COLETTE BROWNE: Politicians need to face up to responsibilities on abortion law

IN 1992, a Fianna Fáil senator and chairman of the Pro-Life Trust, reacting angrily to the X case judgment, thundered: “It is wholly unacceptable, and a deep affront to the people of Ireland, that four judges who are preserved by the Constitution from accountability can radically alter the Constitution and place in peril the most vulnerable section of our society.”

Des Hanafin needn’t have worried. Despite the Supreme Court carefully outlining a woman’s right to an abortion, in very circumscribed circumstances, craven politicians steadfastly refused to accept the decision and instead opted to quietly bury the controversial case and ignore their responsibility to clarify the law.

Twenty years later and those on the anti-choice side of the abortion debate are still bleating about the iniquity of the X case ruling and attempting to rewrite one of the most fundamental strictures of our common law legal system — the Supreme Court is the court of final appeal for constitutional cases and losing parties must accept its verdict, no matter how much it galls them.

Put simply, if you lose in the Supreme Court, it’s tough. That’s it. Because, in the words of one former American chief justice, “the Constitution is what the judges say it is”.

So, if the Supreme Court decreed in 1992 that Irish women, whose lives are in danger, have a right to an abortion then that’s what the Constitution says. There is no room for argument. There is no debate. There is no nuance. There is no grey area. It’s a simple, blatant, and incontrovertible fact.

This isn’t a difficult concept. It’s not hard to understand — unless, of course, you’re a militant anti-choice campaigner who would rather see women die, or commit suicide, than have an abortion.

Incensed at the prospect of legislation being enacted, finally giving effect to a right that has, in fact, existed since the first Constitutional amendment was passed in 1983, anti-choice groups recently launched their biggest disinformation campaign to date.

Instead of directing their considerable resources at any number of struggling children’s charities, to help the many thousands of children who are alive and suffering today, their latest last-ditch attempt to postpone the inevitable comprises plastering every billboard in the country with nonsensical slogans while spending every waking minute harassing invertebrate Fine Gael TDs with threatening phone calls.

“The Government says it will legislate for abortion. Will you speak up for life before it’s too late?” is the latest doom-ladenquestion being posed by campaigners, who seem to think that any legislation being realised is one of the four signs of the apocalypse.

Not noted for letting pesky things like actual facts get in the way of a good marketing campaign, the hysterical tone of this latest foray into fantasy suggests that as soon as legislation is enacted, fallen women will be queuing up in their droves outside abortion clinics, desperate to get rid of their unborn babies, so they can continue fornicating with wild abandon. And then the sky will fall on our heads.

All complete rubbish, of course, since any legislation, if this Government does ever get around to introducing it, will merely serve to allow women exercise a pre-existing right — a right that was endorsed by the Irish people in a referendum in 2002, 10 years after the X case decision.

Anti-choice campaigners huff and they puff, constantly invoking the supposed “pro-life majority” they allegedly represent, but the truth is that the Irish people have already been given the opportunity to restrict access to abortion, and deny it to suicidal women, but they refused to do so.

The people have spoken and the message has consistently been that there should be access to abortion in this country in some limited situations. Regretfully, politicians have never listened and there remains a stubborn inchoate cohort of anti-democratic TDs who refuse to accept, variously, the results of successive referendums, the verdict of the highest court in the land and, latterly, the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

Instead, as Fine Gael TD James Bannon put it in an interview on Monday, some prefer to be guided by “natural law” or “God’s law”. Serendipitously, “God’s law” and Mr Bannon’s opinion are one in the same thing.

Politicians in the 21st century may still need to be reminded of it, but their purpose in the national parliament is supposed to be to enact man’s law — if they feel prostrate to God’s law, they should join a seminary and not Leinster House.

Smelling some blood, and a few votes up for grabs as the Fine Gael parliamentary party prepares to go to war over this faux controversy, Micheál Martin has also piped up to say he “remains to be convinced” of the necessity of introducing legislation, while he also cautioned of the danger of allowing suicidal women terminate their pregnancies.

“If you legislate for that, you’re essentially creating an open-door situation, and it will be very difficult to hold back,” he mused, apparently ambivalent about the primary purpose of such legislation — saving the lives of suicidal women.

The Fianna Fáil leader can engage in all of the cheap politicking he likes, but perhaps he needs to be reminded that it was his Government that held the last referendum, the one in which a majority of Irish people said suicidal women should be allowed access to abortion, and the referendum result trumps his personal opinion.

Mr Martin may be confused but for most of us it’s really quite simple, and the fact that we’re still having the same stupid, incoherent, anachronistic debate 20 years after the Supreme Court laid out the actual Constitutional position is beyond disgusting. It’s a national disgrace.

While politicians dither and dive and do everything in their power to divest themselves of any responsibility, real women, who don’t have the luxury of thinking about this in the abstract, have to live with the consequences of Leinster House cowardice every day of the week.

Every time it seems as if there could be some slight progress on the issue, anti-choice groups, cognisant of the fact that their desire for a blanket abortion ban has long been a minority view, seek to stymie it by introducing a range of extraneous issues into the debate to stoke up fear and preserve the status quo.

So legislation, we are told, would lead to abortion on demand, late-term abortions, abortions of foetuses diagnosed as having special needs and a variety of other extreme liberalisations of the law that have absolutely no prospect of being introduced, given the extremely limited nature of the X case judgment.

To be clear, these drastic changes to the law, if they ever were to become a reality, would require not just legislation but yet another referendum so the Constitution could be amended.

For too long, a vocal minority have peddled lies and hyperbole and used their disproportionate resources and political power to subvert the democratic will of the people, as expressed in the most recent referendum 10 years ago. Don’t let them do it again.

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