Road to abortion referendum will be long and arduous

Our parliament is not set up for the quick end to the abortion debate that is needed

As campaigns go, the pro-choice movement is in a better position with a motivated young female power base and a sense of humour. “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” is one of their many great slogans

As campaigns go, the pro-choice movement is in a better position with a motivated young female power base and a sense of humour. “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” is one of their many great slogans

 

The emphatic vote of the Citizens’ Assembly and opinion polls show there is compelling support for liberalising our abortion laws. Sadly for the hours campaigners have spent on the matter, there is little appetite in so-called “New Politics” to do anything about it.

A celebratory pro-abortion concert in the Olympia Theatre on Sunday seemed as inappropriate as it was premature. However, reports show it mixed heart-rending personal stories with music and impassioned speeches to strike the right tone.

It was reminiscent of those peace process-era concerts where tragedy was the undertone of a message of hope. The difference being that Sunday’s concert didn’t try to bring two intractable groups together.

Many of those hailing or despairing over the assembly vote appear to have forgotten it was set up as a kicking-the-can exercise. They must wait months for a report from the assembly, before it gets kicked into an Oireachtas committee, which must somehow agree on a report into the report before it ever reaches the Dáil, where too many TDs are frightened to touch the subject.

Look how long and how fractious the water debate became, culminating in a historic fudge, which has yet to come to a vote.

Lack of legislating

If two male-dominated main parties fought so long over leaking taps, you can imagine how decisive they’re likely to be when discussing wombs and gestation periods. New Politics is still even wrangling over hedge-cutting dates.

Despite the lack of legislating, the Dáil continues to indulge in long breaks, such as its current 19-day recess for Easter. Our parliament is simply not set up for the quick end to the abortion debate that is needed.

Even the most high-profile committees are rarely decisive, such as the banking inquiry which took more than a year to tell us lots of things we already knew.

After the committee has reported, the Dáil will have unlimited time to fight over the wording of proposed legislation that would follow a referendum.

The timing of the vote will spark more rows, with a visit from Pope Francis due next year. A general election could get in the way and the issue may get parked lest it dominate and poison that campaign too.

[Enda Kenny's] non-reaction to the assembly decision also highlights his disengagement from governing

The assembly was efficient and decisive in its conclusions because unlike politicians, they were freed from the consequences of acting on their convictions. It’s a good case study for academics who argue that electing a parliament by lottery provides more effective democracy than voter selection.

Never mind abortion not being a priority for politicians, it’s not even a priority for the journalists who cover them. Enda Kenny’s leadership remains such a fixation among the press corps, it appears he still hasn’t been asked about the National Maternity Hospital row. His total silence on the huge story, a full week since it broke, has gone remarkably unreported.

His non-reaction to the assembly decision also highlights his disengagement from governing and the lack of media attention on it.

Abortion is the last great Irish awkward moment that dare not speak its name. As campaigns go, the pro-choice movement is in a better position with a motivated young female power base and a sense of humour. “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” is one of their many great slogans. Or a “killer line” perhaps if you’re pro-life?

Upper hand

The latter group have too many male front-liners but could have the upper hand on personal stories, since living babies will make more uplifting personal stories. Still, they could do with more sassy slogans; might one suggest “Respect the sperm, carry full term”?

Politics is going to get in the way. Leo Varadkar favours abortion with restrictions, part of a liberal PR strategy that masks his Tory heart. Simon Coveney, bless him, has whined that politicians shouldn’t even be asked about their views on it. Whoever becomes the next taoiseach in the distant future, they will need Fianna Fáil, which has shown zero courage on social issues.

There are many arduous struggles ahead for both sides of a grim debate. Plus, even if unrestricted abortion was legal tomorrow, the health system is hardly ready, with our main maternity facility in a dank Georgian building while its modern replacement is to be gifted to anti-abortion nuns.

As ever, ordinary people are prepared for change but official Ireland has much prevaricating and holiday-making to do before they grow the courage to follow.

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