of womens’ health issues, saying that “generally late-term abortions are done for very good reason.”
Dr Peader O’Grady is a founding member of Doctors for Choice, a group of medical professionals and students who describe themselves as “a feminist led organisation which believes in women’s moral agency and bodily integrity.” O’Grady discussed the medical and health care issues surrounding abortion. “There is no medical fact that can be used to justify restricting abortion. It’s a political issue of choice”, he said. Attempting to combat some of the opposition points to abortion, he said that “abortion is an exceptionally safe procedure – safer than birth and more common than vasectomy and tonsillectomy combined. As early as possible, as late as necessary. It should be up to the woman to decide her needs.”
Student activist Kalianne Farren was the last speaker on the stage, and referenced how many people seeking abortion services are young and are students. Farren encouraged students to make the issue of the 8th amendment known with the local representatives, especially coming up to the general election.
Questions from the floor surrounded the question of when the panelists thought life began, when one acquires human rights and sexual choices of individuals. O’Gorman responded that legal human rights law states that all people are born equal, but those rights do not apply to the unborn. A question stating that people make the choice to have sex despite the risks was met with a call for reflection on other peoples’ sexual choices by O’Gorman.
Trinity College’s Students’ Union (SU) formally adopted a pro-choice stance on abortion in February 2014, focused on repealing the 8th amendment of the constitution, after both a preferendum and a referendum were put to the student body. The results of the referendum saw 73% of students vote for the union to adopt a pro-choice position.
A delegation of about 60 students represented the SU as part of the March for Choice in late September, which had a very strong student presence in general. The Graduate Students’ Union, which was also mandated to support a pro-choice position, was present during the march as a separate delegation. At the start of the march, USI VP for Equality and Citizenship Annie Hoey encouraged students to demand their local representatives to make a commitment to repeal the amendment in the life time of the next government. If they could not do so, Hoey said, then “don’t you dare give them your vote.”
The SU’s presence at the march was intended to mark the beginning of a more active ‘Repeal the 8th’ campaign, following the formation of a committee over the summer to look at the issue. Leaflets explaining the union’s support for the cause were distributed among students during Freshers’ Week. SU president, Lynn Ruane, is the most visible face of the union’s campaign. Speaking to Trinity News recently, Ruane said that the campaign was established with the aim of “engaging with people coming in, not being out to convert anyone.” She confessed that in the past she had “ignored” abortion rights in Ireland for years and that she hoped this campaign would encourage people like her to seriously consider the matter.
Additional reporting by Dee Courtney, Matthew Mulligan