How to vote for abortion rights in Ireland

By Alice O’Connell, Monday 22 February, 2016.

A poll released by the last Saturday the 20th of Febuary, shows resounding support for a referendum to be held on repealing the 8th amendment. Of the 17,355 people who voted, 73% (12,808) want a referendum to be held, 19% (3,458) do not want a referendum held and 6% (1098) of those surveyed are as of yet undecided. There is a clear, unwavering and undeniable majority that want this issue to addressed. The incumbent Irish government must take action and address this demand for a referendum.

With few political parties and even fewer individual candidates taking a clear cut stance on a woman’s right to choose, the purpose of this article is to provide a “what we know so far” compilation so that if access to abortion is what you, a citizen of the State, wants to ensure is expanded after the election, you know who to vote for.
This article lists the parties in terms of best to worst- i.e from pro-choice activists to parties who do not support expanding women's reproductive rights in any circumstance

 1.  Anti Austerity Alliance- People Before Profit

Although running as one party, they still remain 2 separate parties who have published individual manifestos in the run up to the election. However, they have launched common principles entitled: Radical Alternatives & Real Equality in which they call for an immediate repeal of the 8th amendment ban on abortion and legislation for the right to choose. A referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment and the introduction of abortion rights will be actively campaigned for as priority issues.

Summary: A clear pro-choice option for voters across the country. The AAA-PBP alliance is committed to real, broad change regarding both destigmatising and legalising abortion in Ireland. 

Pro-choice AAA-PBP Candidates: This party can be considered hugely pro-choice and forward-thinking. Selected candidates have been included below.

Ruth Coppinger (AAA/ Socialist Party) (Dublin South West):

Ruth is a prominent pro-choice activist and has campaigned tirelessly for Ireland to change it’s outdated and restrictive abortion legislation. In conjunction with other female party members, she founded ROSA (Reproductive Rights against Oppression, Sexism and Austerity) and was the driving force behind ROSA's abortion pill bus campaign, among others. Voting for Ruth Coppinger is a vote towards establishing full reproductive rights for women, including access to safe and legal abortion.

Fiona Ryan (AAA) (Cork South-Central) :

A prominent abortion rights activist and a leading member of the repeal the 8th amendment campaign. Speaking of the case in Belfast whereby a woman has been charged with administering abortion pills, Fiona stated that:

 "The access to safe abortion services is very much a class issue and we must send a clear message to any attempt to attack women who have been forced by their states oppressive abortion laws to take matters into their own hands. We stand in solidarity with the woman who faces charges and demand that they be dropped immediately. Women must be trusted to make the correct decisions for their own lives, bodies and health without fear of potential prison sentences hanging over their heads.” 

Jim O’Connell (PBP) (Cork South-Central) :

In line with the views of Fiona Ryan above, supports the repeal of the 8th amendment and believes that abortion should be freely available nationwide up to a certain number of weeks of pregnancy.

Diana O’Dwyer (AAA) (Dublin Central) :

A socialist and women's rights activist, her views are again aligned with the 2 candidates above. This is her first time running for office. She was also instrumental in ROSA’s abortion pill bus campaign. She lists repealing the 8th amendment and introducing full abortion rights into Ireland as a top priority if elected. 

Michael O’Brien (AAA) (Dublin Bay North):

Another prominent pro-choice voice running for election. He has stated:

"Abortion remains a daily reality in Ireland whether people like it or not both in terms of women travelling to Britain in their thousands but increasingly by means of self administration of the abortion pill. Where the latter is done within this state a risk of a 14 year jail sentence hangs over the heads of those women, an utter disgrace.

"Opinion polls have already recorded significant majorities if favour of legalising abortion in Ireland for a range of circumstances including rape, incest, fatal foetal abnormality and the health of the woman. Allowing for terminations in all of these circumstances and indeed for any circumstances which the woman chooses we are told requires repealing the 8th amendment of the constitution.”

