It’s time for an accurate, honest and rational analysis when it comes to discussions about the eighth amendment in the Irish constitution. The polarised views often presented by the media in Ireland are unhelpful and do not honestly reflect the views of the Irish people.
We know from the recent Amnesty International and RED C poll that the vast majority – 87 per cent – of Irish people are in favour of less-restrictive abortion laws. We know from the same poll that just 5 per cent of Irish people are against abortion in all circumstances. 73 per cent of respondents believe the government should hold a referendum to allow people an opportunity to vote on whether or not to remove the eighth amendment.
The poll demonstrated that there is a lack of awareness about the issue. Only 14 per cent of respondents were aware that having an abortion when the woman’s life is not in danger is a criminal offence, which carries a potential 14 year prison sentence. The most distrusted sources of information on abortion were politicians at 7 per cent and the media at 14 per cent.Not being able to rely on the media to report accurately on this issue and not being able to rely on our public representatives to be a trusted and knowledgeable source of information only adds to the confusion around the issue for citizens.
We need to ensure that those who are in favour of repealing the amendment are armed with facts, and we need to ensure that this applies for all genders.
A key priority for campaigners who favour repealing the eighth amendment should be education on the issue. We need to ensure that those who are in favour of repealing the amendment are armed with facts, and we need to ensure that this applies for all genders. Both men and women have a part to play in this campaign. If the ground work is not put in now to educate those who are favourable to repealing the amendment, we run the risk later of allowing those who are against it to perpetuate falsehoods and misinformation.
We saw from the marriage equality referendum how much airtime the no side got because of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland ruling. This obsession with projecting “balance” allowed for extreme and hateful views to be given a platform on our televisions and airwaves, and we can expect the same when it comes to a referendum on repeal the eighth. The dishonest projection and construction of a debate between extremes should not be allowed to dominate when it comes to a complex issue such as abortion. Not only do these simplistic, black and white conversations fail to reflect the true opinions of the people, they are an insult to the intelligence of the electorate and a mark of laziness when it comes to media reporting and researching. More often than not, it is the media that is fuelling this notion that people cannot discuss abortion without getting hysterical. The Irish people aren’t stupid, and we are capable of having reasoned and contemplative discussion on abortion when spaces are provided for that.
Like many other pro-choice campaigners, I am worried about the composition of the next government and their commitment to holding a referendum on the eighth amendment.
The same poll shows that a majority of people in Ireland – 63 per cent – believe that Irish politicians should show leadership and deal proactively with widening access to abortion in Ireland. Like many other pro-choice campaigners, I am worried about the composition of the next government and their commitment to holding a referendum on the eighth amendment. It’s so important now that we keep the pressure on when it comes to this issue and that we work with politicians – from all parties and none – to campaign for a referendum.
On average, 12 women per day travel to the UK for abortions. It is utterly hypocritical that we continue to export this issue, and since nobody under the age of 50 has had a vote on the eighth amendment, we should let the people vote. The constitution is an evolving document that should reflect the views of the citizens. Students’ unions also have a critical role to play in building towards this referendum – from lobbying public representatives to registering people to vote and educating your peers. I have no doubt that students will rise to this challenge.
Laura Harmon was the 2014/15 USI President and is a 2016 Seanad candidate for the NUI panel.