Taoiseach needs to step up and tackle abortion

An Cailín Rua

Anne-Marie Flynn

NOBODY ever said politics was easy, but Enda Kenny must surely be wondering what he did in a past life to have been landed with Brexit. Even almost two weeks on, it’s hard to process the scale of what Ireland is faced with, let alone the UK. Mere weeks after managing to cobble together a precarious government, Kenny’s elation at making history as the first Fine Gael leader to be re-elected as Taoiseach must be fading fast.
In the aftermath of Brexit, what is needed is decisiveness, leadership and a will to put aside political differences to work together efficiently and effectively for the good of the country - things of which we have seen precious little to date. It has been suggested that a national government is needed in order to navigate our way through these choppy waters and keep both our neighbours and our EU overlords on side – but whether that will happen remains to be seen, the buck stops with Enda.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, the last thing Enda will want to be dealing with is the A-word. But abortion hasn’t gone away, you know, and it is threatening to once again rock this state to the core of its foundation. Last month, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations found that a woman in Ireland carrying a foetus with a fatal abnormality was subjected to discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment due to Ireland’s abortion ban.
Now, you may put as much or as little store as you like in what the UN thinks of us, but there is no denying that this latest finding once again puts the international spotlight back on Ireland’s failure to tackle this issue, and by association, on Enda. And what cannot be ignored is the rising tide of women and families who are stepping out of the shadows and sharing their stories, often laced with pain and loss.
This latest finding is all the more powerful for being based on a single case, rather than simply acting as a blanket judgement on our laws. The case was taken by a woman named Amanda Mellett, and her husband, James Burke, who received a devastating diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality in 2011. The couple made the choice to end the pregnancy, but were forced to travel to Liverpool for medical services. The legal weight of such a judgement is therefore greater.

Fractious issue
While a spectrum of opinion exists on how far abortion law reform should go in Ireland, only the most ardent fundamentalist could insist that in situations like this, families should continue to suffer the trauma – both physical and mental – of being forced to travel. The irony being that it was those very fundamentalists who legalised abortion in Ireland in the first place, back in 1983. The potential impact of Brexit on situations like this should not be ignored either.
The death of Savita Halappanavar shocked Ireland. As did the ghoulish, futile situation where a dead woman was artificially kept alive to preserve a foetus. As did the detention of a pregnant asylum seeker, forced to continue with a pregnancy resulting in rape, and the carving open of her body to deliver a dangerously premature child. Such stories go beyond the realm of humanity and disgrace us as a nation, as well as failing to protect the safety, the wellbeing, the dignity and the lives of women in Ireland. Will it take another death to shock us into action?
The UN Human Rights committee says Ireland is ‘under obligation’ to offer Amanda Mellett a remedy, and to take steps that will prevent ‘similar violations’ occurring in future. Enda Kenny’s insistence, however that the finding is non-binding, not like the European Court is telling. This is not just a matter of what’s legal and what’s not; it’s a matter of what’s right or wrong; it’s a matter of safety, a matter of respect.
Dealing with economic issues is one thing, but what really marks a politician as a leader is their courage in taking the lead on social issues. Enda has already demonstrated that he is not lacking here. In the face of growing political pressure now needs to step up once more as a leader, stop kicking the can and give the people of Ireland their say.
It’s time.