Nora Owen: Eighth only inserted after campaign to frighten people

Nora Owen.

The Eighth Amendment was never needed and was only introduced after a campaign which purposely set out to frighten people, a former justice minister has said.

Nora Owen has said there was “no need” to change the Constitution in 1983 but said intense pressure on politicians and a lobbying campaign was under way in 1981 when she first entered the Dáil.

Speaking in favour of a yes vote in this week’s referendum, Ms Owen described the nasty campaign and vicious lobbying which preceded the introduction of the Eighth Amendment.

“In 1983 we did not need an amendment to our Constitution. The 1861 act which was still relevant in Ireland forbade abortion, it forbade anybody giving a pill or any method to bring about abortion, so the law did not allow abortion, but a campaign built up that frightened people quite frankly.

“A campaign started and it started before 1983, I came into the Dáil in 1981 and already there were groups sending us letters.”

She said thousands of letters were delivered to TDs and said politicians were subjected to intense lobbying over the phone and inside the Dáil.

“All of us at that time remember walking up and down corridors on our way to an office or a meeting and being confronted and attacked.

“I used to say to people I knew more about the wallpaper in Leinster House than I knew about any other bit of decoration because you were turning to face the wall when you would see someone coming down the corridor — because if you didn’t immediately agree with them you were plain and simple an abortionist, there was no understanding or caring.”

She was among a number of former Fine Gael female TDs who were in the Dáil in 1983 and who came out to publicly support the yes side.

Former minister Gemma Hussey described the upcoming referendum as “bittersweet” adding that it was “not a good day for Ireland” when the Eighth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution.

“I feel that people can become a bit detached from a referendum and this is not a referendum to become detached from, it’s really important,” she said.

She encouraged women to bring their fathers, sons, boyfriends, and husbands with them to vote in what she described as a “lifetime chance” of change.

Separately, politicians from the main political parties called on the public to vote on Friday at an event in support of the referendum.

Among them was Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley who said: “What has struck me is that while an individual themselves may have a different opinion about the termination of a pregnancy and for them it might be something that they might never countenance or contemplate, they are prepared to judge somebody who comes to a different decision.

“How can they impose their will on those who find themselves in that extraordinarily difficult position?”


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