Welcome to another ARC Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. In this week we see some new promises, new movement in the North, and some local government response.
The Dáil sets a date
Positive news in this fight for abortion rights in Ireland came last Friday with RTÉ News reporting that X Case legislation will be enacted before the summer recess, according to a timetable the Government submitted to the Council of Europe. This is the body that oversees the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the Irish Government was in breach of human rights in the ABC v Ireland case.
It is now expected that a bill will be published in April and enacted by the end of July.
Meanwhile, NUI Galway’s Students Union adopted a pro-choice stance following a vote with a record turnout and 71% in favour of a woman’s right to choose.
Also on Friday, social policy analyst Dr Pauline Conroy wrote of the lack of evidence supporting claims that X case legislation would open the floodgates and lead to widespread abortion in The Irish Times. The article was abridged from a paper published by the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington.
Victory in Northern Ireland
On Sunday, The Observer reported on a letter signed by women in Northern Ireland who had taken abortion pills and men and women who had helped others to procure them, confirming this as a form of protest under the banner of Alliance for Choice. As it stands, this admission puts these people in breach of the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act which carries a penalty of life imprisonment.
The complete open letter is reproduced here on the Workers Solidarity Movement website.
This letter came as the Northern Ireland Assembly prepared to debate an amendment that would prevent abortions being performed outside of the NHS. Ahead of the debate, the Northern Ireland minister for health Edwin Poots and minister for justice David Ford came to blows over differing views.
Ford explained his reasons for not supporting the bill, saying it would only cause more confusion for the issue and could, potentially, criminalise some forms of contraception. According to The Irish Times, Poots responded, “The speculative comments by David Ford is a clumsy attempt to cause confusion and unnecessary concern,” said Mr Poots. “He should immediately desist from this approach.”
“As Health Minister, let me be clear the best place for vulnerable woman and unborn children in life-threatening circumstances, both physically and mentally, is in a hospital within the NHS where the ability to pay for care has no place. Nobody with any semblance of moral fibre would argue otherwise.”
Meanwhile, BBC News reported Sinn Féin’s plans to block the amendment. The bill was rejected at Stormont when it failed to secure a cross-party majority, despite being backed by 53 MLAs. One of the successful No votes was from Alliance Party member Anna Lo who, according to RTÉ News, claimed some of her peers were out of touch with society and appealed for further public consultation on the issue of abortion.
Following the debate, Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots claimed that the Marie Stopes clinic recently established in Belfast is operating under a cloud of darkness. “We could have stopped it but some people decided they would have a petition of concern to allow that business to carry on their practice under that cloak of darkness where nobody can hold them to account,” said Poots, Independent.ie reports. Regardless of the sour grapes on the part of those trying to limit abortion rights, the Abortion Rights Campaign marks this as a great victory in the fight to establish and extend access to abortion in all of Ireland.
The fight continues
Back in the Republic, Labour councillor Eoin Holmes, who is currently contesting the Meath East by-election, said that X case legislation is something he will prioritise if elected and he made this clear by calling for no further delay in publishing the bill on Tuesday.
Keeping the discussion going, the National Women’s Council of Ireland gave us a full report from its joint seminar with Doctors for Choice titled ‘Abortion: The Lives and Health of Women in Ireland’. Three members of Doctors for Choice presented on the day – Dr Mary Favier, Dr Mark Murphy and Dr Paedar O’Grady – as well as Marge Berer, Editor of Reproductive Health Matters.
By Wednesday, a new pope had been selected to head up the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, whom TMZ.com called out as anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion.