Articles, Blog

Aisling Reidy & Christine Ryan | Ireland’s Referendum Repealing the Abortion Ban

September 12, 2019


Hi, everyone, and welcome to our
last Human Rights In Practice series event of the semester,
Ireland’s Referendum Appealing the Abortion Ban,
presented by the International Human Rights Clinic and the
Center for International Comparative Law. Our event is also co-sponsored
by the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin
Humanities Institute, the Duke Human Rights Center
at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Human Rights Law
Society, and the International Law Society. And our event today is also part
of Do Good Home in the World, which is a month-long program
at the Duke University office of global affairs. Before forgetting, we
have a special request from our photographer. When you finish
eating, if you could try to surreptitiously put your
plates underneath the table so they don’t play a
prominent role in the photos, that would be great. Our two speakers today who
I’m very happy to introduce, are Aisling Reidy
and Christine Ryan. Aisling has served as
senior legal advisor at Human Rights
Watch since 2006, focusing on Europe and
Central Asia, the Americas, and several African states. Previously, Reidy, who
is an Irish barrister, was a director of the Irish
Council for Civil Liberties. She also worked in the
Hague as a trial lawyer in the office of the prosecutor
for the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia. Aisling has litigated
multiple cases before the European
Court of Human Rights, and has appeared on behalf
of Turkey’s Kurdish victims of rights violations. After the Kosovo war, she worked
there as senior human rights analyst for the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where she worked
families of the disappeared as the head of a victim
identification and recovery program. Aisling has also taught
international humanitarian law and human rights law at
the university level. Christine Ryan is a
final-year a doctoral student at Duke law and the Duke
Global Health Institute. Her research focuses
on feminist- and human rights-based approaches
to abortion access. She’s done fieldwork in
Ireland, Geneva, and Kenya, to analyze the role of human
rights in abortion politics. And prior to Duke, Christine
worked as human rights officer with the Irish Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade, focusing on business and
human rights, women’s rights, and the protection
of civil space. We have a very
brief introduction. On May 25 of this year,
a landslide majority of 66.4% of the Irish
population voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment
to the Irish constitution to remove Ireland’s
abortion ban. Aisling will start us off by
speaking on the background and history of laws with
respect to abortion in Ireland, as well as litigation
efforts at both the regional and
international levels over the years in attempts
to liberalize the abortion law in Ireland. She’ll also share some
comparative examples from other countries in terms
of abortion laws and advocacy. And Christine will then
speak about efforts around the referendum and
how movements in Ireland used international human rights
to influence domestic actors. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. And thank you for the
invitation to come and speak. I hope you can all hear me. I’m going to say what I always
say is that I have a tendency to speak very quickly. It goes even more in that
direction when I am not reading from a prepared script. So I will try to look out
for glazed-over eyes that suggest that you’ve lost me. But if I really end
up speaking too fast, please just wave at
me or do something to catch my attention. I won’t be insulted. I’d probably be more
insulted if I thought, let’s let her finish,
and the quicker she goes, the sooner we’re over this. So do let me know if I
fall into bad habits. I was having a quick talk with
Christine before this here, and I think Christine has
some of the most interesting, and of course most
recent, work that she’s done on looking at
the referendum which just ed this year. And I, frankly, for one
I’m very interested to hear what she has to say. But since I’m here and we were
discussing this generation gap, I am willing to really
reflect and look back at I guess how the
abortion debate in Ireland developed a little bit in
parallel with developments on the global scale and
see where we got to today. So there won’t be a pop quiz. I don’t expect you all to know
the history of abortion law in Ireland by the
end of today’s chat, but let me try and
set a bit of context for the research that Christine
then carried out this year. Abortion until, in
it’s bluntest form, so abortion was never
legal in Ireland. It was always a
criminal offense. Ireland, as you may know, is a
very deeply Catholic country, and I am going to
come back to that. It was an offense which, for
most of the time under an 1861 law, was actually punishable
by life in prison and penal servitude for trying to procure
or carry out an abortion. And then slightly lesser
penalties for those that might, in some way,
aid and abet or assist. Well, what happened,
and really this is a reaction to what was
happening in the UK, in England across the water, but also
here in the States with Roe v. Wade, that the
conservative forces in Ireland began to get concerned
that there could be a court decision like Roe v.
