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Eighth Amendment

A mystery of our time: How do you get a TD to answer a question?

How long is a piece of string?

THERE ARE MANY unanswerable questions of our time.

How long is a piece of string? A classic.

How do you solve a problem like Maria? Who knows.

How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?

Perhaps another one we could add to that list is: How do you get a TD to answer a question?

There are some topics people just don’t want to talk about.

Abortion is one of them. It’s controversial. It divides people. And, in a politician’s world, your stance on it can cost you – or get you – votes. recently carried out a survey of every TD and minister to see where they stand on repealing the Eighth Amendament – the section of the constitution that gives the unborn the same right to life as their mother.

The wording of the amendment is:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

It was added to Bunreacht na hÉireann in 1983 after 67% of people who voted in a referendum backed it.

There have been repeated calls for the article to be removed, with many people saying it puts the life of the mother at risk, and that women should have the final say in what happens their bodies – not the state or the church.

Pro-life activists, on the other hand, say the amendment is needed to protect the unborn’s right to life. Some people are open to the amendment being changed, but want to see it replaced with something else.

Diversions and distractions 

Just under half (48%) of TDs replied – 76 out of 158.

The majority of respondents want the amendment to be repealed: 47 (62% of the replies). While 22 others (30%) said they don’t want it repealed. Three said they don’t know and four replied without giving a definitive answer.

Many did not reply at all, despite several attempts to reach them via email, telephone and in person over the past three weeks.

To be clear, we gave deputies on the ‘refused to respond’ list multiple opportunities to answer the questions – more so than we have on previous audits like this.

22/8/2014 Anti Abortion Protests A pro-life demonstration outside Leinster House. Laura Hutton / Laura Hutton / /

Some of the reasons TDs or their assistants gave for not answering the survey were interesting. Sadly, no one said their dog ate the email but here are a few of our favourite responses:

  • I must have lost the email;
  • I have several different email accounts so it’s hard to keep track of them all;
  • I don’t have broadband so can’t get my Oireachtas emails when I’m not in Dublin, but my personal email account works.

Through the course of doing the survey we also discovered that some TDs like to have their emails printed out before they read them.

We were also asked, on several occasions, to re-send the email so it was “on the top of the pile”.

To be fair, ministers and TDs are busy and some may have just forgotten to reply. Others might have genuinely not spotted the survey or, as a rule, just don’t reply to them.

Many though, it seems, really don’t want to talk about abortion.

It’s been an interesting and frustrating few weeks. It will be some time before I want to make a phone call or look at a spreadsheet again.

Some politicians have very passionate opinions on the eighth – on both sides of the argument. They want to discuss the topic.

On the other hand, many of them have quite the knack for saying a lot to say nothing.

‘A minefield’ 

One TD spent a few minutes explaining over the phone why he was “too busy” to answer the questions.

Others simply didn’t want to answer and were upfront about this. One told us: “I’m not getting into that minefield.”

Another TD was overheard in Leinster House telling a colleague “The f***ing Journal is asking us about abortion again.” He was unsure of what to say and did not reply.

We also asked some deputies their stances in person. A few people gave a direct answer (thank you), while most promised to reply but quickly changed the subject. They usually did not respond.

1541x0 Shutterstock Shutterstock

Some people are of the opinion that the media is making the Eighth Amendment a bigger issue than it is.

There has been much debate about the amendment in recent years, particularly in relation to the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, who was denied a termination, and the case of a braindead woman who was kept on life support in December 2014, against the wishes of her family, because she was pregnant.

The spotlight was again cast on the amendment last month when the United Nations called for a referendum to be held on repealing it.

Successive governments have discussed the issue, and some changes have been made.

Most recently, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 came into force on 1 January 2014. It allows access to an abortion in Ireland where there is a real and substantial risk to the woman’s life, including through suicide.

heartbeat A vigil outside Leinster House in memory of Savita Halappanavar. Julien Behal / PA Archive/Press Association Images Julien Behal / PA Archive/Press Association Images / PA Archive/Press Association Images

Bills to expand abortion access in terms of repealing the eighth amendment, or for terminations to be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormality were defeated in the last Dáil.

Some 3,451 women travelled from the Republic of Ireland to the UK to have an abortion in 2015, about nine women every day.

Women who have had to travel abroad to access a termination because their much-wanted baby had a fatal foetal abnormality have shared their heartbreaking stories. As have women in the same situation who chose to carry their child to full term.

Some of the latter’s children have defied the odds and lived – be it for minutes, weeks or years.

A number of TDs are in favour of allowing for terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest. Some want full access to abortion to be available – in line with most other developed countries. Others want the situation to remain as is, believing the 2013 act was a step too far.

The upcoming citizens’ assembly on the topic is seen by some as the government further kicking the can down the road, but will at least allow for further debate.

The issue is on the agenda and it’s not going away. No amount of distractions or excuses will change that.

Read: We asked every TD if they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment – here’s what they said

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