Pro-lifers (of the extreme and mild varieties) will claim it’s a distortion or a ‘cynical hijacking’ of the Savita case to campaign, essentially, for pro-choice legislation* (that is, anything beyond the X Case) but the situation flowing from the original 1983 pro-life amendment is so fucked up** that repealing it is the only rational long-term response.
The motion will presumably be defeated because it’s not a government proposal, but it’s important that these opinions are stated and put on the record. I don’t normally find myself in agreement with Joe Higgins or the Socialist Party, not because I particularly disagree with his politics or ideology but because it’s usually expressed in a way that bears little or no relation to the majority of opinions held by Irish voters. There’s an element of that to this as well, but I guess I feel a little more committed.
Moderate liberals will express concern that abortion is such a ‘divisive’ political issue, and carries bad memories of past referendums. But politics ultimately has to be divisive, consensus has to be both constructed and imposed, and progress has to be fought for. Additionally, Irish politics is relatively undivided along more economic left/right lines when compared to other European countries, and has been historically. Here, the barricades are inside women’s uteruses.
Reasonably, such liberals might also point out that public opinion may not favour a referendum on liberalising abortion, but it will have to be changed and the social/theological influence of Catholicism (a morally discredited religion in this country for many) on those views will have to be dismantled. It might even have the double effect of a more left-wing country.
*”Calls for the drafting of legislation providing – where this is requested by a woman – for termination of a pregnancy which threatens her mental or physical health and in cases of conception by rape or incest and for an informed national debate on the constitutional change that would be needed to allow such legislation to be enacted”
** “ Notes that the 1992 Supreme Court judgement in the X case, seeks to protect the life and not necessarily the health of the woman leaving healthcare workers in a position where they are compelled to tolerate a threshold of illness, suffering and deteriorating health in a pregnant woman, including to the point that her life is endangered”
This is an extract from a pamphlet written by an Irish Labour Party member of the European Parliament in 1983, as posted by the Irish Left Online Document Archive on the Cedar Lounge Revolution blog. Having concluded that the Labour Party policy of coalition with the conservative Fine Gael party was hurting it electorally and preventing its development into a socialist party with real influence in Irish society, the author sets out the stages by which political independence could be achieved, culminating with what I think is a particularly profound and accurate description of current circumstances:
“This alternative would be on offer in a situation where the existing economic system would be seen to be a failure bigger even than today’s. On the assumption that emigration will not emerge again to any significant extent, then the long term will be characterised by unemployment levels way beyond anything we have experienced. For example, anyone made redundant over the age of forty will have virtually no chance of re-employment. Some young people will reach their mid twenties without ever having worked.
Furthermore, social problems will intensify because the social services will not expand in real terms; benefits may actually decline. The public sector and the semi-state bodies will be run down so reducing job prospects while accentuating inequalities in housing, educational access and the health services.
Given this as a scenario the long term strategy is to make Labour the focal point around which democratic opposition to the system can be organised. The various protest movements, whether they be the unemployed or the homeless, will need a political home and we would provide it for them. Similarly, we would consciously set out to capture the liberal vote which was enticed away from us by Garret Fitzgerald but which may, even now, be on its way back.
But above all the aim over this period would be to capture the youth vote. There are two reasons for this, First of all the huge increase in the vote under 30 years makes it electorally imperative and, secondly, this is the segment of the population which will be most affected by the failure of modern capitalism. Our policies must be primarily tailored to meet their needs and ambitions. If we must sacrifice some traditional support in doing so, then let us do so willingly. We must shake off the constraints of middle aged politics and become the party of young people.
Equally important over the long term would be the design of policies - socialist policies - appealing to our strong sense of national identity. The Achilles heel of Irish society is that we have attempted to develop our economy on the basis of a dependent capitalism. It has not worked. It has not reduced unemployment. But it has reduced national control over our own destiny and diminished our sovereignty. Dependent capitalism has also helped destroy our sense of self respect and initiative.
Socialism, with its emphasis on the role of the state, as the embodiment of the people, is the answer to the dependent capitalist model. It fits in easily with the search for a separate identity, which, I believe, will grow stronger in Europe of the next quarter of the century. There is a growing and welcome reaction against big business, multi-national corporations and super-power politics. There is renewed interest in regional cultures and languages. There is a revulsion against giganticism and a belief that small is beautiful. The profit motive is being replaced as the central ethic in western societies by an emphasis on leisure and self development.
There is therefore a vast potential for new socialist ideas, practices and institutions because socialism alone can provide the philosophy to create a democratic society using advanced technology but fostering and protecting the rights of self expression and personal development.
We are at the beginning of an era which could be entitled the “end of alienation”. I have no doubt that this is the great philosophic search of our time; the end of alienation, the creation of community. Socialism was designed as a response to these deepest impulses in human beings. It is now ready to offer the answers demanded by the new century.”