Irish political parties: Where do they stand?

Choice Ireland has written to all the Irish political parties to ask under what circumstances, if any, they would allow legal abortion in Ireland. We will post the replies here as we receive them.

ALLIANCE: "The party's current position is that it is a matter of conscience, therefore individual MLAs are free to take their own stance. Anna Lo MLA has been prominent in the media calling for an extension of the legislation as it exists in GB, but I also know, for example, that our Strangford MLA Kieran McCarthy would be opposed to any extension of the circumstances under which abortion can take place. There is a further difficulty that we are simply not medically qualified to give a specific answer.

"My personal view is that legislation is required in NI to define the circumstances, and that that legislation should look similar to GB's, but probably not go as far as 24 weeks, nor should it allow the "lunchtime abortions" talked of in London. We cannot leave the law as it exists currently in NI because it is unclear; because it does not work (women still go to Britain to get abortions); and because it is unfair (meaning NI women have to pay for services GB women receive for free, and leaving the onus of the whole harrowing experience on women while men escape). I suspect that this stance is broadly representative of the typical party member's stance though, as I say, views do vary. I hope this helps, Cllr Ian James Parsley Deputy Mayor of North Down"

COMMUNIST PARTY OF IRELAND: "Reproductive rights continue to be a major issue that most political parties avoid. We believe that a woman’s right to choose is a human right We also believe that there needs to be wide-ranging discussions that links the need for abortion with inadequate sex education, the elimination of poverty, health care, the provision of child care, and a whole range of other factors that are needed in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies. We are also in favour of extending the British 1967 Abortion Act to the North of Ireland. It is clear from this that we believe that there should be legal abortion in Ireland."

DUP: No reply

ÉIRÍGI: "éirígí became a political party in May 2007 - less than 18 months ago. While the party's primary focus has been on building a number of political campaigns éirígí is also in the process of developing a wider policy platform. At this point the party has not debated the joint issues of re-productive rights and abortion. As such I cannot at this time give a definitive answer to your question. I would expect, however, that éirígí will develop a formal position over the coming period, which I will then forward to you."

FIANNA FÁIL: No reply

FINE GAEL: No reply

FIS NUA: "Fís Nua has no current policy on the issue of abortion. We do have a strong committment to equality e.g. see the principles at the beginning of our constitution on www.fisnua.com. "We believe in the equality of every human, no matter what age, ancestry, gender, belief, sexual orientation or disability.""

GREEN PARTY: "The Green Party does not have a party policy position on the issue of abortion. It is for each of our members and elected representatives to decide individually."

GREEN PARTY (NI): No reply

IRISH REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST PARTY: "At the Irish Republican Socialist Partys first Ard Fheis in 1975, we were the first political party in Ireland to support a woman's right to control her own body and choose abortion, a position unanimously reaffirmed by delegates to this year's Ard Fheis. We call for immediate legislation to make abortion available, free of charge and on demand, through the health services on both sides of the border. We believe that any position short of that is insufficient and reactionary in 2012.

Historically, women were viewed as the property of first their fathers and then their husbands. They had no authority over their own bodies, and they were taught that their highest duty was to reproduce, regardless of their own wishes. This view persists today, where paternalistic states, supported by reactionary religious bodies, pass laws to control what women can and cannot do with their own bodies. The right to choose abortion is the right of a woman to have sovereignty over her own body, and to make decisions and choices about her body. Neither church nor state has a role to play in regulating women's bodies.

"We believe it is a sad indictment of Irish society in 2012 that a woman’s right to choose is still being denied. Every week almost one hundred women are forced to leave this island under a cloak of secrecy to receive a medical procedure that should easily be carried out, free from society's imposed shame, in any hospital in Ireland.

The death of Savita Halappanavar in Galway in October should never have happened. Despite her desperate appeals for an abortion during a miscarriage, she was denied the procedure and she died. We support a woman's right to choose abortion. It's not enough to only theoretically allow it when the woman's life is at risk. If a woman's right to control her body and make medical decisions is to mean anything, she must have the right to choose abortion under any circumstances.

"We also believe that contraception must be available to all women, free and on demand, so that they have complete control over their reproductive choices. To those who oppose both abortion and contraception, we say that you are hypocrites whose anti-woman agenda is plain to see.

