Weekly Roundup: One small step on the road to free, safe, and legal abortion in Ireland

Welcome to another Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. This week has been a monumental one for abortion rights in Ireland, and the extensive media coverage reflects that.

It was a week of protests, counter-protests, vigils and demonstrations. We had supporters declaring “I’m Pro-Choice” on a sunny Saturday in Dublin city centre. We had compatriots in Galway protesting outside deputy Colm Keaveney’s office. We had a Choice Camp outside Leinster House buoyed by supportive messages streaming in on social media and permission from Graham Linehan to use all the Father Ted references we could muster. We had yet another Action on X rally. And we had a gigantic banner.

The anti-choice side was also making noise, but while organisers claimed a turn-out of 80,000 and The Irish Times reported a figure of 35,000 at Saturday’s rally in Dublin, video footage from The Workers Solidarity Movement (Ireland) estimates closer to 12,000. And reports from our Choice Camp on Wednesday morning pointed out that the anti-choice presence was less inclined to sleep rough for their cause.

Religious reckoning

It’s no secret that the anti-choice side of the debate is heavily supported by the Catholic Church. This week, we had our own ARC spokesperson Sarah Malone speaking against Sarah de Nordwall of Catholic Voices on BBC Breakfast (and doing a fine job of it, we must add). We also had the Primate of All Ireland, cardinal Seán Brady assuring us that the Church will continue to challenge the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

But we also had a blog post from a pro-choice Catholic to her fellow Catholics, advocating for choice. We had a piece on RH Reality Check from Magdalena Lopez of Catholics for Choice comparing the Irish struggle for reproductive rights to the situation in her home country of the Philippines, where they fought against Catholic bishops for 15 years – and won.

And from the US, we had rabbi Aaron Alexander reminding us that enshrining Catholic beliefs in law ignores the beliefs held by others.

Two sides go to war

As the Dáil began to debate over 160 amendments tabled for the bill, women continued to share their abortion stories, former MEP and anti-choice supporter Dana Rosemary Scallon called for a referendum, a nurse and midwife urged the Taoiseach to support the passing of the bill, Fine Gael TD Derek Keating revealed how over 30 pro-life protestors intimidated him at his home, and, in an act the organisation deemed “utterly pointless”, the Youth Defence website was hacked.

Meanwhile, the abortion rights movement continued to make noise both nationally and internationally, with Abortion Rights Campaign spokesperson, Sarah Malone, speaking to Al Jazeera and Action on X spokesperson Sinead Kennedy appearing on Tonight with Vincent Browne.

All eyes were on two key figures in the debate, though: Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TD and Fine Gael deputy Lucinda Creighton. Creighton spent the week fighting for the suicide clause to be removed from the bill, clashing with her party’s and the Government’s leader. The Taoiseach said that removing the clause would be “unconstitutional”, while perinatal psychiatrist Dr Anthony McCarthy advised that the measures suggested by Creighton to fast-track the assessment of women’s mental health in this situation were impractical and unrealistic.

Perhaps surprising for the general public ahead of the final Dáil vote was the decision by six pro-choice TDs to vote against the bill. Among them, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said the bill represents a betrayal of women and the memory of Savita Halappanavar, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett criticised the legislation for not addressing cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, and United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly explained that these Government members had been forced to oppose the bill because it criminalises women and is unnecessarily restrictive.

The result

After 21 years and hours of debating, the vote was finally taking place. The world was watching – well, at least, the Independent and the Guardian were – and RTÉ News was following live. After 165 amendments were considered, and Labour TD Michael McNamara’s ‘accidental’ vote against the Government on the fatal foetal abnormalities issue, the final vote took place and the bill was passed, 127 votes to 31, in the early hours of Friday morning.

And so, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill moves to the Seanad, Creighton has been been replaced – but the fight is not over yet. While this marks a  historic moment for the abortion rights movement in Ireland, what has passed is still legislation we cannot live with.

The fight goes on

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is not the end for the ARC, it is just the beginning. The number of women in Ireland who have had an abortion would fill the Aviva Stadium three times over, and this bill does not assist the vast majority of these women.

Figures released by the UK Department of Health this week revaled that almost 4,000 women that received an abortion in Britain in 2012 gave an address in the Republic of Ireland. The Irish Family Planning Association stated that these statistics highlight the need to repeal the 8th amendment.

Our own Justice Minister Alan Shatter, TD, said that the English solution to Ireland’s abortion problem remains and the passing of this very limited bill has been summed up perfectly in this illustration by Martyn Turner for The Irish Times.

Doctors for Choice arranged for independent TD Catherine Murphy to visit the Liverpool Women’s National Trust Hospital – the biggest maternity hospital in Europe – to find out first-hand what thousands of Irish women have experienced when they travel for an abortion. She said these women have been met with compassion in the UK, highlighting the tragedy of not receiving the same from your own country.

Just ask Deirdre Conroy, or ‘D’ of the D v Ireland case in 2006, who doesn’t want to see another woman to go through the ordeal she endured. Writing for The Irish Times on Friday, Conroy appealed for the campaign for abortion rights to continue and documented the shocking way the case for fatal foetal abnormalities was discussed in the Dáil – despite 87pc of Irish people being in favour of medical intervention for this condition.

A video from RHK Productions reminds us of the lies and disingenousness we have heard from those opposing pregnant women’s right to life in recent months, while our own Jan Ní Shuilleabháin documented what has now changed, 21 years on.

But this is not enough.

Emer O’Toole’s opinion piece in the Guardian sums up the Irish abortion debate in one disrespectful gesture from TD Tom Barry. This ‘lapgate’ incident with fellow TD Áine Collins sums up the farce and lack of empathy that was inherent throughout the debate and shows us that – while we have come far – this is just one small step in what will be a monumental journey.

We are now joined in the fight for free, safe and legal abortion in Ireland by the foundation of Wicklow Pro-Choice. Let us not grow complacent. Let the so-called ‘floodgates’ open.

The Abortion Rights Campaign will continue until abortion is free, safe and legal for women in Ireland. Please consider donating to the campaign and feel free to come along to our next open monthly meeting on July 15th in the Teacher’s Club, Dublin.