Wade Here in the US, and suddenly that the laws
in Ireland could change and abortion could be
permitted in Ireland. So they got a movement together
to actually introduce in 1983 a provision to the constitution
that would essentially prohibit abortions. And that amendment
passed in 1983, was successful,
and became what’s known as the Eighth Amendment
to the Irish constitution. Just as a background,
the Irish constitution can only be changed
by way of referendum. So it had to be voted
by the people in, and this May was essentially
struck from the constitution 25 years later. Just so you know what
I’m going to talk about, what the amendment
introduced was a provision that said that the state
acknowledges the right to life of the unborn– that became legally
controversial, what is an unborn?– with due regard
to the equal right to the life of the mother. So it equated the fetus to
the woman or to the girl. And then guaranteed in
its laws to respect, and as far as practical–
and this became another controversial issue– to defend and vindicate that
right to life of the unborn. And that’s where you see some
of the cases that developed. So I mean at the time,
I’m going to mention it, I mentioned that
for a while I was the director of an organization
called the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, which is a
small version of the ACLU, kind of proportionate
to Ireland’s size, and was founded
originally amongst them by Mary Robinson, who went
on to be president of Ireland under the High Commissioner
for Human Rights. At the time, Mary Robinson was
a senator, she was a barrister, and she warned that
this provision was going to cause a lot of trouble,
that it was problematic, campaigned against
it, and she lost. Well, what she
predicted in terms of sort of cases that might
come up to be tested came true. And I’m going to skip a
little bit ahead now to some of the controversial cases. But I just want to
put that in context. I said this happened in 1984,
in a very conservative Ireland. At the time, Ireland
also in the constitution already had a ban on divorce. So there was no divorce. In 1986, so just two years
after that referendum, they tried to repeal
that ban on divorce, and that repeal was rejected. So we didn’t have
divorce in Ireland until another decade
later, until 1995. So you can imagine it’s a very
conservative, Catholic country. And it wasn’t also alone. Also within Europe
you had countries like Poland, which
of course was still part of Eastern Europe,
again a Catholic country. You had small
countries like Andorra, Malta, which still have
very restrictive laws, and of course, across Latin
America, most of which, again, continues to have
very, very restrictive laws. So between then
and now in Ireland, so between the Eighth Amendment
coming in and the repeal, formal referendums
happened involving six different questions,
and most of them because of cases that happened. So the first case
that happened, and I remember first
sort of litigation, I was in university. And if you used to open a
magazine that came across from the UK, you would
see lots of pages that were just blanked out. And I don’t know if any of
you have studied, for example, during apartheid and you
would see newspapers that just literally had blanks there. Well, in the Irish case,
the anti-choice movement had been successful in getting
a prohibition, an injunction from courts, on any information
available in Ireland at all about services available
elsewhere to get abortion. So you would pick up a magazine
and there would be blank, and it would say,
by law we are not allowed to print these
overstatements in Ireland. Student union. They went around to
universities and they gave out leaflets about who
you could call if you were in a crisis situation. They tried to put them in jail. And eventually this got
litigated to the courts, both at the European
Union level, who said that Ireland
couldn’t prohibit information about services elsewhere. But also to the European
Court of Human Rights level, who’ve said that
you couldn’t interfere with right of access to
information and to freedom of expression. So those were the first
cases that happened. And then in 1992, and personally
I was still in university at that time, the case
called “the x case,” which I think began
to transform– and a little bit
about what happened. And what happened
in that case was there was a 13-year-old girl who
had been raped by not a family member but I believe it
was a next-door neighbor. The family wanted to
prosecute the perpetrator, and they went to the
police and they said, we’re going to go to England
and have an abortion. Can we take evidence to prove
that it was this person who impregnated our daughter? And the attorney
general said, oh, I’m not sure you’re allowed to go to
England and have that abortion. And he sought and
got from the courts an injunction to stop
that 13-year-old girl with the support of
her parents going to England to have an abortion. So this got appealed up
to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court
overturned the injunction and said that the provision
which I talked about says there’s an
equal right to life of the mother, so the
mother’s life should be saved, and that includes if
the mother is suicidal because of the pregnancy. And that is basically
how they cracked open the first opportunity
to say that there was a right to abortion in Ireland. Limited circumstances. Right to life, including
because of suicide. And that case then, the
girl was allowed low travel, although what we
understand is in fact the pregnancy ended
in the miscarriage. But that came up again
a number of years later when a girl who was in
care of the state was raped. And again a 13- or
14-year-old, and they have to go to court
to get the permission from the state for
her to travel abroad to get an abortion in the UK. So in 1992, the Irish people
were asked three questions. One, do you want to protect
the right to travel? One, do you want to protect
the right information? And do you want to
overturn suicide as a ground for abortion? And the Irish public said, we
protect the right information, we protect the right
to travel, and we also want to protect the
right to suicide. We accept the court’s decision,
although conservative forces were trying to push
back to the court I say that because
10 years later, in 2002, 63.5% of the
people, and you’ll see maybe that reflected,
voted not to remove the ground of suicide. 10 years later again government,
despite public opinion, tried to remove
suicide as a ground. In that case, the Irish
people rejected it. But on this particular occasion,
only by 50.4%, so less than 1% divided those. We could have lost
the ground in 2002 that a suicidal
pregnant girl or a woman could not have
access to abortion. So while this was going on
and these domestic cases were happening, there were, I
would say that the government, and I think I tried to indicate
that by the fact that they sought injunctions against
people giving information, that they sought injunctions
against teenage rape victims from traveling, I think
they went out of their way to be particularly conservative,
probably more so than I think the general population warranted
at the time in terms of what the general support
for access to abortion, particularly in
difficult cases, was. But even after the
referendum, the government failed to put any
