Timothy Potenz

A College Tribune student poll has revealed that UCD students are pro-choice and think that there should be a referendum on abortion.

78% of the students polled are pro-choice, see while an overwhelming 85% believe that a referendum is necessary.

The poll was taken to coincide with last week’s congregation of the European Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg. The Committee found that Ireland’s current abortion laws place women in danger of “a clear violation of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The Committee met in response to Ireland’s lack of action in the aftermath of the A, cheap B, cialis and C Case in December 2010. Three Irish women were denied abortion in Ireland, despite their health having been threatened by their pregnancies. They took their case to the European Court of Human Rights and claimed that Ireland’s constitution, which provides “equal right to life of the woman” should have guaranteed them rights to an abortion due to their health concerns.

The Court ruled unanimously that Ireland’s failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman’s life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court unanimously found that Ireland’s abortion law violates women’s human rights and that Ireland must make life-saving abortion services available.

Now, ten months since this ruling, Ireland has made no moves to implement the Court’s decision. The Committee of Ministers last Wednesday announced they were “taking a firm line to ensure the ruling is now implemented” in order to guarantee that abortion is available to those women whose health is threatened by pregnancy.

Does UCD believe this is enough? According to this College Tribune poll, we don’t.
“To allow people to have their say I think we should have a referendum,” says Daniel Kieran, a 2
nd Year Arts student.

Changing the status of abortion would involve time and expense. The status of abortion is determined by our constitution. The decisions made by the Committee of Ministers is simply for the Irish government to implement the existing constitutional laws, namely to ensure the right to life of the mother is guaranteed when pregnancy threatens her well-being. To actually change the constitution and legalise abortion would require a referendum. This would involve an information campaign and voting facilities being set up.

“As a women in her twenties,” says 2nd year Arts student Sarah Cumiskey, “I do feel that abortion should be legalized. We’re a 21st century modern state, we should be allowed the choice.”

The issue of modernity is ever-present with abortion. While conducting this poll, this journalist noticed repeated comments about our laws such as “backwards” “behind” and “primitive.” Irish society has changed extensively since the last major referendum on abortion, which was held on the 7th of September, 1983.

Since then, sexual freedom has proliferated. Attitudes to pre-marital sex have transformed, contraception has become legal, the morning after pill has become cheap, and government funded consultation agencies such ThinkContraception are widely available.

Religious affiliations have also dropped greatly in that time. Calls have recently been made in UCD for funding to be taken away from the Chaplaincy, which was described by some students as a “waste of space.”

However, the Newman Society, a Christian student group in UCD, do not think that the rise in pro-choice attitudes is a knock-on effect of the drop in faith.

“I don’t think [the abortion issue] is necessarily tied to any particular faith,” said a spokesperson from the society. “I don’t think anyone has to be particularly faithful to have a viewpoint one way or the other.”

Asked why they believed 78% of UCD students are pro-choice, the spokesperson offered that “the amount of liberal viewpoints in the world is, at least in my perspective, in part due to a lack of desire to take responsibility for actions and consequences. I think the introduction of abortion would take away some of the consequences of sexual activity.”

Topics of sexuality were first liberalised in 1978 with the debate over the sale of contraception for marital couples. Since 1980, the amount of women traveling abroad for an abortion rose nearly every year steadily from 1980 until 2001 when it peaked at 6,673. In the last three decades, at least 147,912 women have traveled abroad for safe abortion services, according to statistics on the Irish Family Planning Association’s website.

The average cost of abortion in England is €670, not including flights.

“It is acknowledged that traveling overseas for an abortion is a burden both financially and psychologically,” an IFPA representative told the College Tribune. “Women may sometimes feel criminalised in their own country.”

The psychological burden of abortion has gained increasing attention in recent years. In 2004 and 2006 two separate studies were done in America and New Zealand, respectively. Collecting information from over 50,000 women between them, the studies showed post-abortion syndrome, whereby women become clinically depressed after having an abortion, is a real condition that affects 42% of women who have abortions.

According to their website, the IFPA hold the opinion that rights to health, life, privacy, non-discrimination and to be free from cruel and degrading treatment are “unacceptably infringed” by Irish law. The website follows on to say that “the IFPA believes that abortion is an intimate aspect of private life.”

Through all the issues surrounding abortion- rights to life, to health, to non-discrimination, to freedom from cruel treatment, to travel, to information and so on- one issue is peculiar: the right to privacy.

In our student poll, the College Tribune asked students “would you ever have an abortion or consent to your partner having one?” 31.5% of respondents said No, and a further 26% said they did not know. Out of the pro-choice respondents, 45% would not get an abortion or do not know if they would ever do so.

“I don’t know whether I could ever do such a thing, but I wouldn’t stop others from doing it,” says Graham Flynn, a 3rd Year student of Engineering.

In 1984, Anne Lovett was found dead after having attempted to give birth in private in a graveyard. In 1992, in the infamous X case, the Attorney General sought an injunction to prevent a girl from traveling to England to get an abortion.

In the space of 19 years, have we become a society that is willing to turn a blind eye to acts that we ourselves consider immoral?

The decision made by the European Committee of Ministers last week marks the most recent development for the status of abortion in Ireland. The question remains to be answered as to whether or not it will be the last.