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Nora Owen says she was 'confronted' and 'attacked' in Leinster House during the 1980s abortion debate

Fine Gael women who served as politicians in 1983 joined female politicians from the current Dáil to discuss the Eighth Amendment.

Pictured (LtoR) former Minister Gemma Hussey, Former Minister Nora Owen and former Minister Madeleine Taylor-Quinn discuss the 8th Amendment in Buswells Hotel.
Pictured (LtoR) former Minister Gemma Hussey, Former Minister Nora Owen and former Minister Madeleine Taylor-Quinn discuss the 8th Amendment in Buswells Hotel.
Image: Sam Boal

FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER Nora Owen said she remembers being “confronted” and “attacked” in Leinster House in the 1980s during the abortion debate.

At the time, leaders of both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael committed to holding a referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

On a turnout 53.7%, the referendum was passed by a majority of 66.9% in favour of the Eighth Amendment to 32.1% against.

As the days to referendum on repealing the amendment from the Constitution draw closer, Fine Gael women who served as politicians in 1983 joined female politicians from the current Dáil yesterday to discuss the Eighth Amendment.

Former politicians who attended today include, Nora Owen, Gemma Hussey and Madeleine Taylor-Quinn.

‘Frightening people’

Reflecting on that time period, Owen said the campaign build-up to the 1983 referendum “frightened people”.

It was an era before emails and social media, she said, adding that politicians received “thousands and thousands” of pro-life cards in the post.

“At the time, Dáil security was not as good as it is now and people were allowed bring visitors in and then essentially abandon them along the halls of the Dáil,” said Owen.

She remembers times where she was intimidated by visitors along the Leinster House corridors over her views on abortion, stating that she was “confronted” and “attacked” while at work.

“If you did not immediately agree with them you were plain and simple an abortionist.”

Speaking yesterday, the former minister said the Eighth Amendment did not have to be included in the Constitution at the time, and called for it to be removed.

Owen also recalled Ireland’s relationship with sex and contraception in the 1980s, stating that women’s magazines from the UK which were available in Ireland had to be re-published for an Irish audience.

She said women almost had to bring their marriage certificate to their doctors in order to get contraception from their GP.

“That might seem like centuries ago – it didn’t happen centuries – it happened in the 80s,” she said.

fine gael 519_90545537 Pictured (LtoR) Senator Catherine Noone, Frances Fitzgerald TD, former Minister Gemma Hussey discuss the 8th Amendment Source: Sam Boal

Madeleine Taylor-Quinn, who served as a TD and senator for over 20 years, said she remembers coming up against the Catholic Church over her views on the abortion and the Eighth Amendment in 1983.

She too said was subjected to “harassment”, she said.

As a rural TD, Taylor-Quinn said she also had to deal with members of the Catholic Church, stating that she was confronted by parish priests, monsignors and even had a “clash” with the bishop.

Chairing the talk, former Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said the vote on Friday is a “watershed” moment for women in Ireland.

She said it is important that Ireland’s legislation “reflects the reality of the situation”, adding that ultimately, it is about “trusting women”.

Current Fine Gael women such as Catherine Noone, Kate O’Connell and Josepha Madigan urged people to vote Yes on Friday.

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