legislation in place to regulate when you
could get an abortion even if your life was in danger. They refused to regulate
access to information in terms of what I think
you have here in the States as well. A lot of rogue agencies
who set up and tried to provide fake information
about consequences of abortion, but also procedural issues
so you delay and delay the pregnancy so that
it goes beyond the time limit in which it’s possible
safely to get an abortion. And also the information
was very restricted. So if you went into a
family-planning clinic and you said, I want
to go to England, or anywhere else, to get a
termination for the following reasons, what can I do? They had to be so careful
never to be “encouraging” you to– they could provide
you with, literally, a piece of paper and
provide you with the number. You can do this. Anything that was
taken as encouragement, they could be committing
a criminal offense. And this, I’ll just
say, I used to be, particularly when
I was in charge of the Irish Council
for Civil Liberties, we would joined
with other groups, including particularly
women’s rights groups, to mark the day that the Eighth
Amendment came in, and note just how many thousands of
women over the last year had traveled abroad
to get abortions and to call again for repeal. And those gatherings
would routinely be broken up by very, very
militant, particularly young youth defense groups
who were anti-choice who would come in and try to
break up the meetings, be very abusive to
high-profile members of the pro-choice
movement and that. So it was quite a– [INAUDIBLE] it was very
contentious and pretty militant at the time. And it’s about this time,
so from the mid 2000s to the last decade, when I
think Irish groups really started turning to
international human rights framework to start
making a change. Because they figured
the government is being so conservative, and yet here
we have the Irish government, which likes to pride
itself on being part of the international
community, it’s signed up to all the relevant
international instruments– so conventional elimination
of discrimination against women, the European
Convention on Human Rights, International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights, et cetera. And so more and more groups
started bringing in the fact that the restrictive
laws in Ireland were having this impact
on women in terms of putting their health in
danger, their life in danger, and then the discriminatory
impact it would have on women who, for whatever
reason, financially or otherwise, weren’t
able to leave the country to get an abortion. And one thing I’m
just going to– because I know I want to leave
enough time for Christine to give us the
most recent stuff– Is two quick things. I just want to look at the
language that over the time the human rights bodies who
Ireland had to report to. And back in the beginning,
like in 2000 and 2003, 2004, and 2005, you had
language saying things that the Irish
government should ensure that women are not
forced to continue with unwanted pregnancies. And they expressed concern
at the limited circumstances in which legal
abortions were possible. And they expressed concern
that the Irish government had failed even to regulate
when that right was possible. By the time we get up
to 2015, 2016, and 2017, the same committees– that’s
the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the committees
against elimination on elimination of
discrimination as women, and the Human Rights Council– were much more blatant
to the Irish government. They told them that they had to
amend the constitution, which was impeding introduction
of reform of the law. They said hold a referendum
if that’s what you have to do. And even the Committee Against
Torture, which you may not think is an obvious body
that would consider questions of access to abortion, told
the Irish government in 2017 that at least they had
to ensure provision of post-abortion
health care for women, irrespective of how or
in what circumstances they had undergone an abortion. So you did have at this
governmental level, intergovernmental level,
a lot more pressure on the Irish government. And you also had
two cases in which they had found the
Irish government had violated the rights of women
who had to travel abroad. They said that the fact
they had to go abroad, the Human Rights Committee
said that the fact they have to go abroad to get
an abortion put them in inhumane and
degrading circumstances and violated that prohibition
on inhuman treatment. And crucially,
the European Court of Human Rights, while
not finding that Ireland had to provide abortion,
did find that in a case where a woman who
had to go to England to get an abortion
because she was otherwise being denied life-saving
cancer treatment in Ireland, that her right had been
violated because she had no legal certainty in
Ireland around how to get it. So all that pressure
at the level, all of a sudden the Irish
government every year had to start telling committees
and the European Court and the committee
ministers what they were doing to change the law. And this then, at the same
time on the grassroots level, I’m going to leave this to
Christine, happens at a time when there is a shift
in attitude in Ireland. And you see Amnesty
International in particular, but newspapers in general,
were doing a lot of polling, asking what people
thought about abortion in particular circumstances, and
then in general about the right to choose and access. And you could see
a shift and change. And then we had, I
mean most recently and I say there were two recent
events that for me indicated where the change had come. One was the death, which I
have heard of, of Savita– and I’m going to mangle
her second name– Halappanavar. She was an Indian dentist living
with her husband in Ireland. She was pregnant, they
both wanted the baby, and then there arose
complications with the baby. She went into the hospital
and it became clear that she was going to miscarry. The husband refused to terminate
the pregnancy, because they said they didn’t know if
they could, and she died from ultimately sepsis
infection but what could have been
prevented had she been able to have that abortion. And that galvanized a feeling
around Ireland of the fact that this woman, Savita,
was in our country, happy with her family,
looking forward to the birth of her
child, and she had died because of our abortion laws. And up till then we’d
been able to hide the kind of the sad
stories of who had died or what had happened to
people because people were going across the water to
England, or to the Netherlands, or elsewhere we could go. And this, I think, really again
was a way of galvanizing it. The second thing, I think,
that indicated change for me, you may not see the
exact connection, was the vote on
marriage equality which happened now three years
before this referendum came up. And that was the first time
Ireland grappled with a lot of, you know, on that level
since the divorce referendum in ’95, so like 20 years
later, what sort of country do we want to be? How did we see, and what was
our leadership with the Catholic Church? And of course a
lot of young people voting for the first time. So who hadn’t been voting in
previous abortion referendums. And the way that the groups
campaigned around marriage equality, the way
people got involved in terms of talking
