Louise Clancy examines the different stances and policies of the various Irish political parties in regards to abortion reform and the repeal of the 8th amendment.
The topic of abortion has been a highly tense and heated debate amongst the Irish population within the last 30 years, consisting of five referenda (including the 8th amendment) and six high profile cases, as well as countless protests across the country over the years.
In recent times, the abortion debate has escalated after the death of Indian-born woman Savita Halappanavar in October 2012. Since the legislation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013, organisations and the Irish public from pro-life and pro-choice stances have put pressure on the government to take a unified and definitive stand on which side they will take.
In the 2011 general election, Fine Gael guaranteed that no changes to abortion laws would occur during their time in Dáil. The pro-life community criticised the government after passing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act two years later.
Currently, Fine Gael have yet to adopt an official policy, but it is likely it could be part of their election manifesto next year, as the party emphasised pro-life values in the 2011 general election.
At the Garrett Fitzgerald Summer School on July 18th, Young Fine Gael passed their motion on repealing the 8th amendment in the case of ectopic and non-viable pregnancies. Young Fine Gael’s decision to pass the motion may influence the main branch of the party in the future. Fine Gael has no further plans to change abortion legislation before the next general election in 2016.
Fine Gael’s coalition partner Labour however, has adopted a pro-choice stance on abortion. This created tension between the party and Fine Gael with voting on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in 2013. In May 2015, Labour demanded that the abortion issue must be immediately examined by the Oireachtas Health Committee to pave the way for a new law before the end of the coalition's term in office.
While their demand was rejected by Fine Gael, Labour were determined to repeal the 8th amendment if they are in government again in 2016. Labour only recently voted to support the repeal, but will not do so until after the elections.
In the shadow cabinet, Fianna Fáil have traditionally maintained a pro-life stance on abortion for many years. According to a statement from Micheál Martin to the Pro-Life Campaign, “Fianna Fáil’s position on abortion remains unchanged and will maintain Ireland’s ban on abortion. Fianna Fáil will uphold the right of the Irish people, and the Irish people alone, to decide on Ireland’s abortion laws. We will oppose moves to legalise abortion in Ireland. Our track record in this regard is clear.”
On April 2015, ahead of their Ard Fheis, the Fianna Fáil national secretary, Dara Calleary, said that the abortion motion was fully in line with existing party policy on the issue.
Sinn Féin has recently become divided on the issue of abortion. Whilst Sinn Féin originally were a pro-life party, they have come to serious problems regarding their stance. As a result, Sinn Féin decided to abstain from Clare Daly’s bill providing for abortion in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities in February 2015.
During the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis on March 2015, they voted to support repeal of the 8th Amendment, but voted down other abortion motions.
As well as the long-established and mainstream parties, the newer independent parties have varying opinions relating to abortion laws. Both the Green Party and the newly formed Social Democrats support the repeal of the 8th amendment.
Independent parties, the Socialist Party/Anti-Austerity Alliance and the People Before Profit party support both the repeal of the 8th amendment and the legalisation of abortion. The other newly formed party Renua have no political stance on abortion.
Due to divided opinions in both the government and opposition parties, as well as the attempt to win votes in the 2016 general election, there is no intention to alter or remove Ireland’s anti-abortion laws despite increased pro-choice opposition.
Whether or not the next government will touch on the issue, let alone take any legislative action is uncertain.