Weekly Roundup: while we stand with Wendy, the Dáil struggles to reach agreement on abortion rights

Welcome to another Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. Appropriately so, we kick off this week’s edition with a piece published by The Guardian from author Kate Manning that describes how derogatory coverage of abortion in the media dates back to Victorian times.

But this week, media across the world were focused on a modern-day abortion rights hero: Wendy Davis. Pro-choice activist and member of the Abortion Rights Campaign Jan Ní Shuílleabháin wrote what we were all feeling on Wednesday morning following the US senator’s incredible near-13-hour filibuster to stop restrictive abortion legislation in Texas. We stand with Wendy!

Dáil debate divides

The Dáil debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill resumed this week and the highly divisive legislation has highlighted the differences of opinion even among political parties.

A group of cross-party TDs reportedly plan to make use of Article 27 of the Constitution and petition President Michael D Higgins in order to secure a public vote before signing the bill into law. This proposed action is not supported by Sinn Féin, according to spokesperson Pearse Doherty, because of the party’s mandate to support X case legislation, TheJournal.ie reports.

Fine Gael TD Brian Hayes dismissed the possibility of an abortion referendum when he appeared on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics. He also deemed the suggestion by former director of public prosecutions Eamonn Barnes, published by The Irish Times on Saturday, that the Attorney General should be called in to represent the unborn as “fanciful”.

Conversely, fellow Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton agreed with Barnes’s suggestion and has no issue with a second referendum on abortion. Creighton, who told The Irish Times this week how much she does not agree with the party whip system being enforced on this vote, has had the Dáil debate extended to next Monday in order that she and other Ministers who were out of the country on EU business may have their say.

FG senator Tom Sheahan shares Creighton’s concerns over the inclusion of a suicide clause while fellow party members Brian Walsh, TD, Peter Mathews, TD, and senator Fidelma Healy-Eames have already strongly voiced their opposition to the bill, but also conceded that it will pass. Deputy Creighton’s husband, senator Paul Bradford, is also expected to oppose the bill.

Newly independent TD Colm Keaveney, who made a surprise exit from the Labour party this week, also proposed a referendum on the legislation under Article 27, but this was challenged by senator Ivana Bacik

On Wednesday, Fine Gael TD Brian Walsh expressed his concerns that some members of the Dáil see the bill as a stepping stone to wider access to abortion in Ireland and warned of a fundamental shift in the culture of care in Irish hospitals, while Labour deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that the bill should start debate on removing Article 40.3.3 from the Constitution as issues of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality could not be dealt with while this exists.

Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell also dismissed the need for legal representation of the foetus, as did Minister of State Alan White, and declared the 14-year jail sentence laid out in the bill as “Dickensian” and “downright dangerous”, The Irish Times reports.

The Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole echoed these sentiments in a piece criticising the Government for attempting to implement legislation that ranks abortion as a more heinous crime than rape or even manslaughter. Comparatively, the average sentence for these criminal acts are five to seven years or five to nine years, respectively.

While he calls out the Government’s hypocrisy, he also suspects the intention is to have created a bill that they cannot implement, which he deems “a mockery of both the law and the democratic process”.

In Fianna Fáil, leader Micheál Martin believes the bill tackles a difficult issue in a comprehensive fashion, while party member John Browne said he would vote against it for the inclusion of the suicide clause.

How many Savitas do they want?

The parents of Savita Halappanavar also shared their thoughts on the proposed legislation with both The Irish Times and the Irish Independent this week. “They must change the law to save women’s health, not just her life,” said her father, Andanappa Yalagi. “If the law does not do that, Savita has been sacrificed for nothing. How many Savitas do they want?”

Writing for Huffington Post UK, Dr Clara Fischer, a co-ordinator for the Irish Feminist Network and ARC member, argued that the new legislation would not prevent another death like Savita’s and that a change to the Constitution is needed for real reform.

The Abortion Rights Campaign also believes this legislation does not accomplish enough and said as much in a statement issued Thursday, which was picked up by TheJournal.ie.

Another group opposed to the legislation as it currently stands is Terminations for Medical Reasons who, along with a cross-party group of TDs headed by Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, have tabled an amendment to the bill.

However, Taoiseach Enda Kenny ruled out the possibility of amending the bill to make this provision as he believes it is not compatible with Irish law or the Constitution.

Abortion: then and now

Also this week, Harry McGee of The Irish Times reflected on the abortion campaign in 1983 ahead of the referendum that approved Article 40.3.3, and also asked if the more militant elements of abortion campaigns 30 years on are really the workings of a lunatic fringe.

Finally, on Tuesday, Broadsheet carried the story submitted by a 30-year-old Irish woman who travelled to England for an abortion two and a half years ago. With no sufficient medical assistance in her home country (a doctor in a women’s health clinic she visited hadn’t even heard of the abortion pill), she was badly informed and suffered an infection following the procedure.

Let down by her country, this woman has since emigrated to a more understanding place, returning only at Christmas to see her family. “Abortion is necessary in modern society. I reiterate, it is a life-changing decision for any woman to make. But it is her right to decide. We don’t need your opinions, we need support readily available, so that we can recover from the experience and move on with life,” she wrote.