How the government were forced to call a referendum to repeal the 8th


Now that we have a definitive date of May 25th 2018, the date on which we will get to vote to repeal the 8th Amendment it is timely for us to remember how this opportunity to change Irish society into a fairer one came about. 

History is written by those in power, therefore this referendum has comes with a heavily constructed backstory that goes like this. Leo Varadkar, our funky sock wearing leader, with all his social media savvy got together with his wing of the Fine Gael party to progress social change in Ireland. Repeal was the next obvious step. The line continues that having witnessed the historic popular vote on the marriage equality referendum, the government decided to tackle the thorny issue of the 8th amendment. They had not the courage to devise a plan themselves so they gave it to the Citizens assembly, hoping that if they came back with something grossly unpopular then it was the assembly that could be blamed. I diverge from the script here, but it is important to recognise that there is a distinct lack of courage with the elected ones. Now, they are now fully enacting the recommendations, because the Citizens assembly came back with the obvious solution to deal with the issue. That was to repeal the 8th amendment and legislate for safe abortion in Ireland.

That’s the Star Wars version of how we got to a referendum, and it is complete and utter balderdash. This unappetising swill and spin is hard to swallow for anyone who has been working on the issue since the 8th Amendment was brought into existence in 1983. The truth is not be to found in the plot lines of this action adventure. Reality is to be found in people taking to the streets in protest. Generation of activists have made this an issue because they have been aware of the pain, misery, and damage that is caused by having this law on the books in Ireland.

When Savita Halappanavar died in a Galway Hospital thanks to doctors delaying an abortion because they heard the heartbeat of a foetus, it remobilised campaigners and brought a new generation out onto the streets. A crowd or thousands gathered outside the Dáil, on that cold autumn night in 2012. Outrage and anger was in the air as this young woman had died due to the 8th amendment. What followed was a considered plan, and a massive amount or organising, mobilising and energy and determination around the Abortion Rights Campaign. This saw ever growing numbers take to the streets for the annual March for Choice. When the politicians dithered and set up new committees to examine the issue more pressure was applied, like the Strike for Repeal last year which effectively shut down Dublin city. Repeal the 8th has been set as a priority by people who have had enough of forcing women to travel to the UK and elsewhere to have abortions.

The citizens assembly, when it was presented with the facts, have correctly come up with the only way to deal with this issue. Even though it was created as a scapegoat for the established political classes, the assembly worked just like a functioning democracy should work. Citizens looked at all the facts, listened to all the views and set out a clear path for resolving this issue. Repeal the 8th amendment and legislate for abortion in Ireland.

The reason why you cannot just repeal the 8th amendment is because the anti-choice side have for years contested various cases in the courts to maintain the equivalency position of the foetus - as per the 8th. If the 8th amendment was just repealed and was not followed up with a law allowing for abortion, they would continue to undemocratically have this matter contested in the courts for years. Also since 1983 - the anti-choice side have fought for a long time to ensure that there was not another referendum on this.

That is why we are canvassing for a Yes to repeal the 8th and then to replace it with laws that allow for abortion. The politicians, they will legislate because they know that more people will take to the streets and make it happen.

The 25th May is an opportunity for Ireland end the hypocrisy. The time is long overdue for safe medical abortions in Ireland. It came about thanks to tens of thousands of activists, over 4 different generations who have been in the streets on this issue. In particular, the pressure has increased over the last six years, since the needless death of Savita, marking Repeal as a priority change that we wished to see enacted in this country. This is societal change and it will come thanks to people on the streets, people canvassing support and people voting Yes. It does not get handed down by the leaders because they have looked into their hearts and decided it was the right thing to do. That’s just a star wars script that some spin doctor fits up after the fact.

So get out there and vote, and get out there and convince others to vote Yes. Remember that Politicians don’t change society, We DO!

For more on the long history of struggle on the streets that led to the referendum see