Balanced discussion at SU’s Eighth Amendment Forum

Thomas Rafferty reports on the SU’s Eighth Amendment Forum, held to give all sides a chance to vocalise their opinion

On Tuesday evening Trinity College Students’ Union (TCDSU) held an open forum on the eighth amendment, featuring four guest speakers and dialogue with the audience. The discussion was diverse throughout; it featured in-depth examinations of abortion in the contexts of the Irish law and medical systems, and also explored Trinity’s own relationship with the Repeal campaign.

The event was split in two parts, with five minute speeches from the four speakers followed by an open question-and-answer session with the audience. There was ample opportunity given to students to voice their own thoughts, making it an interactive and thought-provoking look at this topical and controversial theme.

The first of the speakers was Professor Oran Doyle, Head of Trinity School of Law and Constitutional Advisor to the Citizens’ Assembly which recently reviewed the amendment. Doyle gave a concise, fact-focused look at the history of abortion in Irish law and the legal consequences that would result from a vote to repeal. From my point of view, having a professional legal perspective on abortion is an essential part of any event of this kind, given the fact that repealing the eighth would be, by definition, a legal process. By laying out the legal mechanisms that would be involved in the vote, Professor Doyle set the tone for the speeches to come. It was clear from the beginning of the evening that this was not going to be a shouting match between two sides, but rather a thoughtful exchange that would remain fact-based and respectful.

The second speaker of the night was Dr. Marion Dyer, a GP and Associate Professor in Trinity’s School of Public Health and Primary Care. Although Dyer is also affiliated with the Doctors for Choice movement, she began her speech by saying that her role at this time was to provide an unbiased look at how abortion plays out from a medical perspective.

Similar to Professor Doyle, Dr. Dyer’s role at the event was an academic one; to shine a light on the more complicated medical side of abortion. One of her main points was that because at least ten women on average travel to the UK for abortions from Ireland every day, the eighth amendment has not been effective in preventing abortion from being a reality for Irish women.

Dyer said that as a doctor, she does not want her role to be consulting a legal text, but to give the best possible care to her patients. It was interesting to hear the perspective of someone from the medical field who has in-depth knowledge of the health system and the patients who use it. She used statistics to reinforce her points, such as the 99% rate of Irish GPs who have dealt with the question of abortion with a patient.

The next speaker was Trinity student and pro-life campaigner Kate Kleinle, whose speech focused gave what she called a “holistic” and “feminist” view of the side which campaigns against repealing the eighth.

Although Kleinle’s stance as being both pro-life and feminist might be seen by some Repeal campaigners as contradictory, she managed to reflect both of these standpoints in her speech by focusing on the women at the centre of this issue.  

She gave examples of countries such as Iceland in which open abortion law has led to a high rate of abortions in cases where disabilities are detected in pre-natal scans. Kleinle also used international examples of certain races and genders being selectively aborted.

An audience member asked the speaker for her opinion on women who have died after being refused abortions, to which her response was that these deaths were caused by ‘incompetence’ and ‘miscommunication’ rather than flawed abortion law.

The final speaker on the night was another student, Keire Murphy, who spoke from the opposite perspective as a pro-choice supporter. She gave an impassioned argument on the pro-choice side, and condemned the Irish perspective that abortion is “okay, but not on my doorstep”. Echoing the statistics of Dr. Dyer, she spoke about the “cowardice” of “shipping” women with abortions to the UK.

The tone of the evening was inclusive and multifaceted, with both the speakers and audience members giving diverse perspectives on the issue at hand in the open discussion which followed. Each speech was met with enthusiastic applause and the general feeling was that this event was to be a learning experience for those coming from each side of the debate.

SU President Kevin Keane, who was present at the talk, responded to some audience questions about the Union’s support of the pro-choice stance and the mandate it has received to do so.

Referencing new figures from an ongoing survey of Trinity students, Keane upheld that the current student body was pro-choice, and that it is therefore the Union’s responsibility to campaign for such views. The cited survey indicates that a large majority of about 81 per cent are in support of repealing the eighth amendment, and a similar proportion support the SU’s campaigning on the issue.

Although the discussion delved deep into the technical and moral questions that abortion raises, the speakers did not spend much time debating the Repeal and Pro-Life campaigns on the national level, and whether or not they have yet captured the attention and support of the general public which will eventually cast its vote on this issue at the polls.

However, Murphy remarked that forums like this one, in which both sides of the argument are equally represented, are conducive to a better educated electorate. It is certainly true that all attendees of this event will have walked away with new information and fresh points of view on an issue that is sure to stay at the forefront of national conversation for months to come.