The results from count centres across the state are slowly trickling in as I write this, and Labour activists and supporters are shouting that #Repealthe8th is dead as quickly as their candidates are dropping out of the race. They need to stop.
I presume they genuinely believe what they’re saying, just as they believe that we wouldn’t have marriage equality were it not for the Labour Party, but peddling that view damages the pro-choice movement.
Labour might have been confident that they could deliver a referendum on the eighth amendment, but pro-choice activists of all political stripes and none haven’t forgotten that they delivered legislation on X to allow for abortion where a woman would be a risk of dying that contained a 14 year jail sentence penalty for inducing a miscarriage, and the horrifying case of teenage refugee pregnant as a result of rape enduring what was ostensibly a forced c-section at 25 weeks, despite medical professionals acknowledging that she was suicidal. The #Repealthe8th campaign exists in spite of Labour, not because of it. Perhaps Labour in government after #ge16 would have delivered a referendum, but what would that have looked like?
Besides, Labour aren’t in government now, and unless there’s some kind of divine intervention over the next twelve hours it doesn’t look like they will be. They had five years to work to hold a referendum and didn’t. We can acknowledge that Labour were in government when the Marriage Equality referendum happened but it was won because people mobilised and worked their rocks off to get it passed; People who were never involved in politics before came out alongside grassroots groups and got Ireland to a place where it said yes to valuing people as equals. So instead of throwing the toys out of the pram and acting all hard done by, Labour activists would do better to channel their energies into the pro-choice campaign and work for a repeal of these laws. There is nothing to be gained by trying to undermine the positivity of pro-choice campaigners by getting in a huff, throwing hands in the air and saying we should all just forget it now.
That said, it is difficult to ascertain just how much of a deciding factor abortion was in this general election given the number of Fianna Fail TDs that have been returned and their unwillingness to commit to a referendum – but there have been huge returns for independents and political parties who are very much in favour of holding a referendum. The people of Dublin Bay South waved goodbye to Lucinda Creighton, one of the most staunch anti-abortion voices in the Dáil and while this is to be welcomed, this is not a time for pro-choice activists to rest on our laurels. Clare Daly has championed reproductive justice and been returned to the Dáil alongside Joan Collins. Ruth Coppinger, Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett and Gino Kenny are all pro-choice. Sinn Féin have a policy in favour of repeal the eighth. There is a recognition, even amongst conservatives such as Leo Varadkar and Frances Fitzgerald that a referendum is inevitable. It is easier now to be pro-choice than it ever has been before and thanks to the work of pro-choice activists and an increase in public support, the stigma surrounding the subject is ebbing away. Now is the time to send a clear message to the returned members of the new Dáil that a commitment to repeal the eighth amendment must form a part of any new Programme for Government. Women must no longer be blocked from accessing appropriate healthcare. Public opinion on the need to repeal the law and provide legal abortion for women is far more progressive than what is represented in the Dáil now, even with the addition of the large range of socialist, republican and left of centre voices. This public opinion needs to be converted into action on the ground.
We must make no mistake, the anti-choice groups that are happy to see women die for want of medical care, will consolidate their efforts in order to keep the eighth amendment in place. They will continue with their bitter newspaper columns full of demonisation and blame, and their shaming billboards and they will continue their misrepresentation and campaigns of outright lies against people who provide women’s healthcare in Ireland. Their attacks on the IFPA and others are not about women’s healthcare, they are about muddying the waters so that they can portray themselves as being something other than religious fundamentalists who want to keep women in the dark ages. They have no intention of stopping so we have an onus to build our movement, to keep up the pressure no TDs and tell them in their clinics, in the streets, in the courts, and in their media streams that they must fight to repeal the eighth. We can’t only depend only on TDs to argue these points in the confines of the Dáil chamber; there is an onus on us to keep speaking to our families and friends to reduce the stigma, to help women accessing abortion care, to publicise information and to counter the outrageous propaganda and lies bandied about by anti-choice activists. We must organise and march in the streets and stand shoulder to shoulder with others campaigning for free, safe and legal abortion.
Pro-choice groups are ready for this fight. Are you?