Following last Saturday’s March for Choice which saw more than 40,000 people take to the streets of Dublin, The Gazette asked City councillors and TDs for their stance on next year’s abortion referendum.
Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that a referendum on the eighth amendment, which states that the right to life of the mother and the unborn child are equal, will take place in May or June 2018.
Under the current law, a woman can face up to 14 years in prison for having an abortion in Ireland. However, around 11 women each day travel from Ireland to the UK to access terminations.
The Gazette asked TDs and councillors for their position. All 39 councillors on South Dublin County Council were contacted, as well as the nine TDs from Dublin Mid-West and Dublin South-West constituencies.
Sinn Fein TDs Eoin O’Brion and Sean Crowe said they supported the party’s position of repealing the eighth amendment and the enacting of legislation to ensure safe access to abortions for women in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.
Their stance was echoed by Cllr Mark Ward, but other Sinn Fein councillors said that they were pro-choice.
Cllr Brendan Ferron said: “Those who know me will know that I support the right of a woman to have full control over her reproductive rights, but also that the policy of the party will be determined by the membership as a whole, and I will respect that decision.”
Cllr Enda Fanning said: “As a man, I simply do not believe that I should dictate to women what they should or shouldn’t do with their bodies. It is their choice, not mine.”
Cllr Louise Dunne said her position was pro-choice. “I believe every woman should be able to make decisions over their own body and be able to access safe abortions in this country for whatever personal reasons they have for making such a difficult decision,” she said.
“Those who do choose, have their own unique and valid reasons to go through with the end of a pregnancy. Who gives us the right to make judgements or force any woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy?”
Cllr Sarah Holland said there was “work to be done on getting fully behind the campaign to repeal within Sinn Féin”.
She said: “I want every woman to have the healthcare options that best suit her circumstance. I trust women to make ethical decisions about their own bodies. It’s none of my business what their reasons are.
“Sinn Féin policy is to repeal the eighth amendment and allow abortion in limited cases. I was disappointed, therefore, that we didn’t turn up to campaign at last Saturday’s March for Choice.”
A number of independent councillors also spoke in favour of repeal.
Cllr Francis Timmon said: “I would like to see an Ireland where women have the choice over their own bodies and are freely able to make decisions about their bodies.”
Cllr Deirdre O’Donovan said: “I trust women to make their own choices about their own bodies,” while Cllr Ruth Nolan also spoke in favour of repeal, as did Labour Cllr Martina Genockey and People Before Profit Cllr Madeleine Johansson.
Cllr Johansson said: “The ban on abortion in Ireland affects poor and migrant women disproportionately. Women who don’t have the means or ability to travel face the threat of 14 years in prison for taking safe abortion pills.”
Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald said: “I have always held the view that the Constitution is not the place to deal with the issue of abortion; this is a health issue which is best dealt with between a woman and her doctors.”
She added that now an approximate date had been set for the referendum, politicians have “a responsibility to engage in constructive and respectful debate in relation to their proposals”.
Fianna Fail Cllr Ed O’Brien said he believes in the right to life of the unborn child, but felt a referendum was now necessary, while Cllr Trevor Gilligan said Fianna Fail party members would be allowed a conscience vote on the issue and people should have their say on the eighth amendment.