Abortion vote before anniversary of Savita death a ‘fitting tribute’

Pro-choice coalition’s Ruth Coppinger urges referendum on divisive issue in the autumn

A referendum on abortion must be held before the fifth anniversary of the death of Savita Halappanavar, a pro-choice coalition said on Tuesday.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger said a poll in the autumn would be a “fitting tribute” to the Indian dentist who died in University Hospital Galway on October 28th, 2012.

However, she suggested the committee tasked with considering the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations on abortion was unlikely to reach consensus on how to proceed.

Ms Coppinger will sit on the cross-party committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, along with anti-abortion members such as Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Senator Rónán Mullen.


“I don’t think a consensus is possible with the likes of Mattie McGrath and others,” said Ms Coppinger.

“The Dáil didn’t want to abolish water charges . . . but they were made to do it by public opinion and pressure. The Repeal movement is burgeoning, it’s growing,” she said.

“The Dáil is a conservative bastion, light years behind where most people’s views are.”

Ms Coppinger described Solidarity-People Before Profit as “the only fully pro-choice Dáil grouping”.

She also said nothing should be put into the Constitution that would give rights to the unborn that would make any abortion legislation inoperable.

She will rotate her position on the new committee with People Before Profit deputy Bríd Smith, who said she would not be surprised if the majority of TDs and Senators on the committee were anti-abortion.

“We will argue very strongly that it starts meeting straight away and works right through the summer to have its working done so there can be a referendum in the autumn,” said Ms Smith.

She said there was no need to call hundreds of witnesses before the committee, given the work that had already been done at the assembly as well as the extensive hearings held four years ago ahead of drafting the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.

The pair were speaking ahead of a rally being organised by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment to take place outside Leinster House at 5.30pm on Tuesday.

Also at the press conference, Peadar O’Grady from Doctors for Choice said the recommendations of the assembly showed the so-called “middle ground” on abortion had shifted.

“What people thought was the middle ground was not the middle ground at all . . . Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and a lot of the establishment are well behind the vast majority of Irish people in their attitude as to what sorts of rules and access and compassion should exist in the area of abortion,” he said.

Sinéad Kennedy, secretary of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, said the media had a responsibility not to “construct” debates between opposing voices.

“I think people switch off when they hear that,” she said.

Ms Kennedy said there was an onus on the media to allow “the actual lived and real experiences” of women and their doctors to be heard.

Rita Harrold, representing the campaigning group Rosa, said pregnant women who did not want to be pregnant were being oppressed.

“We don’t want priests or politicians making serious decisions for people’s lives.”

Earlier, Minister for Public Enterprise and Reform Paschal Donohoe said the committee should be able to begin its work within weeks.

“We’ve had a Citizens’ Assembly that have now produced recommendations and an analysis of a sensitive and important issue. And I look forward now to seeing an Oireachtas committee being promptly set up to tease out and provide a framework on some of these matters,” he said.

Asked when the committee would begin its work, he replied: “I’d expect that the Oireachtas committee on this matter would be up and running within a matter of weeks.”

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Acting Features Editor of The Irish Times