Between the Marriage Equality victory in May and the recent moves to provide more non-Catholic education options for our children, many of us hoped we would finally see a clearer separation of church and state in Ireland. But at Fine Gael’s annual think-in in Limerick last Friday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny stated that he had no intention of abolishing the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution.
The 8th Amendment, which puts a woman’s life on equal value to the viability of a foetus and has blocked any progress on reproductive rights in this country for decades, is a clear example of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on our constitution, laws and medical practice.
Imams, Rabbis and leaders from other Christian denominations attended hearings in the run up to the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, and stated that the 8th Amendment stopped people of their faiths exercising their rights. In addition to this blatant discrimination against minority religions, we have had no less than the UN Committee on Human Rights criticise the lack of right and access to abortion in Ireland. We have had the most recent polls from Amnesty Ireland show that there are a range of abortion rights which the majority of Irish people want in place.
But last week Enda Kenny once again made it clear he and his party have no regard for the wishes of the majority of his people and the needs of half his electorate, no regard for the 10 women a day who travel to the UK to access abortion services, no regard for the 170,000 who have already travelled and the thousands who could not due to lack of means, legal papers, childcare or being too ill to travel.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise, given that this is the government which put in place a 14 year criminal sentence for having an abortion in Ireland as recently as 2013.
Enda Kenny is the longest serving member of the Dáil. He holds the title of father of the Dáil. He is a democratically elected leader, but he is ignoring the needs of women and clear wishes of the majority of the population with his refusal to call a referendum on the 8th Amendment.
This lack of action is not the brave leadership Ireland needs to finally free our doctors to always act in the best interest of their patients, without fear of recrimination. The constitution allows abortion in the case of a threat to a woman’s life but not her health – in reality this must often mean waiting until it’s too late to save her, as happened with Savita. This lack of action is not the brave leadership Ireland needs to end the stigma and forced traveling of people out of this country for health care.
We need to let Enda Kenny, Fine Gael and the rest of the political establishment know that every day they delay they make a difficult time harder for the 10 or more women who leave Ireland to access abortion services in the UK.
We will not go away. We will not be silenced. When we vote next year, we will vote pro-choice. And we will take to the streets for the March for choice on Saturday the 26th of September to demand rights long overdue.