about how it affected families, and people, and in
particular women in Ireland. The fact that this was the
first time that women in Ireland were throwing off, if you like,
the control of the Catholic Church, saying, we have
grown up being controlled by the Catholic Church. We were told we
couldn’t get divorced. You stay in your bad marriages. We were told you’re not
allowed to have access to contraception. We were told that no matter
if your health is in danger you are not allowed
to have a termination. And then of course,
at the same time you had revelations of much
widespread clerical abuse. So that marriage
equality referendum got people talking about
rights and families and that in a different way. And I think women in
particular came out to vote for what they
thought was right. And I know from my
own little network, and I know I live in a
little liberal bubble, but the minute that that
referendum was won by people and it was won by
64% of the people to vote for marriage equality,
on Facebook and everything you saw people flip from yes
for equality of Together for Yes and then switch over
to Repeal the Eighth. And that coalition
of people who wanted to see a kind of
modern Ireland that was in respect for equality
and human rights, also saw that the repeal of the
Eighth Amendment and lifting the ban on abortion, was the
obvious next step to trying to create a more equal Ireland. Now I know I happen
to kind of compare that to what was
happening in say Latin America at the same
time, and my thoughts about the future, but
I have been speaking for about 15 minutes, so
I want to give Christine the floor and a bit of a chance. Great. Thank you, Aisling. And I think you have
imparted to everybody just how devastating that
history is around the abortion ban. And similarly how
Aisling praised throwing off the control. I would describe
it in the same way, where the country removed the
shackles that were on women. And you know Aisling spoke
to us a bit about how what was happening at the
international level impacted the government and forced
them to reckon with Ireland’s reputation abroad. And if we wanted to be
seen as a country who was progressive and this
burning bright democracy, a small little
island, that things were going to have to change,
and how they responded. So what I want to
talk about a bit is how what was happening in
terms of that external pressure also generated huge internal
pressure on the ground. So how it impacted
the movement itself. How this human rights advocacy
at the international level, what it did for the
organizers on the ground. And there’s three main
things that I can see. One huge one was in terms of
mobilization on the ground. And this is important when we
think about regularly in terms of human rights campaigns. People describe them
as almost supplanting community organizing and
grassroots movements. But the opposite
happened in Ireland. So we heard about there was this
case at the European level that then resulted in finally
legislation guaranteeing that lifesaving abortion access. And it wasn’t
liberalizing the law, It was just telling
the government you have to regulate this
and put something in place so that we don’t end up with cases
like Savita Halappanavar again. And from that case and
the need for a Parliament to actually address
this, organizations grew up all around the country. And they grew coming out of
the experience of advocating at the legislative level to then
work with the organizations who had been progressing this
international advocacy for a number of years. And advocates, when I first
went to talk to them about this, they really described
how being able to refer to the international level
and the human rights norms, how that created a
space for dialogue and learning among rights
holders in civil society that hadn’t really existed
because abortion had been so shrouded by secrecy,
and shame, and stigma, and how empowering that was. And one advocate, I
remember her telling me how important she
felt that it was that when we were all
in national school you were shown videos about– The Silent Scream
was the main one– and it was just the
horrors of abortion. So this whole
generation of people who had grown up being
given that in school were now opening a
newspaper and seeing that the Committee Against
Torture is describing Ireland’s abortion ban as cruel
and inhuman and degrading treatment, and how
important that was for the advocates themselves. And they also now
say that looking back and reflecting that
this was training for the advocates
for what was to come. There was this generation
of new advocates who were getting
experience engaging at the international level and
talking about that at home, and how that mattered when
it came to finally getting a referendum. It also allowed for
coalitions to build. So the very first international
case that was taken was there was one Irish
organization, the Irish Family Planning Association, who led
this litigation, the ABC case, to the European Court
of Human Rights. And after that, Amnesty
International finally came on board, the National
Women’s Council, the Human Rights Commission, more and
more trade unions came on board. And it was again this
legitimizing impact that we can talk about this
now as a human rights issue. And it also engaged
out-of-group organizations who were the trade unions,
migrant rights groups, because the case that
had involved two of them had been migrants to the
country and the impact on them with having
to go abroad. And also it was a time
of austerity in Ireland, and people very
much were advocates could see this in terms of the
impact of Ireland’s austerity measures on the ability
of women to book flights, to travel abroad, to take time
off work, and what that meant. So that leads as well to the
impact of the human rights advocacy on the message that
was being used by the campaign. And every time
these organizations were coming together and
documenting how the abortion ban was violating
women’s rights, they were documenting
and translating the harms that were happening
to real women in Ireland, based upon their
testimonies and experiences. So that when it came to
the time for a referendum, there was a huge
body of research that had been done that they were
ready to go with and say, this is what’s been
happening to women. You’re denying them
access to health care, you’re putting more
and more barriers in front of people who
are already marginalized in Irish society, from
asylum seekers to women living in poverty to women
suffering from addiction. And that was really
important at a later stage. And we mentioned the death
of Savita Halappanavar as being hugely
important for the country to come and reckon with this. And I think that
looking back you could think, what could have
happened at that point was the abortion rights movement
could have become about we’re going to try and get
legislation that will provide clear access in cases
of life, risk to health, and where there’s a
fatal fetal anomaly. So this exceptions
based framework that is used as a
strategy in many countries to then hopefully
get liberal access. But I think in
part because a lot of the work that
had been done was talking about the
impacts of travel on women, on ordinary women,
that the movement wasn’t happy to just accept that we’re
going to try and run with that. They really advocated for