Conor McLiam (AAA) (Carlow-Kilkenny) :

Supports holding a referendum and wants to see the 8th amendment repealed.


2- The Workers' Party

Workers' Party is in favour of repealing the 8th amendment and for free, safe and legal access to abortion. They are active members of the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment, the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th and the Abortion Rights Campaign. They actively campaigned against the introduction of the 8th Amendment in 1983: 

manifesto: ‘The Workers’ Party believes in a woman’s right to choose and supports the provision of free and safe abortion in Ireland which will include practical facilities to support women seeking an abortion and quality post-abortion care. In line with these objectives, The Workers’ Party is committed to: A referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, followed by legislation providing free and full access to abortion and post-abortion care. Repeal of the 8th Amendment will be a red line issue in the programme of the next Government for The Workers’ Party.’

 Candidates in the general election are all fully and actively pro-choice: 

Councillor Eilis Ryan in Dublin Central

Eilis was one of the founding members of the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the 8th, speaking at their original press launch. During the course of the election campaign, Eilis has spoken out publicly on how only a fully pro choice system can enable domestic violence survivors who become pregnant by violent partners access to reproductive choice.  At a SAFE Ireland election lobby Eilis was the only candidate to speak about abortion in the context of domestic violence, She is currently working with the recently formed "Parents for Choice" campaign group to implement an exclusion zone around the clinic on Berkeley road, to prevent women from being harassed by pro-lifer protestors.

Lorraine Hennessy in Dublin Mid-West

Councillor Ted Tynan in Cork North-Central

Ted has a long history of pro-choice activism having campaigned against the introduction of the 8th Amendment in 1983.

Jimmy Dignam in Dublin North-West

Seamus McDonagh in Meath East

Seamus has a long history of pro-choice activism having campaigned against the introduction of the 8th Amendment in 1983.


3. Independent Candidates

Independent candidates that can be considered pro-choice follow. All of these candidates have voiced their support for a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.

  • Mick Finn (Cork South-Central)

  • Thomas Pringle (Donegal)

  • Tommy Broughan (Dublin Bay-North)

  • Finian McGrath (Dublin Bay-North)

  • Jimmy Guerin (Dublin Bay-North)

  • Clare Daly (Dublin Fingal)

  • Barry Martin(Dublin Fingal)

  • Roslyn Fuller (Dublin Fingal)

  • Paul Hand (Dublin South Central)

  • Kevin Murphy (Kerry)

  • Declan Bree (Sligo-Leitrim)

  • John Halligan (Waterford)

  • Emmet Moloney (Wexford)


4. Labour

The labour party’s election manifesto insists on a referendum to remove the 8th amendment as a pre-requisite to entering into a coalition with Fine Gael. It has been a longstanding party policy that legislation be introduced to properly give effect to the X case and to  give legal protection for current medical practitioners. Taken  directly from  their manifesto, is the Women’s Reproductive healthcare promises that they will put in place over the next 5 years if re-elected:

  • Hold  a  referendum  to  remove  Article  40.3.3  (the  8th Amendment)  from  the Constitution.
  • If the referendum is successful, pass comprehensive legislation for terminations in the event of fatal foetal abnormalities, real and substantial risk to the health of the woman, and where rape, incest or serious sexual assault has created a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman.
  • Continue to  implement  the recommendations  of  the National  Maternity Strategy, especially around staff/patient ratios and reviewing appropriate birthing environments.
  •   Establish a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Board to regulate the sector.
  • Bring in a new system of State support for couples accessing assisted reproductive technology.

 Summary: The go-to long-established pro-choice party however, their popularity has plummeted in recent years due to a waves of broken election promises and U-turns throughout their last tenure in government.

Pro-choice Labour Candidates: It can be said that the party is a pro-choice one, with all candidates backing their party leader, Joan Burton’s call for a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment. Two of the most outspoken candidates has been included below.

