A Yes Vote is the Only Way to Legislate for FFA and Rape Cases

Ivana Bacik is leader of the Labour Party in the Senead.

In a recent essay on this site, high-profile No campaigner John McGuirk wrote about the difficulties of having to make a Yes or No choice in the forthcoming referendum.

While I disagree with how McGuirk represented the nature of that choice, with less than a fortnight to go until 25th May, he was certainly correct in saying that many voters remain undecided.

Over recent weeks, I have been out canvassing extensively for a Yes vote, in Dublin and in other counties too. I have met many women and men on doorsteps who have not yet decided how they will vote.

But in conversations across the constituencies, I have found that most people, including those still undecided, do accept that the current law is too restrictive. 

The reality is that most people accept that women – mothers, sisters, daughters and friends – should have access to termination of pregnancy in some circumstances.

In particular, most people, however unsure about their voting intentions, agree that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, where pregnancy poses a serious risk to a woman’s health; or where a couple has received the devastating diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. 

And most people recognise the reality that the Eighth Amendment is an absolute bar to any lifting of the prohibition on abortion in any of these circumstances. 

They know also that it has caused real harm to many generations of women, and has been implicated in a series of tragic cases, notably the 1992 X case and the death in 2012 of Savita Halappanavar.

For anyone aware of these realities, and unhappy with the current highly restrictive law, there is only one way to decide to vote in this referendum: Yes. 

The binary nature of the choice means that a Yes vote is the only way that we can make any change at all in the law on abortion.

For a time, certain ‘No’ campaigners had argued that it might be legally possible to provide for access to abortion without amending the Constitution – at least in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. 

However, it has now been clearly established, as former Attorneys General Michael McDowell SC and John Rogers SC have pointed out, that repeal is necessary before terminations of pregnancy may be legalised on grounds of fatal foetal abnormality, rape, or serious risk to the health of a pregnant woman. 

Indeed, the anti-choice lawyers group has recently argued instead for an entirely new constitutional referendum, saying that they would support amendment of the Eighth Amendment to allow for abortion in a limited range of circumstances; or that they might even support this referendum if the legislation proposed by the government was more restrictive.

But the reality is that change has been kicked down the road for too long now. And those many, many women, doctors and families whose lives have been affected by the Eighth Amendment will have little or no patience with hypothetical legal arguments for a new text, or a different referendum.

Instead, they will be painfully aware of the pressing practical need to achieve change right now – in what is in our first opportunity for 35 years. By voting yes in this referendum, so that we introduce legislation enabling doctors to offer compassion and care to women in crisis pregnancy. 

And if we fail, who knows when the next opportunity will come?

That is why a Yes vote on 25th May is vital. There is no other way we can legally provide for terminations of pregnancy on grounds of fatal foetal abnormality; or on grounds of rape or incest; or even where a pregnancy poses a serious risk to a woman’s health.

This is a soul-searching time for the people of Ireland. But what is clear, is that if we do not repeal the Eighth Amendment now, no reform whatsoever of the law is possible. 

That is why on 25th May, I believe that we as Irish citizens will exercise our choice in this binary referendum by voting Yes for a more compassionate Ireland.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.