Insertion of Eighth ‘catastrophic mistake’ says former minister

Gemma Hussey and Liz McManus among ‘Grandparents for Repeal’ advocating for Yes

Ailbhe Smyth, Frank Crummey, Carol Hunter, Gemma Hussey, Catherine McGuinness and Liz McManus at the launch in Dublin of Grandparents for Choice. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Ailbhe Smyth, Frank Crummey, Carol Hunter, Gemma Hussey, Catherine McGuinness and Liz McManus at the launch in Dublin of Grandparents for Choice. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The insertion of the Eighth Amendment into the Constitution was a “catastrophic mistake” and has caused “endless suffering and heartache”, a former Fine Gael minister has said.

Gemma Hussey, who was minister for education when the amendment was introduced after a referendum in 1983, was among the speakers at the launch of the Grandparents for Repeal campaign on Tuesday.

Ms Hussey said “nobody” had been discussing abortion in the turbulent political years of the early 1980s but it became a central issue after booklets were circulated alleging certain politicians and candidates were “soft on abortion”.

She said thousands of such brochures were distributed in her Wicklow constituency at the time.

“We never found out who printed those brochures,” she said, adding that she had two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren – three girls and four boys – and, for their sake, was voting Yes.

Grandparents for Repeal is advocating for a Yes vote in the May 25th referendum on repealing the amendment, which guarantees an equal right to the life to the mother and the unborn.

Former Labour TD and minister of state Liz McManus, who also served in the Wicklow constituency, said she had grown up in the Ireland of the 1950s, when we “exported” jobless young people and then the State forgot about them.

“Single pregnant women disappeared to England to hide their shame. The country I grew up in did not tolerate difference. Thankfully it is a changed place now,” she said.

Ms McManus said proponents of the amendment had promised it would stop abortion.

“It didn’t. It drove it underground. It has caused untold hardship and distress at a time when women are at their most vulnerable.”

She said the Oireachtas had made decisions “without ever having heard from the women who were – and are – central to the debate”.

Life experience

Retired Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness said she was looking at the campaign as a lawyer, but she added that grandparents had “life experience” too.

“We as grandparents have actually learned a few things in this life. It is for people of all generations to look at the reality of life. We have abortion in this country but in an Irish solution to an Irish problem way.”

Ms McGuinness said the choice on May 25th was “not between abortion and no abortion”.

“The choice is between having a proper system rather than having a system where we pretend this isn’t happening.”

Carol Hunter, founder of Grandparents for Repeal, said the Eighth Amendment affected women’s health “in the most basic way”.

“I can’t bear the thought that my daughter would take [abortion] tablets at home, silently, in her room, and I can’t do anything for her,” she said. “If she had a life-limiting condition of her own, I couldn’t do anything.

“As a grandparent, where the role is to support and nurture and protect, so we can’t go on like this. This is an opportunity to show the world we care, that we are loving.”