OPINION: 'Citizens' Assembly on 8th Amendment makes a mockery of the current reality for Irish women'

Dublin City Councillor Éilis Ryan believes the 8th Amendment simply limits the choices available to women

Holding a Citizens’ Assembly to debate the 8th Amendment suggests that abortion is something we need to make a decision on in Ireland. The truth is that, for 12 women every day, abortion is already the Irish reality.

New governments often try to sell their wares as new and innovative, or as tackling head on for the first time new challenges faced by the country. The proposal in the new Programme for Partnership Government for a ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ is such an innovation – an apparently forward-looking discussion group, established “with a mandate to look at a limited number of key issues over an extended time period.”

The Assembly, then, would be something worthy of issues that would cause such enormous change to our society that they merit long, thoughtful discussion. The 8th Amendment of the Constitution, the Government has told us, will be the key issue for the Assembly.

And yet to pretend that the repeal of the 8th Amendment would constitute some major social shift in Irish society is pure fabrication. Some of the more toxic anti-choice propaganda used to promote opposition to abortion in Ireland talks about the importance of “keeping Ireland an abortion free zone.”

But the reality is that, for Irish women, abortion is a reality, just like any other country. An average of 12 women every day travel abroad seeking an abortion.

It’s likely that every single time you take a flight from Dublin to London, there is a woman on the same plane as you travelling to access an abortion. Look around next time – who do you think it is?

Ireland’s abortion rate is only marginally lower than countries with radically freer access to reproductive services. The 8th Amendment is simply about limiting the choices available to women in Ireland. It forces women to travel to access abortions, and prevents a minority from accessing abortion at all – mostly those who can’t afford to travel, or are prevented from travelling because they don’t have a recognised right to live in Ireland.

Holding a Citizen's Assembly to decide whether or not to hold a referendum on the repeal of the 8th Amendment makes a mockery of these facts. It ignores the fact that abortion exists, and will continue to exist, for Irish women. That would be the case for the duration of the Assembly. Even if the Assembly was to complete its work and the Government was to hold a referendum in three years, by that time over 13,000 more Irish women will have travelled abroad seeking abortion.

The compromised welfare of 13,000 women is too high a price to pay for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s cowardice. We need a referendum now.

Éilis Ryan is a Councillor for the Workers' Party in north inner city Dublin. She was born after the 1983, the year the 8th amendment was passed, like most women of reproductive age in Ireland. The Workers' Party opposed the 8th amendment in 1983 and supports free, safe and legal access to abortion in Ireland.