Abortion issue is not amenable to the political whip…

Mary Lou McDonald is not the first politician to get ambushed by Vincent Browne. But in fairness to the Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, it was not the fairest invocation of the one thing in the north and another in the south schtick.

Pro life campaigner, Pat Carey produced a copy of a letter making it clear than all four of Northern Ireland’s political parties were against an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act.

That’s not at all the same thing that Sinn Fein’s private members motion in the Dail calls for, which merely seeks clarity in the law as it currently pertains in the Republic. Indeed later on, Browne takes the conversation even further off piste.

The most genuinely difficult part was the obligation put upon the party by its own Ard Fheis to act in concert. As Pearse Doherty noted back in May, that the party’s position

…was that it opposed abortion but that the Government should legislate for the X Case where abortion can take place if a woman’s life was at risk because of pregnancy, including the risk of suicide.

This is the nub of the problem. It is hard to how some of form of legislation will not increase the number of actual abortions take place, since the problem seems to be a conservative caution on the part of Obstetricians.

As Mary Lou points out there are already about 30 taking place in Northern Ireland every year. Yet before this crisis (and the establishment of the Marie Stopes clinic), how widely was this understood?

I suspect not at all. We’re here largely because Savita and her husband were unaware of the law and made their thoughts and demands known, not just to the medical staff at the time, but now to wider civil society in Ireland.

Fair play to Sinn Fein for trying to keep up the pressure on the political establishment. But when you have to coral peoples’ conscience into a tightly drawn motion, there’s a danger that you achieve the opposite of what you set out to.

Which in fact ought to be clarity around the law and its practical effects on the individual.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty