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Irish Left Archive: Abortion A choice for Irish Women – Irish Woman’s Right to Choose Group – June 1981 January 11, 2010

Posted by irishonlineleftarchive in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Miscellaneous, Social Campaigns.


In a sense this is a companion piece to the Nuclear Energy pamphlet posted up here late last year (and many thanks to Jim Monaghan for forwarding it the Archive). As with that document it sits parallel to but distinct from left-wing discourse. And there are, of course, those on the left who would dissent on this issue.

There are aspects of the tone of this document that place it very much of its time, but it is hard to overestimate the socially revolutionary aspect to this. And it’s also worth noting that the document attempts to place abortion within a spectrum of issues. All told another useful addition to the Archive.


1. goodhardrant - January 11, 2010

Interesting to see this as the abortion rights debate in Ireland / Northern Ireland continues to rumble on, albeit with minimal media interest and a strange sense of apathy even in many women’s groups. The current landmark case in Strasbourg rehearses some of the issues outlined in this pamphlet (that Eire exports its nasty abortions as an ‘invisible export’ of a hypocritical society which disadvantages women choosing to terminate), but the rhetoric has shifted from feminist pragmatism (the pamphlet refs ‘our bodies, our selves’ and its influence is very clear throughout) to one which uses European Law as leverage (see http://www.abortionrights.org.uk/content/view/320/1/). While not left-wing discourse, as you point out, WBS, reading this piece from the archive is a salutary reminder about how different the political atmosphere is now. NI’s DHSSPS guidance which gave healthcare workers the option to refer women for abortions in England was successfully challenged by SPUC last year. All change in 2010, eh?


2. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - January 11, 2010

[…] Irish Woman’s Right to Choose Group: Abortion A choice for Irish Women (1981) * League for a Workers’ Vanguard / Workers’ League – 1969 to c.1978 (1969-1978) * […]


3. Starkadder - January 11, 2010

On this topic, is it true the anti-abortion crowd got books
removed from Irish libraries in the 1980s because they
carried “pro-abortion” material?


WorldbyStorm - January 11, 2010

I’m not sure, I thought it was more a case that publications weren’t allowed in rather than being taken out, but I’m not au fait with that.


4. Amanda - January 11, 2010

And there are, of course, those on the left who would dissent on this issue.

Is there an official left wing orthodoxy on abortion, from which we might dissent?

If an alien came down from space and read the official positions of the largest Left formations in this country, who do you think they\’d consider the dissenters?

The pro-lifers or pro-choicers?


WorldbyStorm - January 11, 2010

That’s a very fair question you raise. The parties themselves have tended to eschew clear statements on the matter or have promoted themselves as agin (DL being as far as I can recall the exception that proves the rule). What I’m trying to get at is that broadly on the left in Ireland pro-choice has been the position of many, if not indeed most, left activists. But that’s not to deny that there are also activists who would take a different position. But that’s also why I say that it’s not been a simple left/right issue given that I’ve known many more FG members in numerical terms who would be broadly speaking pro-choice… a function of the small numbers on the left relatively speaking.


Mark P - January 11, 2010

The socialist left (ie those formations to the left of Labour, SF and the Greens) is pretty much entirely pro-choice.

Labour, SF and the Greens are not formally pro-choice and indeed their “orthodoxy” seems to be the status quo or some mild tinkering with it. All of these parties prefer to avoid talking about the subject and certainly don’t push their policies to the fore, but basically Labour’s position is for legislation to give effect to the X case ruling but nothing more than that. While SF opposes the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland, in common with all of the assembly parties bar the PUP. The Greens don’t even have a formal policy on the subject.

This page outlines the views of most Irish political parties. The Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the PUP are unambiguously pro-choice. Everyone else either doesn’t answer, doesn’t have a policy or is pro-life.


The Socialist Party’s response was one of the briefest:
“The Socialist Party stands for the provision of free safe abortion through the health service for those women who choose to have one.”

The Labour Party take about a thousand words to say that they would favour legislation to allow abortion where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother, but not otherwise.


Mark P - January 11, 2010

Quite a number of parties failed to respond to the Choice Ireland letter. Most of them can however be put into one camp or the other.

Pro-Life: Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, UUP, DUP.
No Position: Green Party (NI), now part of the Irish GP.
Pro-Choice: Workers Party, SWP.

The ones I genuinely don’t know about are the IRSP and RSF. Does anyone know?

Taking together the ones who did answer with those who did not we get:

Pro-Life: FF, FG, UUP, DUP, SF, Labour, SDLP.
No Position: Greens, Alliance, Eirigi
Pro-Choice: Socialist Party, SWP, WP, Communist Party, PUP.
Don’t know: IRSP, RSF.


WorldbyStorm - January 11, 2010

Sorry, you’re absolutely right Mark P, I should have clarified that I was talking about the largest left formation as Amanda had said in her original comment.


Amanda - January 11, 2010

The parties themselves have tended to eschew clear statements on the matter or have promoted themselves as agin

Yes, that was my point exactly. The only left wing formations that have more than a snowball\’s chance of getting into power (PSF & LAB) also have official policies on abortion at variance with the views of their own members. In that sense they are either acting in bad faith with respect to their membership or to the electorate at large. Or both.


WorldbyStorm - January 11, 2010

A gloomy thought, whatever ones position on abortion.


Starkadder - January 11, 2010

I seem to remember the IRSP talking a pro-choice position
in the early 80s…perhaps they’ve changed their stance?


Mark P - January 11, 2010

Yes, a quick bit of googling reveals that the IRSP certainly used to have a pro-choice position and presumably still do. So that leaves only RSF’s view as a mystery.

Anyone know?


smiffy - January 11, 2010

“The Labour Party take about a thousand words to say that they would favour legislation to allow abortion where there is a risk to the life or health of the mother, but not otherwise.”

That’s not the case, as even a quick scan of the Labour response demonstrates (they also include severe foetal abnormality).

Also, it’s a little simplistic and I think a little unfair to take the Labour position and simply label it ‘pro-life’ lumping it in with everyone from the DUP to the Legion of Mary. Labour’s position is certainly not a pro-choice one but in at least committing to legislate in line with the X-case judgement, it holds by far the most progressive policy of an Oireachtas party (not a great reflection on Oireachtas parties, of course).


Mark P - January 11, 2010


I didn’t “just” describe Labour’s anti-choice policy as “pro-life”, which it is, but also pointed out the major exception: That they favour allowing abortion when there is a risk to the mother’s life or health.

That is a mainstream “pro-life” position in many other countries. As is favouring abortion in cases of rape or incest, which Labour of course does not do. Those are moderate pro-life positions as opposed to the more extreme pro-life positions favoured by most of our parties, including of course Sinn Fein.

By the way, if you want to be pedantic Labour don’t favour allowing abortion in the case of “severe foetal abnormalities” but only in cases where the abnormality is such that the foetus could never be born alive. There are many severe foetal abnormalities which don’t meet that criterion.


5. Garibaldy - January 11, 2010

The WP and CP, as well as the PUP have clear pro-choice policies, and I assume the SP and SWP do too. (Wednesday has asked for details – I voted on this at a WP Ard Fheis in the late 1990s but can’t remember the exact date, and the policy was in place before then. Perhaps someone else can fill in the detail).


6. Wednesday - January 11, 2010

In that sense they are either acting in bad faith with respect to their membership or to the electorate at large. Or both.

I think it’s fair to say that both Labour and SF have been deliberately ambiguous about their positions. While Labour’s official policy is as Mark P outlined above – legislate for X and allow for fatal foetal abnormality – it has carefully cultivated a pro-choice image by giving the likes of de Rossa and McManus free reign to speak their minds on the subject (their anti-choice representatives, for whatever reason, are a lot more reticent about their views). They also have a women’s section which is avowedly pro-choice. Consequently even much of their own membership misunderstands their official party position. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to disabuse a Labourite of the notion that theirs is a pro-choice party.

