Pulling down posters won’t win the argument

The silencing of pro-lifers by Trinity PBP members will only weaken the pro-choice side.

Photo credit: Joe McCallion/Trinity News

Trinity PBP has overreached with their removal of pro-life posters around campus. While abortion is a sensitive issue, no side in the debate has a mandate to suppress an opposing viewpoint.

Any disrespect for democratic values only undermines the pro-choice campaign. The nature of a referendum, like that approaching in 2018, demands a public debate on abortion reform. Pro-life views must be included in that conversation.

The pro-life movement is not a lunatic, far-right fringe in Irish politics. According to a March 2017 poll in the Irish Times, one in three Irish voters support the retention of the Eighth Amendment, or feel unsure about its repeal. While the repeal campaign enjoys the support of most Irish people, it is unfair to demonise a third of the country as “anti-choice” zealots.

Hostility to pro-life and undecided voters also damages the prospects of the pro-choice movement in Ireland. A popular vote for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment would only initiate the process of abortion reform. It would not immediately introduce abortion on demand.

As it stands, most Irish people only want a limited reform of abortion law. 60% of Irish people oppose the legalisation of abortion in all circumstances. This majority includes 57% of young people. In the years ahead, the pro-choice campaign will face an uphill battle to implement abortion on demand in Ireland. In that battle, it cannot rely on its core support base of young people.

While victory in next year’s referendum is almost guaranteed, the pro-choice campaign will need to continue engaging people and changing minds across Ireland long after the day of the referendum.

Pro-life views must be heard and discussed to that end. Trinity PBP cannot be a part of that process if it wants to suppress the voices and arguments of pro-life groups.

PBP chair Sean Egan is wrong to claim that the incident “does not reflect on People Before Profit or its Trinity branch”. This incident must be understood as an action of Trinity PBP. Trinity PBP’s Facebook page publicised the event. Both Egan and Conor Reddy are prominent members of Trinity PBP, especially on its social media.

While their action was not as formally organised as the group’s role in pro-choice demonstrations like Strike 4 Repeal, it remains an action carried out by Trinity PBP.

Trinity PBP’s removal of posters is striking in the contempt it shows for freedom of speech. A functioning democracy demands engagement with different opinions and perspectives. In removing pro-life posters, Trinity PBP sought to hamper and prevent that discussion. Such stunt politics also embarrass the wider PBP party and the global left-wing movement.

Many socialists and communists devoted their lives to defending free speech and thought. Trinity PBP cannot continue those traditions while suppressing alternate viewpoints. The Irish left cannot adopt the tactics of twentieth-century fascism if they are to pursue serious change in this country.

There was also no urgent reason to remove the posters. Trinity students are overwhelmingly pro-choice. The 2014 SU referendum returned a 73% majority in favour of the repeal campaign. Our SU has had a dedicated and highly active lobby group for the Repeal the 8th campaign for nearly a year. The debate within College now concerns the extent of the campaign.

The ton of recent GMB debates – such as “This House supports all forms of civil disobedience to repeal the Eighth Amendment” and “This House believes that the repeal campaign should abandon respectability” – show a consensus among students in favour of repeal. The open expression of pro-life views is rare in Trinity; it is difficult to see any purpose to their suppression.

Egan justified the removal of the posters because they carried pro-life quotes from rape survivors. These statements express a controversial and unusual perspective on abortion.

The quotes, including “my child is innocent, just like me – our laws should punish rapists, not babies”, bring a new dimension to the abortion debate. They force those of us who are pro-choice to reconsider our position and engage with a valuable new perspective on the entire debate. Their suppression would impoverish the discussion surrounding abortion.

It would also deprive these women of a platform from which to relay their experience and express their views. A considered and cautious approach should dominate any reaction to such sensitive issues. Trinity PBP’s removal of the posters was too rash for such a context.

The personal nature of abortion means that its political discussion will involve emotion and individual experiences. While these are essential and valuable to the debate, they cannot dictate it. The legitimacy of the abortion referendum demands the free expression of both pro-life and pro-choice opinions. Suppression of any view on abortion debases the entire referendum.

Harry Downes

Harry Downes in the current News Analysis Editor of Trinity News. He is a Junior Sophister History student/