free, safe, legal abortion in the country. And that ended up being
very, very important, because that’s the
type of legislation that we will now hopefully get– that we aren’t getting,
but there is, we’ll say, there’s a few glitches
that need to be worked out. And I also wanted to say a
little bit about my methodology in doing this research. So I first was
writing an essay here about the role of gender
in the constitution. And what I saw as different
organizations in Ireland really challenging that
and using the human rights framework. And one Christmas
break, I just met with a couple of
organizations, and I came back and I was really encouraged
by my dissertation committee, which includes Professor
Huckabee, Professor Helkler, and Dean Bartlett, to look
at this at a deeper level and to really capture
what was happening. Because I could see it as being
momentous, but to dig deeper. So the first summer, 2016,
I conducted interviews with advocates. And I was fortunate that I
had taken the Human Rights Clinic here at Duke
and had training in how to do interviews, how
to do your research beforehand in terms of the
document collection, analyzing campaign materials,
legislative debates, and doing your legal
analysis beforehand in working through
how you ask questions and how you build
trust with the people that you’re interviewing. Because it was something
that was really important because sometimes you
know these advocates, they are the women who
have suffered the ban. They were a lot of the people at
the forefront of the campaign. And I found myself
in situations where I could be sitting
in someone’s kitchen and they were telling me how
they got involved in this work because the state had abandoned
them at their time of need. And that they were still
suffering because of that. So it was really important
that I had the experience here of how to really build trust
and be very respectful in doing this type of work. And looking back, it’s also
really interesting thinking, you know this is 2016
and we’re now 2018, and it’s this big celebration. But some of the actors who
really came on board in terms of politicians in 2018
wouldn’t talk to me in 2016 for love nor money. They just wouldn’t
engage at all. And there was a huge
reticence even then for politicians and government
ministers to talk about this. And at that point the
anti-choice groups were also very willing to
talk to me because they still saw the game as
being quite open, and to talk about
what they were doing. And there were still some groups
missing from the campaign. The Violence
Against Women groups still weren’t convinced
and trade unions. But then as time went
on, I kept tracking and it became a lot more open. So in February 2017
I went to Geneva. Ireland was being examined
by the [INAUDIBLE] committee. And a lot of the
organizations, as I said, they had worked
together in a coalition to prepare submissions to
the [INAUDIBLE] committee. And I wanted to see how
the government would talk at this point, how
the committee interacted with the advocates, and how
they were experiencing advocacy at the international level. And then in summer 2018,
before the referendum and after, I went home and
did more of these interviews engaging with advocates. And it really was a
very celebratory moment. But also something
that, in fact, surprised me, but I had seen
it happen, and I’ll talk about the
referendum itself, was that there was
some human rights campaigns you have
to look at successes and also analyze where
things went wrong. And you could see
that some advocates there was some lingering pain
around what had happened. So the thing about
referendums is that they’re inherently
nationalist projects it’s like what kind
of a country are we? All coming together and
voting on a big issue, whether it’s marriage
equality, divorce, abortion. And so for that reason,
the actual campaign that emerged eight weeks prior
to the referendum itself. So it was announced
and that’s the time that the Together for Yes, which
was the banner organization, mobilized and went into
action, that they really felt that they had to
have a colorful campaign about a bright, emerging Ireland
building in part upon the work on marriage equality. It was, Yes for Love and
Equality for marriage equality, and this had to be Yes,
we’re Together for Yes, and it had to be bright. And what happened with that
mentality was that the campaign became about you’re going to
vote yes to be compassionate for the women in your life–
your mother, your sister, your daughter, your cousin,
your friend, your wife– and that it was
very much pitched at this kind of
what had been called the middle ground in Ireland. People still couldn’t
believe that opinion was changing, even
though polls kept saying that opinions had changed. They thought that there
was this middle ground that needed to be shifted, and
this was the way to do it. Have a campaign about
respectability, foreground the respectable women who
had only had an abortion because they had been
given a diagnosis of a fatal fetal anomaly. So it would be a
woman and her couple, they would have
been foregrounded. And it was also
very much influenced by medics were finally
coming on board and talking about the harms
they were seeing in practice. And this is really important. We did need this information
in the public domain. But when I spoke
to advocates after and I could see
that there was a bit of a shift in the
referendum campaign than to what had been the focus
of the human rights advocacy all along. So they said human
rights advocacy had been about documenting,
in particular, the harms in marginalized women. Because these were the
women who were being harmed the most by Ireland’s abortion
ban who would struggle to get the money together and
the time off and the child care. Or if you were going
through an addiction program and leaving that. Or if you were a
migrant woman who couldn’t travel, particularly if
you were in a detention center, and how your access
was completely impeded to getting abroad. But that was lost in
the referendum campaign. Because the idea
was that we can’t talk about rights of
marginalized people and capture the
public in the same way as we can if we talk
about compassionate health care at home. This was the broad
narrative that was pushed. And even though many of
the claims you could say were quite similar,
obviously abortion is part of a woman’s
health care and right to health, and what we should
have empathy for our family members. But as an advocate,
and as somebody who’s thinking
deeply about what you know a true rights-based
feminist movement means, you have to think
about what happens when we change the narrative
and leave out certain voices. And a lot has been made, again,
of the importance of women’s stories in this campaign. And that is really
women’s stories should never be excluded. I think calling that
as a strategy can be problematic in a
way, because there has to be another way
for women to gain rights than to have to parade and tell
their pain over and over again. And some people don’t get
to tell their stories. There was a woman from the
disabled from yes group who said to me, you
know not everybody needs to tell their
story at this point. And also another
advocate from the kind of socialist role of women
group kept saying nobody was interested in my story. My story was I have a
