The always-contentious issue of the 8th Amendment in Ireland has come under scrutiny again, with a new poll from Amnesty International on our current attitudes and opinions on abortion being published earlier this month.
The poll, conducted by Red C, was published following Amnesty International’s June report She Is Not a Criminal: The Impact of Ireland’s Abortion Law, that showed our abortion laws to violate human rights law.
The poll conducted more than 1,000 phone interviews between the 11th and the 14th of May this year and showed both a change in attitudes towards abortion and an alarming discrepancy in knowledge about the issue.
Among the results of the poll, it was revealed that 64% of people interviewed were not aware that having an abortion was a criminal offence in Ireland and that only 9% knew the correct penalty for the offence, which is a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
In spite of this, the poll found that 70% of people think that women have an international human right to abortion in cases of rape, incest, when the life or health of the woman is at risk or in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
The report showed that 65% agreed that the current ban on abortions gives way to unsafe or backstreet abortions and 68% agreed that the ban does not stop most women who want an abortion from having one.
The results show Irish attitudes to be much more tolerant and open to abortion than previously, however our Government is still yet to act on the issue, with Fine Gael saying that repealing the 8th Amendment will not be on the agenda for the Government before the next general election.
The subject has been repeatedly sidestepped when brought up within the Dáil, despite growing calls for the issue to be discussed. For example, Deputy Clare Daly has put forward multiple abortion bills to the Dáil over the past few years, all of which have been defeated.
Following the tragic situations involving Savita Halippanavar, Ms. Y and the woman declared brain dead but kept alive artificially in the hopes of her foetus coming to term later that year, controversy has mounted, with both Pro-Choice and Pro- Life rallies increasing in number over the past few years.
The current poll begs the question of whether our current Government is able to keep up with our own opinions as an electorate.
Just the other day, three independent TD’s (Catherine Murphy, Roisín Shorthall and Stephen Donnelly) introduced their newly formed political party the Social Democrats, and vowed to repeal the 8th Amendment should they get into power in the next general election.
This type of catering to the electorate’s concerns is what may give outside parties the edge in the next election, should the parties in power continue to fail to address the issue.
More than anything, Amnesty International’s poll shows a need for discussion and debate on the issue of abortion; not purely from Pro-Life or Pro-Choice sides in efforts to sway people’s opinions, but from independent experts to educate and inform on the facts.
Amnesty International Ireland’s Executive Director, Colm O’Gorman, has said that: “The conversation we urgently need in Ireland is a challenging one, but it must happen,” and that the debate surrounding abortion is “really poor”, with the results of the poll showing people’s inaccurate knowledge on the subject.
Lack of discussion at government level is what is keeping this issue in the dark for many people; our rights to have our concerns and opinions heard are being compromised by current parties’ fears of controversy.
Abortion has always been and will always be an issue of great contention and controversy, particularly within a country such as ours with such deep-seeded religious and moral ideals.
However, as our victory in the face of prejudice by way of the same-sex marriage referendum showed, we are moving along with the world’s developments and are no longer afraid to discuss, debate and vote on the issues affecting us.
The question remaining is when our Government will do the same.