Weekly Roundup: Abortion Past, Present, North, South, and the World Over

Each week we take a hard look at how abortion is being discussed in the media at home and abroad and provide you the highs, lows, and extra information about the campaign to provide abortion rights in Ireland. The week of March 1st through the 7th was an intense week of abortion rights campaigning and brought to light the many ways support comes in for both sides of the debate.

Supporters coming out on both sides, north and south

Last week, The Irish Times reported on a broad call for X case legislation coming from over 100 organisations, including Action on X, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, SIPTU, Unite, National Women’s Council of Ireland, Union of Students in Ireland (USI), Doctors for Choice, AkiDwA and many, many more.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, support for a proposed amendment that would prevent  abortions being performed outside of the NHS came from Fianna Fáil senator Jim Walsh, former MEPs Kathy Sinnott and Dana Rosemary Scallon, and a number of other politicians from the DUP, SDLP and UUP as well as anti-abortion campaigners from the North.

By Sunday, more support for this amendment came in the form of the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs, as reported in the Irish Independent.

What defines political lobbying?

On Saturday, The Irish Times revealed that ten organisations involved in the abortion debate have been contacted by the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) regarding their political status. Five of these organisations, including the Life Institute and Youth Defence, have ignored numerous requests by SIPO to declare themselves as lobby groups and register as third parties under the Electoral Act. This would mean that these organisations would not be permitted to accept donations over €2,500 or to accept funding from overseas donors.

In response to this article, Conor Farrell counters Life Institute director Niamh Uí Bhriain’s claim that the group does not partake in political lobbying in a post on his blog, Thoughts on Science and Cynicism. Farrell cites five references to either Government or TDs on the institute’s website home page alone, and also refers to phone calls to the Taoiseach and the funding that Youth Defence receives from the US.

Meanwhile, ARC made the postcards from its campaign available for supporters for legislation for X to print at home.

21 years of inaction on X

Monday marked the 21st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s X  case decision with a rally in Dublin to coincide with an informal meeting of EU health ministers in Dublin Castle, which would be attended by our own Health Minister James Reilly. Action on X and Abortion Rights Campaign member Alison Spillane’s column on TheJournal.ie highlighted how every day that X case legislation is delayed women’s lives are at risk, while MEP Paul Murphy put a call out to all in favour of abortion rights to join in the evening’s protest and suggested that the movement should link with similar groups across Europe.

The same day, the Irish Independent posted a video of Health Minister James Reilly’s comments on  how legislation for the X case was progressing. Here, the Minister states that we will have the heads of the bill by Easter, and a vote on legislation by summer.

Later, TheJournal.ie reported that organisers of the Action on X event were delighted with the turn-out, which brought together representatives from ARC, National Women’s Council of Ireland, AkiDwA, Terminations for Medical Reasons, Doctors for Choice and USI.

Hundreds were said to have turned up for the rally, with Sinead Kennedy from Action on X estimating the count at 700-800. “When it comes to protecting bankers, they can keep the Dáil open late and introduce emergency legislation; but when it comes to protecting women’s lives there is delay, after delay, after delay,” she added.

On Wednesday, Oireachtas Retort very helpfully posted a section from the UN Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in Ireland, following an official visit in November 2012. Here, the special rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya expresses concern regarding the challenges facing reproductive health providers and defenders working to inform women on abortion, and the stigmatisation of defenders of abortion rights.

Debate continues in Northern Ireland

Perhaps the most baffling contribution to the abortion debate this week came from GAA figurehead Mickey Harte, who weighed in on the issue in Northern Ireland by appealing to politicians to support the amendment proposed by MLAs Paul Givan and Alban Maginness.

In response to the football manager’s thoughts on the political issue,  South Belfast MLA Anna Lo suggested that Harte stick to what he knows best. “He has expertise in GAA and I have a lot of respect for him. But really I think he should keep to his own field,” she said.

This was followed on Thursday by a passionate piece on Stormont’s “shameful” stalling on implementing abortion rights from Fionola Meredith in the Belfast Telegraph.

“Let’s just be very clear about one thing. Paul Givan and Alban Maginness may say that the proposed amendment – which would restrict abortion services, allowing them to be carried out only on NHS premises and even then only in exceptional circumstances – is about ensuring accountability and transparency and supporting the NHS,” she wrote. “It is not. It is about seeking to control women and their bodies. It is as basic and as reprehensible as that.”

Dáil too busy talking about sexting

Some of the coverage of abortion in the media can be rather heavy-handed, so a dash of biting satire can come as a breath of fresh air from time to time. This week, we sign off with a post from the Donegal Dollop, which warns us that abortion legislation won’t deal with pregnancy that results from sexting. Oh dear!

This comes in response to a meeting this week of an Oireachtas committee investigating social media that uncovered just how out of touch some of our TDs are. The entire thing can be summed up by this tweet from Graham Linehan.

To see what speakers Sinead Redmond, Orla O’Connor, Cathleen O’Neill, Laura Harmon, Dr Peadar O’Grady, Arlette Lyons and Ailbhe Smyth had to say at this week’s Action on X rally, check out this video by Paula Geraghty for Trade Union TV.