"The right to choose an abortion and determine one's own future is part of a much larger struggle to empower women to take control of their own destinies and destroy the contradictions in Irish society that do not allow women to legally choose an abortion. Women must have this choice. We must struggle to win this right, and redress the imbalance in power between the genders, as these are battles in our war to separate church and state, and create a truly democratic, equal, and secular society.

"As revolutionary socialists, we recognize that this requires more than just reform, it also requires a revolutionary change in society. Full gender liberation for all people can only happen if existing social institutions are abolished and the archaic values they represent are swept aside with them.

"Reactionary religious institutions have exerted their influence to oppose the reproductive rights of women, be it contraception or abortion. Women must be free from the imposition of reactionary beliefs, and the state should not exist to impose religious diktat on anyone. An oppressive agenda towards women is very much in play in Ireland, with the Catholic Church, right-wing political parties, and the reactionary elements within Irish society preparing for a battle that, if won, would even further stagnate the struggle for woman's liberation in Ireland. All progressive forces in Ireland must come together to oppose this reactionary agenda."

LABOUR: "The Labour Party is profoundly aware that party members and supporters hold a wide range of views on this matter, and that it is considered as a matter of deep personal conscience by people from all perspectives. The party recognises that for many members the assertion that the primary decision on this matter should be taken by the woman who is pregnant is a core political belief which they look to the party to vindicate. The party equally recognises that for many members, and indeed as a matter of existing constitutional law, this is a matter not of one set of rights but of two sets of rights which are in conflict.

"The longstanding policy of the Party is that legislation should be introduced to give effect to the X case judgement and to give legal protection for current medical practice.

"It is also longstanding Labour policy that the complexities of this issue make it unsuited to either a referendum or a constitutional amendment. This view is reinforced by the divisiveness, lack of clarity and ultimate defeat of the two previous constitutional referenda on this matter and by the comments of some members of the Supreme Court in the X Case, criticising the failure of the legislature to bring forward legislation.

"It is recognised that this approach is not capable of dealing with all the reasons which lead Irish women to seek abortions abroad. In part, these need to be addressed through counselling, better family planning and sex education, including implementation of the schools based programme introduced by the Labour Party in Government. This preventive approach requires a far greater degree of urgency and resources.

"Despite a wide divergence of views on the issue of abortion, there is a broad concern that there should be some legislative provision for termination of pregnancy in the case of rape or incest. Legal advice indicates, however, that it would not be possible to bring forward legislation dealing with these issues in their own right under the current constitutional position. While pregnancies arising from these circumstances could, in some limited cases, be dealt with under the proposals set out below, comprehensive action on these issues in their own right would require a referendum for a constitutional amendment.

"While recognizing that our proposed approach cannot be definitive and will leave a number of legal and social issues to be resolved, we believe it provides the most effective route to real progress on a range of cases.

"We recognise that legal opinion is divided on the question of whether there are any additional grounds on which abortion might be legislated for within the current constitutional framework, i.e. without a further constitutional referendum. The Labour Party’s legal advice is that while the matter is not entirely free from doubt, legislation may be considered constitutional on a range of grounds beyond those that currently apply.

"This approach is based primarily on the fact that the existing constitutional provision, Article 40.3.3, does not provide an absolute ban on abortion. The right to life of the unborn is subjected to two major and express qualifications, viz: (a) the unborn are to be protected only “as far as practicable” (b) the rights of the unborn are subject to due regard being had to the equal right to life of the mother.

"Furthermore the rights of the unborn are implicitly limited to the further extent that they must be reconciled with other rights of pregnant women, who enjoy a number of other significant constitutional rights not specifically referred to in Article 40.3.3 such as the right to bodily integrity.

"Under the heading of “practicability”, it is considered that it is not practicable to prohibit termination of a pregnancy which due to foetal abnormality incompatible with life, could never result in the birth of a live child. This was the “de Barra” situation discussed during the 2002 referendum.

"Under the heading of “right to life of the mother”, it is already well established that a direct threat to the life (in the sense of being alive) of the mother is a ground for abortion including a threat arising from the risk of suicide (X v. AG). However in a number of recent cases (including TD v. Minister for Education and Science and L. & O. v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform) the Supreme Court has emphasised the primary role of the Oireachtas in determining how rights are to be balanced and questions of policy decided. It is for the Oireachtas to determine in the first instance how the rights of the woman and the unborn are to be reconciled in cases of conflict, and to determine what threats to a woman’s opportunity to live a meaningful life give rise to a threat to her life under Article 40.3.3.

