- 24 May 18
The referendum on the 8th Amendment seems to be finely balanced – to the extent that every possible ‘Yes’ vote counts. So let’s go out there – and collectively win it. Whichever way the result goes, we need to examine the performance of a variety of State agencies, on the run-in to the vote…
The new issue of Hot Press hits the streets just a day before the Referendum on Repealing the 8th Amendment takes place. For twelve days of its life cycle, we will know whether or not the noxious amendment which equates the right to life of an embryo with that of a fully grown adult woman, has finally been expunged from the Constitution of Ireland.
We have made no secret of our views in Hot Press. The magazine campaigned against the original amendment back in 1983, knowing that we were destined to be on the losing side. So much has happened – and Ireland has changed in so many ways – in the interim that, at the time of writing at least, most political pundits have predicted a victory for ‘Yes’ on this occasion. Our view here has always been tempered with a powerful sense of realism.
From the start, we said that there is no room for complacency. More than ever, with less than 48 hours to the close of polling, there isn’t.
The ‘No’ side have been dishonest and hypocritical in the way they have campaigned, as we knew they would be. They have attempted to play on people’s fears and their anxieties in a way that is deeply unpleasant and reactionary. They have deliberately painted post-Referendum scenarios, if a ‘Yes’ vote prevails, that they know to be false and misleading. They have whipped up personalised hostility towards individual ‘Yes’ campaigners. They have – in so far as they have been allowed – run targeted advertising campaigns which suggest that ‘abortion factories’ will appear overnight in Ireland, when they know that only a very small number of clinical abortions will ever take place here – and that these will occur only in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and severe threat to the life or the health of the woman.
Because they have been allowed to get away with all of this, facilitated by the remarkable absence of intelligent laws governing referendums in Ireland, they have closed the gap that existed in the polls two months ago. Right now, no one knows by how much. Whether they have done enough to crush the hopes of so many young women, in particular, remains to be seen. So while there is still time, we are urging everyone with a progressive, compassionate, tolerant and open-minded attitude to love, to life and to the world, to make sure to get to their polling station and Vote Yes.
This, as was said here, in the Special Repeal the 8th issue of Hot Press a fortnight ago, is what good people will do.
It can only be a good thing to consign to the past the terrible hypocrisy of a situation where Ireland says that abortion is okay – as long as it happens in England; to end the situation where lives can be lost, in the way that Savita Halapanavar’s was, directly as a result of the 8th Amendment; to remove the threat, which is currently on the statute books, of a 14 year jail sentence for women who access the abortion pill in Ireland; to save doctors working in obstetrics here in Ireland from the appalling reality that if they make what someone else considers to be a wrong call in relation to the care of a pregnant woman, and decide that a termination is necessary, that they too face a lengthy jail sentence, and irreversible reputational damage.
Good people, even those who would not ever want to have an abortion – or, if they are older, to ever have had an abortion – can and should vote ‘Yes’, secure in the knowledge that no one ever will be forced to have an abortion against their will as a result of the removal of the 8th Amendment.
A vote for ‘Yes’ is a vote for freedom. It is a vote for conscience. It is a vote for compassion. It is a vote for love.
One potential benefit of the people of Ireland taking full responsibility for the issues surrounding women’s fertility is that the number of abortions sought by Irish women can, in fact, be reduced. This will be achieved through a comprehensive programme of sex education; and through the wider availability of contraception. But there is another vital point: for anyone considering an abortion, proper counselling will be available – at home.
The simple truth is that, while everyone wants to reduce the incidence of abortion, it is a fact of life and has been so for as long as women have walked the earth. And rather than continuing to remain in denial about it, rather than behaving hypocritically in relation to it, rather than exporting the problem in the way that we do now, the very best hope of minimising it is to be truthful and honest with ourselves: in the first instance, that desperately serious crisis pregnancies are an everyday reality for Irish women; and that the right thing to do is to legislate for termination in the most health-focused way, that supports individual women every step of the journey that a decision to terminate a crisis pregnancy involves.
Very early in this campaign, I urged that we must trust Irish women. They do not make decisions about abortion lightly. And they will not in the future. But it is inescapable that abortion is necessary. It is often the only possible decision for a woman. And it is almost always the right one, when it is made, for the individual woman in her individual circumstances.
Which is why Hot Press says that the only response for good people, in this referendum, is to Vote Yes.
There is one other issue that needs to be raised immediately after the polling booths close, and that is the highly questionable performance of a variety of State agencies. There is the Department of Communications, which allowed unregulated advertising on the internet to become a major issue. There is RTÉ, whose biggest set-piece on the referendum, on Claire Byrne Live, was a badly mismanaged shambles. There is the BAI, which regulates broadcasting in Ireland.
And there is the Referendum Commission, whose performance must be subjected to a forensic examination, in the light of what looks from this angle like a largely pointless non-campaign. I will only say here that the desperately irritating music behind a radio ad that lasts all of 69 seconds rendered that piece of expenditure teeth-grindingly absurd. Unless there is a higher-than-expected turn-out, you’d have to ask: what is the point of this body? Have they done the State some service? Certainly not that I can see.
But that is for another day. For now, let’s make the final call. I won’t say “vote early and vote often” even in jest, in case someone tries to make a meal of it. The last word is simply this: Vote Yes, because it is clearly and unequivocally the right thing to do – and embrace the future with confidence. Irish women can, and must, be trusted.