vicarious working contract and I found myself pregnant,
couldn’t afford it, ordered the abortion
pill online, went OK. I’m happy to be
on the other side. But I shouldn’t have had the
threat of years in prison, 14 years in prison,
for doing that. But nobody wants to hear that. Nobody wanted to
hear her narrative. So instead we had a
campaign that at the end lost its focus on
human rights and became more of a humanitarian,
paternalistic protection campaign. But saying that,
what women fought for and what is being celebrated
now is much broader than that. And it really was
seen as, you know as we said, removing the
shackles of this long history of burdening Irish women in
particular with the legacy of severe discrimination. And we’re open for questions. Can I just say one
thing on the other? Because I had a
little preview, so I know what you were coming to. I think that what you raised
at the end is very important. And I wrote a little dispatch
on behalf of Human Rights Watch at the end of the marriage
equality referendum. From a human rights
principles perspective, basic, fundamental
human rights should not be up for popularity
concerts for people. And it’s a problem with the
Irish constitution when things are regulated like divorce,
which we now have is regulated in the constitution,
should be up to going around asking
the majority of people, and having there, you
said whether it was people from the LGBT community who
had to either come out or talk about their choice,
whether it was women who what to talk about some of
the most difficult and painful times of their lives, it does
become a popularity contest, and I feel strongly that in
many ways, this is a problem. The flip side, people would
push back and say, yes, but in Ireland– And what neither
was actually touched upon was in the lead
up to the referendum, there was what we called a
citizen’s assembly, where there was a big discussion,
not just about this but about key
constitutional provisions. There was a recommendation
from this kind of people public gallery that the ban
on abortion should be removed from the constitution. And there was lots of
debates in Parliament where they took
evidence from people. So there was a big
debate about it, and people say, well, that’s
important for democracy. But at the end of
the day, you know women were being
held hostage to what was going to be the most
powerful argument as opposed to I am going to suffer because
you decided I can’t have my rights in the same way that
someone’s relationship wouldn’t be protected because
someone else made a decision about their rights. So I think that’s a very
fundamental problem. And we see it all over, things
being put up for the vote. Some of the things have
put up for the vote here in the midterms
elections just last week, and they happen
all over the globe. So I do think this issue, what
you said about things becoming a popularity contest and having
to make decisions about which is the most resonant– I don’t worry about which are
the most resonant arguments. That’s important. But it’s the closing
down of other arguments which are saying, oh, don’t say
that you’ll put somebody off. Or that will turn people off. And I think closing
voices down in that debate is a problem when you
put fundamental rights up for a popularity yes or nay. Sorry, I’ll let you– Let’s open it up for questions. So the Eighth Amendment
was appealed, but what’s the law now actually? So with all the
conservative tradition, where does Ireland decide
to rank on the spectrum one when to get an abortion
and how to reconcile the rights of the unborn baby
with the rights of the woman? We’ll split it, because
you may know more both the current debate. So the referendum,
what it did was it removed that thing
I talked about. So the Constitution no
longer talks about the right to life of the unborn. It’s gone. And what’s simply
said is that provision may be made by law for the
regulation of termination of pregnancy. So the constitution
now does says that the law should
make provision for pregnancy terminations. So what’s happening now is the
debate about what will happen. It’s clear from the
legislation that people were told before they [INAUDIBLE]. It won’t just be
these three grounds– life threatening, rape,
fatal fetal abnormality. It’ll be general access up
to 12 weeks, up to 12 weeks. And then after that there
will also be access, but that would be
then determined on some medical grounds. And there are specific
grounds for that. That legislation
has yet to pass. It’s being debated. So at the moment you can
still only access an abortion if your life is in danger
because provision has not been made otherwise. And then the big
debate is the attempt to claw back that by
creating a very wide conscientious objection clause. You might know more about where
it lies right at this moment. At this moment, the bill
is at an amendment stage. So fortunately there are a
lot of strong politicians who did get the
experience, as we said, in having the committee. There was a parliamentary
committee discussing different options, and a lot of
particularly women politicians, and ably assisted I
guess by prominent men, they are pushing back at
some of the things that were proposed even before
the referendum happened. At the time, conscientious
objection wasn’t included. Conscientious objection
already exists in Irish law, so there wasn’t a need to
include it in the legislation. You do have a
situation now where the legislation
requires a woman to go to her general practitioner
to get an abortion. So the model is
hoping women will go within the first 12 weeks
and get a medical abortion. But it is requiring
women to make two visits to the exact same doctor
and have a three-day waiting period in between. So that raises a huge issue
around conscientious objection, and also access
for a lot of women. So particularly if
you’re an asylum-seeker, you don’t have a big
choice, an array of doctors that you can go and see because
you’re in a detention center. And the other issue is it
can be quite expensive. And forcing women to– it’s based on no public health
evidence, but in the campaign nobody was willing to challenge
that because it was just let’s keep going and we’ll
say we recognize it’s a difficult decision and
there’s time for reflection. But nobody was challenging
that at the time. And now we’re seeing some
of the repercussions of that and not talking about that
prior to the referendum. Because it was completely
unnecessary to put it there. I am very optimistic
that we will get legislation that
looks quite good and not have a broader
conscientious objection exception. So the problem would be
if the legislation said if you’re conscientiously
objecting, that you do not have to refer to someone else,
I think it would be crazy if that goes through. I hope that it won’t. So I’m optimistic that
the legislation will be quite accessible,
but there is still going to be waiting periods and
requiring doctors to prescribe, rather than any other
medical practitioner, or allowing women to do
what they were doing, which was ordering pills online. It kind of goes against
a lot of the trends in the progressive
countries now which are focusing just on
decriminalization and access. Does the physician
even know how to abort? I mean, I couldn’t really
see that they’ve been taught how to abort a child. That’s another problem. It hasn’t been part
