Workers Hammer No. 241
Ireland: Repeal the Eighth Amendment!
No illusions in parliamentarism
Fight for free abortion on demand!
For women's liberation through socialist revolution
On 25 May, a referendum will be held in Ireland on whether to remove the constitutional ban on abortion (introduced by the Eighth Amendment in 1983). If passed, section 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution positing a “right to life of the unborn” will be replaced with the statement: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.” The Spartacist League calls for a yes vote in the referendum as a step forward in the fight for abortion rights in Ireland. This would not only benefit Irish women, but could be a boost for the struggle against women’s oppression in Northern Ireland, Britain and elsewhere.
The Irish government has put forward a general scheme for legislation in the event of the referendum passing. The proposed legislation would permit abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy “without specific indication”, ie on request, but it also contains a number of concessions to the forces of anti-woman reaction. After a physician certifies that the pregnancy is not past the twelfth week, the pregnant woman would have to endure a waiting period of 72 hours before the termination is carried out.
After the first twelve weeks, an abortion would only be permitted if two doctors attest that there is a risk of serious harm to the health of the pregnant woman or that the foetus is likely to die before or shortly after birth. The government also proposes to prohibit abortions after the point of “viability” of the foetus, even in cases where the woman’s health is threatened. Such a measure would effectively maintain the logic of the Eighth Amendment whereby the rights of pregnant women are subordinated to the “rights” of a foetus. The “viability” of the foetus would be a pretext for anti-abortion doctors to block women from obtaining abortions.
Since the government first started talking about what legislation it would put forward in the event of repeal, its proposals have become more and more restrictive. Now, as we go to press, it is mooting some sort of “additional safeguards” to prevent abortion rights from being further expanded in the future.
We print below a Spartacist League/Britain leaflet issued on 7 March. Our comrades distributed the leaflet at an International Women’s Day protest in Dublin organised by the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment. Thousands of people, mostly women and many of them young, took to the streets to demand abortion rights. As the protesters rallied in front of the Custom House, drivers of DART commuter trains crossing the Liffey hooted their horns in solidarity.
The Coalition to Repeal and its new lash-up, Together For Yes, largely confine themselves to calling for repeal. The “socialist feminist” group ROSA, established by the reformist Socialist Party, calls on the government to provide for abortion on request in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy because that “would cater for 92% of all abortions wanted”. What about the other eight per cent?! While the reformists and bourgeois feminists were tailoring their slogans to what the anti-woman Irish capitalist government deems acceptable, our leaflet, with its forthright call for free abortion on demand, was eagerly snapped up by many demonstrators.
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The upcoming referendum in Ireland on repealing the Eighth Amendment is a long-overdue opportunity to get rid of this vile anti-woman provision of the Constitution. On its own though, repealing the Eighth won’t bring any abortion rights. Even without the constitutional guarantee of the “right to life of the unborn”, abortion will still be criminalised under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (2013), except when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger.
Under pressure from a population fed up with reactionary Catholic Ireland, the government is promising legislation to allow abortion, possibly on request in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. If it became law, such a provision would certainly be welcome. It would be a more liberal regime than that in Britain, where women (including thousands of Irish women every year) are required to get two doctors to attest that continuing their pregnancy would damage their physical or mental health, or that the child would be severely disabled. We Marxists are in favour of any reform that workers or the oppressed can wrest from the capitalist ruling class, but we recognise that the full emancipation of women is only possible with the overthrow of capitalism itself.
Almost all of the groups involved in the fight to repeal the Eighth are affiliated to the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, a class-collaborationist lash-up which includes bourgeois feminist and gay rights groups, several trade unions and the reformists of the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Network. Dominated by feminists, this coalition limits its demands to what it thinks will be acceptable to the bourgeoisie, rather than fighting for what working-class women actually need. The Coalition urges people to email their TDs and appeal to these representatives of bourgeois rule to be “open-minded, courageous and compassionate”. This statement promotes the most ridiculous illusions in the Dáil. The bourgeois Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, helped at times by the Labour Party, have taken turns administering the anti-woman clericalist capitalist Irish state.
Fighters for women’s rights cannot place any trust in the promises of the Irish government — the executive committee of the ruling class. While the Catholic Church and its teachings are widely scorned in Ireland today, the church still wields considerable power, not least through its control of schools and hospitals. For the separation of church and state!
Even if abortion is to some extent legalised, there will surely be obstacles to obtaining an abortion in practice, especially for working-class, immigrant and Traveller women. A twelve-week limit, for instance, would still be a severe restriction on women’s rights. In Britain, nearly ten per cent of abortions are carried out after twelve weeks. Abortion is a safe and simple medical procedure that should be completely decriminalised and treated as purely a healthcare issue. It should be available to any woman who wants it without restriction. For free abortion on demand!
The government has suggested that medical abortions will be provided by GPs, for which most women will presumably be expected to fork out the usual €50 or so, plus prescription fees for abortion pills, antibiotics if needed etc. In today’s capitalist Ireland, those with money can easily obtain medical treatment, while those who can’t afford it are placed on ever growing waiting lists. The fight for abortion rights must be tied to a fight for quality healthcare for all, free at the point of delivery!
Health minister Simon Harris has assured medical professionals that they can refuse to provide terminations. Such a loophole could make abortion difficult to obtain even if it were legal. A similar “conscience” clause in Italy has resulted in 70 per cent of gynaecologists refusing to perform abortions. GPs and clinics which do end up providing abortion services would likely find themselves besieged by militant anti-abortion forces.
Anti-abortion reactionaries are already mobilising to prevent repeal of the Eighth Amendment, including with a nationwide billboard campaign by the arch-conservative Iona Institute and a 10 March rally in Dublin to “Save the 8th”. The working class, which has the requisite numbers, organisation and social power, must be mobilised at the forefront of the fight to win abortion rights and defend them against the forces of clerical reaction.
While gains for women and the oppressed can be won under capitalism, the bourgeoisie constantly attempts to reverse them. In Britain, the 1967 Abortion Act, without decriminalising abortion, did broaden its availability. However, in 1990, the legal time limit was reduced from 28 to 24 weeks; now the Tories’ vice chair for women, Maria Caulfield, is calling for it to be further lowered. In the States, abortion rights granted by the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision have been rolled back time and again.
Underlying the restrictions on abortion rights is the institution of the family — the root of women’s oppression, and a key prop of the capitalist system — and the idea that motherhood is a woman’s destiny. For the bourgeoisie, the family is used to pass property on to the next generation. For the working class, the family — in which women are consigned to running the household and rearing the next generation — inculcates and reinforces bourgeois ideology and morals and, above all, obedience to authority.
The primacy of the family and women’s role within it are enshrined in the clericalist capitalist Irish state’s Constitution. The repugnant Article 41 recognises the family “as a moral [!] institution” and pledges the state to prevent mothers from having to go to work “to the neglect of their duties in the home”! The entry of women into the working class opens the way to their liberation: their position at the point of production gives them the social power, along with the entire working class, to overturn the capitalist system. The fight for women’s liberation is inseparable from the fight for international socialist revolution. Under the rule of the working class, a collectivised, internationally planned economy will lay the economic basis for the socialising of childcare and housework, freeing women to play a full and equal role in social and political life.
Conditions for women in the North are no better than in Southern Ireland. The intertwining of social and national oppression can only be equitably resolved through a proletarian revolution on both sides of the border and both sides of the Irish Sea. The International Communist League, including its British section the Spartacist League/Britain, fights for the construction of Trotskyist parties which can lead the working class to power through socialist revolution. For an Irish workers republic, part of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles!