COLETTE BROWNE: Anti-abortion legislation TDs trample on the democratic will of the people

IRELAND’S answer to the Watergate scandal has revealed that some Labour Party TDs would prefer more liberal abortion legislation than that being drafted by the Government — and, in other news, the Pope is Catholic.

On Sunday, we learned that an intrepid pro-life student had secretly recorded a conversation with Dublin TD, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, in June, before traipsing down to Wicklow to entrap an unsuspecting Anne Ferris.

To the student’s horror, both TDs expressed their dissatisfaction with X Case legislation, which will provide for abortion only in cases when there is a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life, and they complained it was too restrictive in its scope.

“The X Case is a starting point,” said Mr Ó Ríordáin. “We get the first part done, then we will go on to the next bit,” said Ms Ferris, who told the student that Labour Party policy was to “go further” than X Case legislation.

Resisting the temptation to publish these explosive recordings, ‘Deep Throat’ sat on the tapes for nearly a year, waiting until legislation was about to be published before releasing them to a newspaper. Clearly hoping the TDs’ incendiary comments would derail forthcoming abortion legislation, this cunning plot had just one tiny flaw — it was a damp squib. The Labour Party’s view on abortion isn’t a secret.

It may be before our super-sleuth’s time, but in 2003 the party announced that it supported an abortion option when the health, as well as the life, of the woman is at risk and when there is a fatal foetal abnormality. The party’s position has not changed.

Incidentally, if that legislation had existed in October, Savita Halappanavar would be alive today — an inconvenient truth that is ignored by so-called pro-life activists.

So, the weekend’s big scoop was two Labour TDs talking about Labour Party policy and griping that it had to compromise on entering a coalition with Fine Gael.

Despite being prosaic, the ‘Labour Tapes’ have been spun as evidence of some dastardly, Machiavellian scheme in which the junior party in government, once X Case legislation is passed, will surreptitiously expedite much more liberal abortion laws. But unless Eamon Gilmore, et al, are planning a coup, there is no way for them to do that.

X Case legislation may be a starting point to broader abortion rights, but taking the next step requires a referendum. If that doesn’t happen, the road is a cul-de-sac. When you hear politicians speaking of their fears that X Case legislation will result in “abortion on demand”, what you’re hearing is politicians saying they’re afraid of democracy, because the only way their fears can be realised is if the people vote to repeal the eight amendment.

The staid reality is that X Case legislation is merely codifying the status quo legal position, which has existed for 21 years. While the usual motley crew of highly-strung pearl-clutchers has been busy lambasting Labour TDs for having the temerity to espouse party policy in private, sinister views have been voiced by other politicians in the glare of the media spotlight.

Dismissing concerns that the enforced continuation of pregnancy could damage women’s health, Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews told the Vincent Browne show on Monday: “Sure, we’re all going to end up dead anyway”.

Apart from the shocking insensitivity of this comment, in the wake of Ms Halappanavar’s death, it also begs a question.

Does Mr Mathews believe in healthcare provision, or would he prefer we close public hospitals, and turf out the patients, because we’ll all mortal? Or, does he reserve this level of casual contempt for women whose pregnancies imperil their health? Speaking on the Marian Finucane show, on Sunday, Mr Mathews was again waxing lyrical about the reasons women should be denied autonomy over their own bodies.

The X Case shouldn’t be legislated for, he said, because “it’s history, its characteristics are irrelevant”.

Its characteristics, by the way, are the rape of a 14-year-old child, and her subsequent threats to take her own life if the State refused to allow her to travel for an abortion. Is Mr Mathews suggesting that this could not happen again, that child abuse and rape are crimes that have been consigned to the history books?

Former Taoiseach John Bruton espoused the same view, that the X Case was wrongly decided, in an op-ed on Monday.

“The original Supreme Court majority decision in the X Case [was mistaken in] so far as it allowed suicide ideation on the part of a mother to override the equal right to life of an unborn child.”

This is incorrect. There was no “mother” in the X Case. The case concerned a young girl — whom Mr Bruton clearly feels should have been imprisoned in her own country and forced to carry her rapist’s baby to term, even if that entailed a risk that she would take her own life.

Is this a position that the majority of Irish people endorse? Not according to the two referendums we’ve had, which retained the suicide test, nor the countless opinion polls that have revealed overwhelming support for X Case legislation, at a minimum.

THERE may be a number of TDs in Leinster House who are willing to roll the dice on women’s lives, but, thankfully, the majority of Irish people are not as callous. The spectacle of middle-aged men pontificating and preaching about what desperate young women should do when faced with a crisis pregnancy has been, over recent weeks, an unedifying national scandal.

It reached its nadir on Sunday’s Marian Finucane show, when two pontificators-in-chief, Eamon Dunphy and Mr Mathews, had the term “crisis pregnancy” explained to them by a female panellist.

People say that you must respect all views on this issue but I, for one, don’t respect the fact that male politicians, like Mathews, have more of a say over my body than I do. I don’t respect TDs in the Dáil who are willing to trample over the Constitution, the Supreme Court, referendum results and the ruling of an international court, and shirk their duty to enact legislation. Neither should you.

If legislation were put before the Dáil today, with the support of Sinn Féin and a large number of independents, it would easily pass. Instead, the democratic will of the people is being held to ransom by, according to some reports, just 15 Fine Gael parliamentarians. One of them, Brian Walsh, said in November “seven governments have sat on their hands. The Supreme Court ruling has to be legislated for”. This week, he proudly announced his intention to continue the ignominious tradition of sitting on his hands.

TDs like Mr Walsh make a mockery of our democracy. They are usurping it and imposing the will of a minority on the majority. The Government cannot allow them to succeed.


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