As for SF, the official line is also legislate for X, and allow abortion in the case of rape or incest. Thus on paper it’s a slightly more progressive position than Labour’s (which, granted, isn’t saying much). Unfortunately this didn’t keep our MLAs from voting in favour of a 2007 DUP motion that opposed any extension of the right to abortion.

As for RSF, I’m not sure if they have an official position, but if their members on p.ie are anything to go by it’s likely to be somewhere to the right of the DUP’s (one of them has actually called for the death penalty for women who have abortions).


7. Alan MacSimoin - January 12, 2010

Starkadder asked whether it’s true that the anti-abortion crowd got books removed from Irish libraries in the 1980s because they
carried “pro-abortion” material?

Yup, it happened alright. I remember a Dublin Abortion Information Campaign event in the early 90s when we put copies of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ and ‘Everywoman’ on the shelves of the library in Dublin’s ILAC centre. The librarian had removed their own copies because they contained addresses of overseas abortion clinics.

(DAIC involved people like Ivana Bacik, Workers Solidarity Movement and Red Action, and much of it’s activity was about breaking the ban on providing information about abortion clinics abroad. We used to give out leaflets every week with a phone number in Dublin which women could call for contact details of clinics in England.)

There was also the time when a few of us were in Store Street garda station demanding (unsuccessfully!) the return of a bundle of Guardian newspapers which were seized from the Belfast to Dublin train because that day’s edition contained an advert for the Marie Stopes Clinics in Britain.


Joe - January 12, 2010

From very first hand knowledge, I can confirm that at least one women’s health book was removed from the shelves of Dublin city public libraries because it contained contact information for abortion services in the UK. It was either ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ or ‘Everywoman’ or both. A WP member working in the libraries saw the memo from the City Librarian instructing branch librarians to remove the book(s). He photocopied the memo and sent it on to the Chair of the WP Women’s Cttee (not sure that’s what it was called). The WP gave it to the Irish Times where it appeared as a small story.
I would assume, but I don’t know for sure, that the original memo went out on foot of a complaint from a member of the public and/or the anti-abortion crowd.
The chap who was editing the Irish People/Tomorrow’s People at the time (from Ballyfermot, can’t remember his name but a good bloke who left in disgust just pre the split) was disappointed it wasn’t sent straight to him. He reckoned he could have made it a much bigger story in the IP and wider media.
This would have been 1990/91ish.
There was a story too that pages with addresses of UK abortion services were torn out of UK Yellow Pages in the GPO. I’m pretty sure that An Post denied that they did it. If it did happen, it’s more likely it was direct action by the anti-abortion crowd.


8. Jim Monaghan - January 12, 2010

I proposed A civil Rights campagn in the Sticks in ’72 with Dick Spicer. It had abortion as a right. It was referred to the ard Comhairle. I remember O’Hagan givinmg a little suipport sayinmg he was a member of the NI abortion rights committee. The proposal is in the Clar for the conference. May be wrong on details of O’Hagen.


9. liam Ó Comáin - March 14, 2011



10. liam Ó Comáin - March 14, 2011

I was quoted in Liam Clarkes book that Martin McGuinnes was a ruthless person.And his recent unwritten biography confirms that one had to be ruthless when one considers the deaths over the years that our Brit agent(according to the confession of a Brit’ intelligence official) has been associated with.But in addition McG’s behaviour re abandonment of the republican objective surely confirms his ruthlessness.72000 pounds plus expenses per year born on the sacrifice of Bobby Sands and comrades.
And of course he now welcomes the British Queen to the southern brit built ‘Irish’ state.
His ruthlessness will eventually bring him a knight hood.

The Provos

Some thought they were republican
But in reality they were not
They are but Brit’ auxiliaries
And a part of the unionist lot.
Of course there were sincere ones
Alas, sacrificed from the top
By some power seeking egos
And Brit’ agents from the start.
Oh to those who formed the Provos
Look at our country’s mess
The foreign grip has been reinforced
By Adams and McGuinness…
But the cause itself is unbreakable
And in time we shall overcome
To see our beloved people
Experiencing the vision of Wolfe Tone.


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