Perhaps the most prevalent political issue in the collective consciousness of the UCD student body since the beginning of the term has been the ongoing debate on the 8th amendment. In other words, the constitutional ban on abortion in Ireland.
The amendment was approved by referendum in 1983, under Garret FitzGerald’s Fine Gael government and subsequently signed into law. It restricts abortion at any stage, specifically recognising the right to life of an unborn child. Several incidents within the last few years however have brought on calls to repeal the amendment. Most notably the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, when she was denied a termination of pregnancy after developing a septic miscarriage. This cast the amendment and its implications back into the public eye. The 8th amendment, and Irish legislation on reproductive rights in general, has come under intense scrutiny and criticism worldwide.
Throughout the last general election, the debate on abortion was a central issue on the minds of Irish voters, with the movement for reproductive rights quickly expanding from the ballot box to the streets. Over the summer, two Irish women travelling to the UK to legally terminate a pregnancy live-tweeted their journey to extensive amounts of coverage and discussion.
During the Rose of Tralee beauty pageant a contestant spoke on live television about her wish for a country wide referendum on abortion, stating “It’s time to give women a say on their own reproductive rights”. Pro-choice murals appeared in the city centre and went viral overnight, before being removed a number of weeks later due to planning permission issues. The Pro-choice campaign seems to have taken the torch from the immensely successful same-sex marriage campaign of the previous year, which culminated in a groundbreaking result and Yes vote, making Ireland the first country in the world to pass same-sex marriage legislation by popular vote.
Pro-choice groups are mobilising and organising marches and demonstrations across the country, and the campaign has been re-ignited in UCD as well, with the emergence of the ‘UCD for Choice’ group. UCD For Choice look to unify all aspects of the pro-choice campaign within the University. They have already held several events, such as a banner making workshop, and organised demonstrations in and around Belfield, of which they intend to continue so long as the 8th amendment remains in place. The group gained traction rapidly, and turned up in force at the March for Choice last Saturday.
The atmosphere around the campus during the opening weeks of term highlight that the arguments from both sides surrounding abortion and the 8th amendment are of significance to a multitude of students. Several Pro-Choice events are already being advertised on posters throughout the College, and numerous students across campus have been donning specially made jumpers boldly stating ‘Repeal’. While on the other side of the debate societies such as the Newman Catholic Society and other religious groups openly advocated their Pro-Life policy during Fresher’s Week at their stands. A new group ‘UCD Students for Fair Representation’ have now set up in opposition to the SU’s political pro-choice position, and are believed to be seeking the required 927 signatures to trigger a campus referendum to call on the UCD Students’ Union should “adopt a natural position on all political affairs.”
The current government, although pressured on several fronts to act on the issue, have remained static. The official cabinet position is that a citizens’ assembly will be set up in order to decide what course of action to take. The apparent split of opinion among TDs about the issue seems to have restricted any real progress. Despite Minister for Health Simon Harris stating his support for a referendum, we’ve seen a lack of urgency from the government to make a definitive political decision and address the issue.
Many of the mainstream political parties such as Labour, the Social Democrats, The Greens, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and the Anti-Austerity Alliance have all readily come out in favour of repealing the 8th amendment. But where do the political societies of UCD stand on the issue?
Newcomers to Belfield in 2016, The Social Democrats, ‘fully support the repealing of the 8th amendment’. They add that they wish to see the introduction of a ‘modern legislative regime based on women’s reproductive rights’.
The Sinn Féin society ‘strongly believe in repealing the 8th amendment’, and allude to several debates they hosted last year, as well as a petition drive they held with Amnesty International last year as testimony to their commitment in relation to the campaign.
The UCD wing of Ógra Fianna Fáil, The Kevin Barry Cumann, currently hold no official viewpoint on the amendment, despite their national youth wing declaring themselves to be in favour of legislating for abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities at a conference last November. However, in October the society will hold a discussion and debate with speakers from both sides, preceded by a vote among members to determine the stance they will take from that point onwards.
Labour Youth also support a full repeal of the 8th amendment, and accuse Fine Gael of ‘delaying tactics’ in an attempt to postpone confronting the issue. They assert that they will be running their own campaign, and intend to host a discussion with prominent speakers in the near future.
The Socialist Workers Student Society are in favour of the complete removal of the 8th amendment, and ‘free, safe and legal access to abortion’ in Ireland for women. Unfortunately, no representative from UCD Young Fine Gael was available to comment.
The Repeal movement looks set to take centre stage in UCD for the next year, with multiple societies and organisations getting involved in the campaign. Expect to see demonstrations, discussions and events all year round in the run up to any potential referendum to repeal the 8th.
Ruan McGuinness | Politics Writer