"Our view on that basis is that it is open to the Oireachtas to amend the criminal law so as to exempt from the punishment provided for in the Offences against the Person Act 1861 medical procedures carried out with the aim of protecting a woman’s physical health from a significant risk posed by the continuation of the pregnancy and procedures carried out to terminate a pregnancy which, by reason of foetal abnormality as in the de Barra situation, could never result in a live birth.

"We accept that the above approach might appear to diverge from existing jurisprudence, in particular the distinction between life and health drawn by Chief Justice Finlay in the X Case, albeit not as a binding part of his judgment. However, as we have pointed out, the X Case was decided in a complete legislative vacuum. The enactment of legislation to reconcile the various constitutional values involved would fundamentally change the context in which the courts would consider the issue, and in that changed context we are of the view that the narrow reading given to the constitutional provision in the absence of such legislation would no longer be decisive.

"In summary, the Labour Party is committed to bringing forward legislation, under the current constitutional position, to provide for the availability of a termination of pregnancy in the cases of:

• A risk to the life of the woman, including the risk of suicide

• Foetal abnormality which is such that the foetus will never be born alive.

• A risk of significant injury to the physical health of the mother.

"In the event of a constitutional challenge to any of this legislation being upheld, the Labour Party would then consider such constitutional options as would then arise in the light of any judgment. "

PROGRESSIVE UNIONIST PARTY: "The Progressive Unionist Party supports the right and the competence of the individual woman to make her own decision about abortion. "The party supports the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland and the end of the legislated inequality which forces women from Northern Ireland to pay for travel and private treatment for abortion services, while women in the rest of the United Kingdom have free and full access through the National Health Service."

REPUBLICAN SINN FÉIN: No reply

SDLP: "I wish to clarify that the SDLP has a long-standing abortion policy. The party ratified its opposition to abortion at the Party's 13th annual Conference, in 1984, when we adopted the following motion:

"Conference reiterates its total opposition to abortion and in particular to the proposed extension of the British 1967 Act to Northern Ireland. Conference recognised that there are deep-rooted social economic and personal reasons for abortion and calls upon Executive to address itself to such problems, especially the stigma of illegitimacy, secondly Conference further calls upon Executive to seriously address itself to women's issues."

"In May of this year, Pat Ramsey made a further statement on the issue, stating, “I understand the heartbreaking situation for women who find themselves pregnant in difficult circumstances and we need to support these women, emotionally and financially. Abortion would only add to their pain and suffering.” The full statement can be found here, http://www.sdlp.ie/news_item.php?id=7010.

"Further to this, as a party born out of the civil rights movement, the SDLP believe that the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. We believe that the utmost support – practical and financial – and the utmost compassion must be given to all women in a crisis pregnancy, as well as to all women post-abortion."

SINN FÉIN: No reply

SOCIALIST PARTY: "The Socialist Party stands for the provision of free safe abortion through the health service for those women who choose to have one."

SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY: "The Socialist Workers Party's policy on abortion is that women should have the right to choose abortion if they wish. In order to make this choice a reality, abortion should be free, legal and safe and that legislation enabling that right should be enacted forthwith."

UNITED LEFT ALLIANCE: "The common programme for the alliance can be found here http://www.unitedleftalliance.org/about-us/. It is not exhaustive in terms of addressing every issue but is primarily focussed on addressing the economic crisis. However I can say that the three component organisations, SP, PBPA and WUAG are each pro-choice on the abortion issue."

UUP: No reply

WORKERS' PARTY: " The Workers’ Party recognises that women have the right to control their own bodies, including their fertility, and to pursue all reproductive choices. This is fundamental to any reasonable concept of gender equality in order to achieve full political, social, and economic equality with men. The Party rejects the paternalistic attitude that regards women as second class citizens incapable of making their own decisions. The Party supports a full programme of secular sex education for schools, free access to contraception, proper health and social care for pregnant women, the provision of appropriate free and quality child care facilities and adequate support for single and low income parents. The Workers’ Party believes in a woman’s right to choose and supports the provision of free and safe abortion in her own country which will include practical facilities to support women seeking an abortion and quality post-abortion care.

"To that end the Party believes that legislation should be introduced with immediate effect to enable women to avail of free and full access to abortion and that in the case of Northern Ireland the Abortion Act 1967 should be extended forthwith.

"The Workers’ Party opposes the vile attempts to stigmatise and demonise women who have had abortions and who support the right to choose and further condemns those who engage in anti-choice harassment and abuse."