Shifting ground… December 7, 2012Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics.
Breda O’Brien’s article in the Irish Times at the weekend is interesting for many reasons (and name checking the Cedar Lounge Revolution as she went, albeit wrongly).
Yet tellingly her column seems to come from a period before the death of Savita Halappanavar, one where the argument was one fought often largely, though far from exclusively, in the abstract. Therefore she could conclude with the following sentence:
Enda Kenny seems determined to drive forward with legislation for X. If he does, he will show how little a Fine Gael promise is worth, and how little he values not only the electorate, but the conscience of those in his party who oppose legislation that will not help, but has great potential for harm.
In passing one could posit that there is an obligation on this state to legislate in light of X. And one could consider the point that an Fine Gael ‘promise’ seems oddly nebulous given what they put before the people in their election manifesto – certainly nowhere near as binding as some might think,. Yet note that she appears to give equal weight to ‘those in his party who oppose legislation’ as much as the ‘electorate’.
It is this last which is worth examining further, because the unspoken assumption – particularly built on arguments she makes earlier in the piece about the motivation for ‘rejecting removal of suicide as ground for abortion [in referendums] on two occasions’ is such that she appears to believe that public opinion is antagonistic to legislating for X to its fullest extent.
But as the Sunday Business Post / Red C poll released the day after her article suggests while that may have been a contention one could at least make an argument about in 1992 and 2002 it is by no means a foregone conclusion according to the latest data available and which was summarised by the SBP as follows:
“Legislate for the X case, which means allowing abortion where the mother’s life is threatened, including by suicide.” Support: 85%
“A constitutional amendment to limit the X case, by excluding a threat of suicide as a grounds for abortion, but still allowing abortion, where the mother’s life is threatened outside of suicide.” Suppport: 63%
“A constitutional amendment to extend the right to abortion to all cases where the health of the mother is seriously threatened and also in cases of rape.” Support: 82%
“A constitutional amendment to allow for legal abortion in ANY case where a woman requests it.” Support: 36%
The crucial results are the first and third, but that last one is of interest too. As Pat Leahy put it:
On one reading, these findings are slightly contradictory. Clearly some respondents have said they are in favour of both restricting the X criteria and extending it. However, given the often confusing and contradictory public opinions on an emotive issue like abortion, this is not that surprising. Pollsters say that the questions must be read together to correctly interpret the public’s views. Doing this, we can see that there is broad support for new laws which would make abortion more widely available.
Then there’s the problem, and this struck me looking at the protest outside the Dáil on Tuesday which demanded that FG ‘keep your pro-life promise’ that FG’s vote has hardly been hit in the polls because of not keeping that supposed promise – anything but (though – unfortunately – full marks to the protesters for recognising who they have to influence at this juncture), and as Pat Leahy noted in the SBP ‘It’s also clear from today’s numbers that the public is a good bit less conservative than Fine Gael on the abortion issue.’. I suspect that has come as a shock for a fair few people, not just in FG but also on the anti-abortion side, and perhaps a surprise for many further afield.
I remember discussing the issue with smiffy a year or two back and coming to the conclusion that there was little scope for progress at that time given the prevailing circumstances but as I’ve noted before, now something has changed and quite rapidly – albeit built on work over a long time period – in relation to attitudes towards abortion in this state. It could shift again, no question about it, but the sense of abstraction has gone. And perhaps more importantly than that – but building on it, the public is now strongly behind legislation on X. We’ll soon find out whether Kenny et al do in fact value the electorate.