The 8th Amendment is barbaric, insensitive & goes against all common decency – Kelly

Alan Kelly TD
21 March 2018

For me, repealing the eighth amendment is about trusting women. It is also about trusting men. I might also say that it is about trusting the electorate and legislators. That is what we are here to do. We are all honoured to be elected as Members of these Houses and it is our job to deal with this issue which has been outstanding since 1983.

As I stated previously, I fully support the report of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, the approach of the Government and what is being done by the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. He and I often criticise one another in the House, but he is doing quite well on this issue.

According to the 2016 census, 50.49% of the population are women whom I trust them. I support the repeal of the eighth amendment which should never have been inserted into the Constitution. It was a sign of different times when we did not trust the women or men of the country, nor the Chambers of the Oireachtas. The decision to allow for terminations up to 12 weeks is proportionate and correct, while the decisions not to allow for terminations up to 22 weeks or on socioeconomic grounds are also correct. I support the provisions outlined by the Minister in recent weeks in that regard.

There will be an opportunity to showcase new politics in the Chamber in the coming weeks. Many Members on either side of the argument have expressed themselves in a very fair manner. Those who are in favour of the proposed change have expressed themselves in a way that has shown the reality of the situation in which we find ourselves. However, although I oppose their point of view, I must admit that the majority of those who are against repeal have also expressed themselves in a fair way. While walking through my home town of Nenagh last week I met several people who were campaigning against the proposed amendment. I admire that they were campaigning and that they spoke to me in a civil manner, even though they knew my views on the issue. We need more of that type of approach and less of that typified by the 12 nasty and anonymous text messages I have received since last Saturday because of my political views on the issue.

We must ensure the Referendum Commission will monitor that the campaign is proceeding in a proportionate, fair and balanced manner and that the tactics being used are fair. That is particularly important, given what we have read and heard about campaigning on social media in the past 48 hours. This is probably virgin territory in terms of the impact of social media, the data available to many companies as a result and how they might be used in a referendum campaign on a social issue such as this. The position in that regard has changed since the marriage referendum and we must be very conscious of the unique capacity of social media.

The track record of the Labour Party on social issues is second to none among the major political parties. Some Members such as the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, have argued for some kind of halfway house on the issue and that issue must be addressed. I have spoken about those who are opposed to repeal, but a Member such as the Tánaiste who believes there is a middle ground or an alternative view must outline it in detail. I have not yet heard any detail in that regard. Such Members are being disingenuous. While I accept that Members may have different views on an issue such as this, they must outline that they are in favour of repeal but have a different view in terms of the proposed period of 12 weeks and then let us know what that the different view is and how it will give protection to women and clear guidance to medical professionals on how they can act. Such Members must not leave the situation as it is.

The situation where gardaí, barristers and other lawyers were debating various medical circumstancess involving women was not acceptable or workable. What is being proposed is practical, humane, sensible and modern in how it would deal with the issue. The eighth amendment has been disintermediated by hundreds of thousands of women since 1983. They did so by leaving the country to have a termination, mostly in the United Kingdom. The most worrying aspect is that women are now circumventing the eighth amendment by illegally taking abortion pills. Unfortunately, we do not know what the consequence will be in the years and decades to come, which is deeply worrying and should be of concern to all Members, no matter on what side of the debate they are. We do not know the consequences or future impact of women taking such pills. The issue cannot be addressed by An Garda Síochána being empowered to arrest those who are taking abortion pills. Do we know what such women are taking or how the pills are administered? There is no medical supervision. Women, many of them young, are sitting alone in rooms and taking the pills without supervision, possibly not having spoken to many people, if anyone. I do not wish to be a legislator in a country where such situations are allowed to continue to occur. That is barbaric, insensitive and goes against all common decency.

As I have told the Minister, I will never forget bringing Amanda Mellett to meet him. He dealt with the issue very compassionately and I knew from that day that he would deal with this issue in the manner he has. I congratulate him and all those working with him in that regard. Ladies such as Amanda Mellett encouraged and will encourage me to play a very active part in the campaign.

My county and constituency are probably the second most conservative in referendums on social issues in the history of the State. However, legislators must lead, act in accordance with their conscience and stand up for their beliefs. Everybody should support the will of the people and let them make the decision on this issue. My party and I will work in the coming months with those across all political divides who are in favour of holding and, it is to be hoped, passing the referendum.

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