of medical training. But what’s really
encouraging is there is a group of women-led
doctors who are saying, we’re going to
start the training. And we’re going to
bring people over. It’s like the [? star ?] doctors
group, which they formed right after the referendum. That was very encouraging. But there are
provisions to be made. At present, one third
of general practitioners say that they won’t
prescribe, which is also representative of an old– Medicine is a
conservative profession, which is another reason
for why foregrounding medics in the campaign
wasn’t necessarily, unless you’re going to
bring them all on board and you need to tackle
those barriers too. I do think the unanswered
question in that, and you’re absolutely
right, I mean, since it’s not
being carried out, where do you begin
skilling up and making sure that that’s available? And it’ll certainly
have to impact on medical training
and new health-care professionals coming through. But for me the
concern is I think under international
human rights law, which I think the government will,
respect you have an obligation to refer. If you will not
carry out a service, you have an obligation to refer. What’s less clear on
international human rights law, and this is where
Chile has gone, you allow an institution to
say, we are a Catholic hospital and therefore we won’t
provide abortions. And the reality is that
health services in Ireland are still very much
regulated, even if nominally, by the Catholic Church. Find me a hospital that
isn’t a Saint Vincent, Saint Paul, a Saint Mary. Saint John’s. Saint John’s, exactly. So that’s the
concern that they’re going to try to push from
a board level to say, we won’t provide
it, and there’ll be so few places available. And on international
law, it’s less clear in terms of just
an absolute prohibition on a conscientious objection
extending to an institution. And in fact, what I was
referring to in Chile, when they made gains in being
able to liberalize abortion, and then they introduced
a legislation which allowed conscientious objection,
and the court, I believe, went so far to say that
conscientious objection has to be extended to institutions. And so that is very
problematic, because it’s one thing for an
individual doctor or a practitioner to say, I
don’t want to be involved, and to extract themselves
from a particular service. It’s a different
thing to do that. So I think that’s going
to also be a risk. I don’t know. You’re following a little
bit closer on the ground how big a risk that is. But it’s certainly what
we’re seeing the push back the claw back in other
places where there’s been similar liberalization and
was a big issue in Argentina. And we also, as a human
rights organization, Human Rights Watch, we
were discussing how much do we push in Argentina? Because we knew a
bill to liberalize the almost complete
criminalization of abortion in Argentina was
on a knife edge. Now you might know
just last month, I think it was in September,
October, it failed. But one thing that
got into it, like you said, as legislation progressed
was a broad conscientious objection clause. And we’re like, do
we start speaking against a conscientious
objection clause and scupper the chance of
some sort of liberalization which would give at
least a lot of relief to many women who
otherwise wouldn’t have access to this
medical treatment at all? So that is the next battlefront
for me in general in Ireland, and in other places where gains
have been made over the last– And if you look at women’s
rights groups and particularly health groups, you can
see them gearing up all their arguments and that
and getting the doctors on board as to what the problem of
conscientious objection is. In the very back. I had the same
question, but perhaps to take it one step further. I think it goes to your
point about of the 66% that voted to repeal the
Eighth Amendment, is there any research to say,
well, of those 66%, do they support all forms
of abortion at all stages? Or is it kind of
just like, well, we can no longer have this
as a human rights issue, but there has to be
some sort of compromise on the other side of the coin. And I think you’ve got the
other side of the coin now, and that’s what the debate is
you say is going to take place. On the day of the referendum,
they did a lot of polling at exit polls. And among yes
voters, 84% of them said they had voted based on
a woman’s right to choose. So not the exceptional
cases, not the cases of rape, not the health or
life of the woman, which was surprising to many
that it was a campaign that succeeded in making
this about choice. Among the group, let’s
say the percentage of people who had voted
no, the vast majority there had said that their
decision had been motivated in part because the law
proposed was quite liberal, but also based on
personal beliefs. So one thing that I would say
in campaigning around this is that the impact
of human rights law, et cetera, and the
impact of mobilization, may never get to the
people who think that this is a fundamental
part of their being and their religious identity. You might, but the
real success story is thinking about
how these norms are used to really mobilize
other people who are either on the fence or who
feel strongly enough about it but wouldn’t have
gone out to ensure– It was a landslide
I know it sounds like there 33 percent to
voted no, but in a referendum it was huge to get that far. Thank you for those
presentations. My question is about
the mobilization, the case about which you were
speaking which really reflected on your bringing the
international human rights framework into the domestic
context in Ireland. What was particularly
striking watching the repeal of the eighth and
watching the marriage equality referendum as well is
how people came home to vote in the referendum. So can you talk a little about
the strategy of mobilization on human rights versus the
diaspora, and how that might– Talk us through that and how it
looks compared to the domestic. [INAUDIBLE] The rule of voting, if you’re
an Irish person abroad, you’re not allowed to vote. I mean there’s no postal
vote, there’s no way. I have been living
outside the country for more than two years,
and you can explain that. I don’t work for
diplomatic service, so I have lost my right to vote. And I tried to go back
and argue that I still have a house in Ireland. It’s my domicile even though
I am resident in the US, and that I do not
have a vote in the US. But I would have
to lie under oath to get myself back
onto the register. So I didn’t. There is a debate as
to how many people who came home, in
fact, maybe should not have been on the register. But I will agree– I’ll let you then
answer about this– there is now also talk,
and particularly around the referendums– There is a reason Irish people
aren’t allowed to vote abroad. Because there are so many of
us who would be entitled to, basically 10 to 1 people
outside the country making decisions for
people living there. But there has been a debate
about things like referendum, that there should
be an exception. That it’s different from
voting in politicians because it’s much more
about fundamental values and direction of the country,
and how we can do that. But that was a huge moment. And I would say, as a person
who couldn’t vote and that and watching it, I was very
emotional around the marriage equality watching people vote. I totally didn’t anticipate,