Alex White (Dublin South) :

Has publicly stated that the labour party will vigorously pursue a referendum on repealing the 8th  amendment. Mr. White said that the labour policy is very clear: "If people are upset or affected by that whole issue that faces women, Irish women, in this country, and believe it should be possible for it to be addressed in their own country, we will have to repeal the eighth [amendment]."

Anne Ferris (Wicklow/East-Carlow) :

Also has a very clear pro-choice stance and supports repealing the 8th amendment. She believes that “women, especially in crisis pregnancies, don’t need anybody, don’t need the church, don’t need men, don’t need other political parties dictating to them..” She has also said that she does not think that the State should “have control over a woman’s mind or her body.”


5. Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin party leader Gerry Adams, contends that women who do not want to go full term with a fatal foetal abnormality should have the right to a termination. They changed their party policy at a vote at their Ard Fheis (annual conference) in May of 2015 to support abortion where the pregnancy is not viable. Their 2016 manifesto expressly states that they will hold a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.

Summary: They do expressly support a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment however, they have recently changed their stance (since March 2015) having previously been opposed to abortion. The question must be asked then whether they are developed their policies enough in the area of Women’s reproductive health to make an actual active change if voted into government.

Prochoice Sinn Fein Candidates:

Donnchadh O ’Laoighaire (Cork South-Central) :

Has said that : “We accept the right of a woman to seek a termination of a pregnancy where her life is at risk or in grave danger, and in cases of rape or incest as well as in cases where women are bearing an embryo with fatal foetal abnormalities."

Mary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central) :

Came out strongly in favour of changing her party’s views at their Ard Fheis in March. She has contended that "I am personally very, very keen to see that motion accepted by the Ard Fheis. I thought it was most unfortunate that we had that policy gap and I'm personally extremely anxious for that matter to be resolved”.


6. Social Democrats

A new political party formed in 2015, they have pledged to repeal the 8th amendment. They have been rather reserved on the issue however and have not made any further proposals or commitments. Although all of their candidates have pledged to hold a referendum on repealing the 8th, the party does not support the right to choose. They refuse to clarify any tangible position on what their stance on abortion would be if elected.

Pro-choice SocialDemocratCandidate: 

Ken Curtin (Cork-East) :

He has tweeted that “whether we like it or not, abortion is legal in Ireland to save the life of the mother (including suicide grounds) we’re just lacking legislation. He is the only Social Democrat candidate (to date) that has publicly expressed support for repealing the 8th amendment.


7. Green Party

In their Repoductive Rights Policy released in 2015, the Green Party supports the repeal of the 8th amendment but would limit abortion rights to cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape, incest and ‘risk to health’. They do not support the right to choose.


8. Fine Gael

The party leader, Enda Kenny, has outright said that he will not commit to holding a referendum  on the 8th  amendment  if  his  party is  re-elected.  He has  however committed to a constitutional review of the 8th amendment within 6 months if re-elected. This review would take the shape of a citizen’s forum which would be established to examine the issue. The proposed forum’s findings would then be handed over to yet another proposed Oireachtas (the Irish legislature) committee which would be mandated with establishing legislation in the area.

Mr. Kenny has said that he will allow his party members a free vote on the issue. However, in an Irish Times article from the 29th of November 2015, a Senior Party source stated that “the overwhelming view of the party is that we are a pro-life party”.

 Summary: If you want to see direct, express action on women’s reproductive rights, this party is best avoided. The sole commitment given on abortion is a committee to examine the issue. Proposed committees firstly, are not cheap to establish and secondly, do not work particularly quickly. It is likely that the abortion issue would be buried under realms of paperwork, policy and procedure. Nonetheless, some individual Fine Gael candidates have openly declared themselves pro-choice. These candidates are stated below. Pro Choice Fine Gael Candidates:

Dr. James Reilly (Dublin North) :

Openly pro-choice and has very publicly disagreed with Enda Kenny’s (his party leader) abortion stance. In an interview with the Sunday Independent, he stated that he “cannot countenance, as a doctor or a human being” 5the fact that Irish women are being forced to bring babies with fatal foetal abnormalities to term.

