This month saw students gathering with international delegates from Amnesty International outside government buildings in Dublin to campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment. This is a continuation of Amnesty’s campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion, which began in March of last year.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) joined the demonstrations, while UCD Students’ Union and the UCD branch of Amnesty International also supported the actions. During lunchtime every day for two weeks, demonstrators stood with travel suitcases and bags to represent the 12 women who travel to Britain every day for abortions. Amnesty believes that the current laws on abortion violate the human rights of girls and women. The demonstration aimed to keep reproductive rights to the fore of the minds of the politicians and political parties who are currently negotiating the formation of a new government.
“Over the next two weeks, efforts towards forming a government will ramp up. We will be here during lunchtime every day of those two weeks to demand that repealing the Eighth Amendment is on the table during those discussions,” said Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International in Ireland. “The parties to the negotiations need to recognise that women will not stop travelling for abortions, and this issue will not be going away, during their time in government.”
Differences of opinion about reproductive rights may have already contributed to the stagnation of government talks. The Labour party has promised that if in government it will hold a referendum on the amendment. Fine Gael have not committed to holding a referendum; instead they propose to hold a citizens’ assembly on the Eighth Amendment. Politicians would not participate in this assembly, which would submit recommendations to the Dáil on potential changes to the amendment.
The idea of this assembly has already caused controversy. The proposal was included in a document that Fine Gael submitted to the 15 Independent TDs in talks to join a coalition government. It has split the independent TDs on ideological lines; several of them are outright opposed to changes in the constitution regarding abortion.
While politicians may be uncertain, support for a referendum on this issue appears to be growing. A recent Amnesty International poll carried out by RED C Research and Marketing showed that 55 per cent of people agree that expanding abortion access should be a priority for the next government, with only 25 per cent of people disagreeing. 73 per cent of respondents thought that the government should hold a referendum on whether to abolish the eighth amendment. Two-thirds of people support the decriminalisation of abortion and 87 per cent of Irish people want access to abortion expanded to some extent. Whether there is political will to make these changes happen remains to be seen.