and I was so much more emotional around the abortion referendum. I mean literally
kind of spent Friday when the vote was on Saturday
when it became clear, in tears of joy. But I didn’t realize just
how many years of what I had suppressed
through all the time. And just watching
people go home and vote, watching people
come out, realizing that 2/3 of Irish people were
going to finally say, yes. And I do think that’s important,
you asked about the 66%. At least on the
exit polls most them said it was about a choice
thing, which I would have found surprising as well. But it was clear
from the beginning, no, this is not a narrow, it’s
going to be general access even if it’s for a short period. So yeah, the diaspora. But it’s a limited way you can– You were able to go back. I was able to go back. And one thing I will
say is that there were diaspora groups formed
in cities all around the world launching. There was the London
Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, which was huge. And a key thing
that they did was they fundraised to
get people home, and they were really energetic
and kind of innovative about it. So for a lot of students,
a lot of virus students go to university in the UK,
they started encouraging people in their institutions to lobby
the student unions to help them pay for flights home. People could donate to
fund people’s trips home. But these
organizations had been, they were London Irish
Rights Campaign, in Brussels, Australia, Vancouver, New York. They had really
mobilized already, so between having
solidarity marches, campaigning at
the Irish embassy, campaigning the embassy’s
there to put pressure on the Irish government, they
had done a phenomenal amount of work. And it was amazing to
come home to vote and to– One part of the campaign
that was quite visible were these repeal jumpers
that were these black jumpers and said repeal across. You could have seen me
wearing it in the law school. And people flew home
with these jumpers. And you would be in the airport,
and there were celebrations welcoming people to come home. And it was, you know, so
many people had gone abroad, they were living
abroad to progress their careers, et
cetera, with the idea of wanting to come
home to a nation that respects their right to
equality in Irish society. So it was, I think, it was very
heartening for a lot of people. And you know it was huge for me. I wasn’t sure how my
mom was going to vote, but she did help me
pay for my flight home, so it was an
indication all the time that she was she
was getting there. And it was huge for people
to arrive at the airport and to be greeted by older
people saying, oh well, fair play to you for
coming home, et cetera. And everybody then got
to really celebrate at home with their
families in what we feel like is a new Ireland. One last question. I just wanted to ask about the
next steps for the new Ireland, and in particular, we
have real issues here, of course, with our restrictive
state laws in different states that really put it to poor
women who don’t have access. Is there ongoing work now
of these groups switching from a repeal organization to
some sort of economic support organization? Well, there is a public
health system in Ireland which will mitigate many
of the costs for women. And it’s supposed to be free. And a big thing now
is trying to work out how it can be free for
women in Northern Ireland. So a lot of the repeal
campaigners are now– So abortion is
still illegal other than the exceptions in Northern
Ireland, so a lot of the focus is on advocating in
Northern Ireland. But also in the
meantime, if we’re going to have liberal laws
down here in the south, how do we incorporate
the women in the north so that they will be
able to access abortion? Because even just the past
year it became free for women to travel to the UK, free
in terms of the procedure, not in terms of all their travel
costs in going to the NHS. That was only in the past year. So it would be, in terms of
access for women in the north, it would be a lot easier if they
caught drive across the border and get access. They’re trying to do that
now, and the health minister has said that he wants
to try and do that, but they’re looking at
mechanisms to do so. Is there any movement to
help make up lost wages for women have to do
that three-day wait and go to multiple visits? For women on the margins that
will be a huge barrier still. It’s not a huge part
of the discussion. And the lost wages thing
may not be as dramatic as it can be for us. So here in North
Carolina, you know, women who have to come
to Durham, which is huge, or women from South
Carolina come to Durham, and they do have
to take time off. So Ireland’s smaller,
so if you do encounter your conservative male
general practitioner, hopefully you can get to
another one not as far away. But the three-day waiting period
makes absolutely no sense. One hopes and suspects now
that it’s in legislation that once it gets in, when it
becomes clear that this is just a barrier which has actually
no medical or other value, it can be repealed within it. And just not to do one
thing, but back in 2010 Human Rights Watch in
Ireland put out a report on the state of isolation. And it’s what you
said, these women are feeling abandoned at of
the most difficult times. But it tried to focus
as well on women who weren’t able to travel
as well, for financial. And in 2010, of
course, it was just almost at the peak of the
pain following the 2008 crash, and we won’t call
it a recession, but the austerity measures. So I think there was
a lot of awareness at that time, and again I don’t
think people thought they might see abortion happen because
the government refused to talk to us when we
were doing this report. But there was very much
awareness at that time of, because of austerity, as you
said Christine, of the burdens. And so I think that’s not– it will be a new
issue for people. I don’t think it’s the top. I don’t think we’re seeing yet
kind of very deliberate steps, but it’s been one that’s
been on the agenda, so I’d be surprised if it fell
away once it becomes clear what the service
is, where it is, if it then it’ll become
analyzed in terms of are there marginalized women who
are going to still bear the brunt of access? And I’ve noticed there was
one horrible case which we didn’t mention, which was a
woman who was a refugee who had been raped in her home country. And when she got to Ireland,
she discovered she was pregnant. She was suicidal. She was not able to go to the
UK to travel to get an abortion. And then even though
it was after Savita, we had legislation
which was supposed to allow her access in cases
where she was suicidal, she was forced to go
through with a pregnancy. She went on a hunger strike. She was not force fed
but forced hydrated, and they performed a forced
Cesarean on her for the child. So you know those
cases, that happened. One would hope it would
never happen again. But again there are
going to be migrants, there are going to be
difficult cases like that, and I think we’re not, you know,
we have to be prepared for them and make sure that
the law doesn’t again entangle service providers
and that to trap women like that again. Thank you all so
much for being here. And please join me in
thanking our speakers. [APPLAUSE]

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