Frances Fitzgerald (Dublin South-East) :

Has committed to addressing the abortion issue in 2016 and has also slammed the use of overly simplistic terms like “abortion on demand”, holding a view that such a term is insulting to women. She has also clearly stated that Fine Gael’s proposed constitutional committee will go ahead with, or without a (prochoice) Labour party coalition.

Pascal Donoghue (Dublin Central) :

Has stated that cabinet members should be free to campaign in an abortion referendum. His is much aligned with the views of Frances Fitzgerald (above) and is said to have been instrumental in Enda Kenny’s promise that Fine Gael will address the issue. 

Regina Doherty (Meath East) :

Has stated that the government “should act” and allow abortion where there is a risk to the life of the mother. She wants to see the repeal or the removal of the 8th amendment. However, she has also stated that “I’m not sure that the current situation does satisfy anybody. It certainly doesn’t satisfy the pro-choice people, and that’s not a movement that I would be in sync with”.

Kate O’Connell (Dublin South-East) :

Supports the repeal of the 8th  amendment and has previously stated that it is “barbaric” that Irish women are still forced to travel abroad to terminate non-viable pregnancies.


9. Fianna Fáil

The only position that this party clear in relation to access to abortion, is that the party is content to remain sitting on the fence. The party’s election manifesto does not contain any reference to abortion, in spite of the fact the repealing the 8th  amendment has become a key election issue.

 This is absolutely unsurprising given that the party’s leader, Micheál Martin, said the F.F “are not going there” when quizzed on repealing the 8th. Further, he stated that if a collation was on the table, it would pose “considerable difficulty” if that coalition partner would have repealing the 8th amendment in its governmental programme.

However, like any Politician worth his salt, backtracking, in the form of a potential loophole was done. On the 27th of October 2015, Mr. Martin told the Irish Independent that his party would not be “initiating” the repeal of the 8th amendment. This has granted the party considerable wiggle-room on the abortion issue. Mr. Martin will not “initiate”, spearhead, campaign or whatever he would like to call it, the referendum, but he is not directly stating that he would veto it either. All in all, a clever political technique used in light of the fact that he has spoken on such potential coalition partners as the Social Democrats, Labour and a few left- leaning Independents- almost all of them are pro-choice and would in all probability, include an 8th amendment referendum in their government mandate.

Summary: The Fianna Fáil Leader will allow his party members to have a free vote on a potential referendum, having stated that abortion rights are “a sensitive and complex issue”. However, all of this parties representatives in the Dáil are male, save for one.

Pro- Choice Fianna Fáil Candidates: At the time of publishing this article, no Fianna Fáil candidates have publicly expressed themselves as being pro-choice.

Best avoided if you want to vote in a party that will make actual significant advances on women’s reproductive health.


10. Renua

This party was created by Fine Gael TDs who left the party because of their opposition to the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill of 2013.  Though party members have been given a free vote on any abortion related issues that may arise, only 12% of party members support holding a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.

Summary: Renua should not receive the pro-choice vote, it is highly unlikely that if elected, they would move to legalise abortion in any circumstance.

In summarizing this article, I would like to stress that the list of candidates mentioned that support a change in Irish abortion legislation is far from exhaustive. It can also never be exactly accurate, given the ever changing political opinion across party leaders and indeed their representatives. Further, though a candidate may support the repeal of the 8th amendment, they may indeed be anti-abortion in their own personal views. There is only one way to know for certain- ask them. Ask loudly, demand an answer, keep the canvassers at your door and demand a yes or no. You deserve to know if a woman’s right to reproductive choice is a priority for your electoral candidate. Most importantly, please go out and vote. The fate of thousands of Irish women’s lives is in your hands. Make the right call and make abortion free, safe and legal.