November 3, 2014, Buswells Hotel, 11am
We are calling on the trade union movement, the largest organised grouping in Irish civil society, to join the move to repeal the archaic, sectarian 8th amendment to our Constitution. For working women, who now make up half the workforce in Northern Ireland and nearly half in the South, the amendment is an affront to their equal rights. It is a duty of all trade unions to secure its removal.
In 1983 the Irish Congress of Trade Unions opposed Article 40.3.3, stating that “the rigidity and inflexibility of constitutional directives on social and moral issues is inappropriate in a democracy”. Since then, over 150,000 women and girls have had to travel abroad for abortions, and every day, 12 more take the trip to the UK for a medical procedure they should be able to access in their own country. Men in Ireland face no such restrictions to any medical care they may need.
For over 30 years, the 8th Amendment has been a major source of inequality and discrimination. From Miss X in 1992 to the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 and the recent obscenity of Ms Y’s treatment by the State, Irish history is littered with tragic individual cases directly caused by a Constitution that equates a woman’s life with that of a foetus.
Emotionally and financially, the cost for women with unwanted pregnancies is incalculable. In the middle of a crisis, they have to find at least €1,500 to travel abroad, often alone and in distress. CSO figures show 50% of women earn €20,000 or less which means this dilemma falls hardest on the poorest. And if they go to the internet for abortion pills, they – and anyone who may have helped them out – face up to 14 years in jail. Healthcare workers are routinely compelled to tell women who need abortions that they cannot provide them with, or refer them for, abortion services because there is not enough of a risk to their lives.
Attempts to deal with the rigidity of the 8th Amendment have created a hypocritical situation: you are legally entitled to travel abroad for an abortion which is illegal in your own country. Many women face huge obstacles in attempting that journey. For poor women lack of money may delay or prevent them travelling. For migrant women, the uncertainty about being able to return to Ireland effectively denies them the right to travel. If they are faced with a crisis pregnancy, that denial is nothing short of an abuse of human rights. And these difficulties lead to later and more complicated terminations which may pose medical risks.
The 1983 Amendment was an attempt to hold back progress in Ireland. The political elite collapsed in the face of an offensive by SPUC and its allies. The trade union movement played a role in resisting that offensive.
Recent pinion polls have consistently shown that attitudes to abortion in Ireland have changed radically. We live in a more liberal country where individual rights and freedoms are more respected. The 8th Amendment is a barrier to progress; it denies women’s rights and dignity.
It is time for this to end. We call on all our fellow trade unionists to join with us in calling on the Government to introduce legislation for a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment.
Signed by: Taryn Trainor, Regional Women’s Race & Equalities Organiser, Unite; Salome Mbugua, Chief Executive, Akidwa, African Women’s Network;Helen Mahony, TUI; Laura Harmon, President, USI; Laura Duggan, Unite and ICTU Youth Committees; Jo Tully, INMO; Des Derwin, Siptu, Dublin Council of Trade Unions; Cllr Eilis Ryan (Ind), Siptu;
Marnie Holborow, SIPTU; Eddie Conlon, TUI; John Humphreys, Unite Youth Committee; Padraig Mannion, Unite; John Meehan, Siptu;Grainne Griffin, Siptu; Una Dunphy, TUI, Waterford; Kerry Cuskelly, Impact; Mary Diskin, Retired Teachers Association; Therese Caherty, NUJ; Maggie Ryan, Impact; Cathie Doherty, Abortion Rights Campaign; Shane Fitzgerald, Unite; Mary Caulfield, NUJ
From the TU Campaign to Repeal the 8th Amendment, affiliated to the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment