Abortion: Temperatures rising

Those who oppose change have seized on an improper, recent recruitment event within Red C to discredit and derail the entire process

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The chair of the Citizens’ Assembly, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, has insisted the improper recruitment of seven replacement members last December was an “isolated incident” and had nothing to do with its deliberations concerning abortion and the Eighth Amendment. She offered reassurance by inviting the public to inspect an audit of the recruitment processes used by the Red C polling company since 2016.

Abortion has remained the most divisive political and social issue for decades. Proposals from the Citizens’ Assembly in 2017 came as a surprise to many and helped to condition public opinion and political debate. Eighty-nine per cent of those involved voted against retaining the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution. The mere hint of a possible bias in the selection of citizens who pronounced on the abortion issue brought immediate demands in the Dáil for the referendum to be abandoned. The Government is holding firm, however, on the grounds that its legislation will be grounded in the deliberations and recommendations of an all-party Oireachtas committee.

Given the complex nature of the issue, decisions by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to allow a free vote on this occasion displayed respect for opposing views. It didn’t prevented internal criticism of Micheál Martin for favouring a referendum, or of Simon Coveney for questioning 12-week terminations.

But it opened up debate on an extremely sensitive subject. Opinion polls show strong support for removing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution. But public uncertainty over what might replace it is growing, polls suggest. Those who oppose change have seized on an improper, recent recruitment event within Red C to discredit and derail the entire process. It amounts to a well-tried political tactic. And time is passing. Minister for Health Simon Harris accused critics of conflating separate matters and attempted to close down discussion on the unwelcome development. With three months to go to the referendum, there is little chance of that happening. Temperatures will rise.

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