The debate in this country on the issue of abortion is, as we all know, exceedingly overdue. The issue should have been addressed by the government back in 2010 when 3 women went to the European Court of Human Rights with a complaint about the grey area surrounding the eligibility of seeking an abortion in Ireland. The 3 women had travelled to the UK to seek an abortion for reasons of health and/or well-being as it was unclear whether any of them were eligible for one in Ireland. The motion was brought to the ECHR over 2 years ago and the question remains why it was put on the back burner instead of being addressed there and then. We could have saved the life of Savita Halappanavar and spared the confusion and pain of hundreds of women. But procrastination seems to be one of the defining characteristics of this government.
In Ireland abortion is currently prohibited under sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person’s Act 1861. Under Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution the State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees to respect the mother in national laws. The 1861 Act puts women and doctors in fear of criminal prosecution regarding abortion. In the X case in 1992, the Supreme Court held that abortion was lawful in Ireland, if there was a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother. No legislation regulating that right was ever enacted, a fact regretted by the Supreme Court in its 1992 Judgment. We have seen repeated situations, repeated cross-roads, where the Irish people should have acted and didn’t.
Enda Kenny recently said that Fine Gael remains a ‘pro-life’ political party. The majority of Fine Gael backbenchers maintain that Ireland will remain a country in which abortion is illegal but they face a backlash from the Irish public who were outraged when Savita Halappanavar died in November. The public show of solidarity with Savita’s husband and the general indignation that this could happen in our country in the 21st century was wholly apparent. If Fine Gael stubbornly insist upon a pro-life stance following the reaction of the public they look set to drop in popularity. Popularity among the coalitionists is low following the budget in December and this will only cause Fine Gael a further setback. However, if Labour manages to push through with their goals regarding abortion here in Ireland it might give them a much needed boost. Support for Labour is waning following their poor efforts to stop Fine Gael cutting benefits with the recent budget.
So the contentious issue of abortion looks set to be a major talking point in 2013 in Irish politics. It has, deservedly so, been propelled back onto centre stage and the government can no longer look the other way regarding the issue.