LIMERICK councillors yesterday voted by almost two to one against a motion calling for a referendum to repeal the eighth - or “right to life” - amendment in the constitution.
The visitors’ gallery was crowded for the motion, which was proposed by Cllr Cian Prendiville of the Anti-Austerity Alliance but all the councillors who spoke in the debate said they had never received such a volume of emails, calls and texts on an issue and from both sides of the debate.
The eighth amendment doesn’t prevent abortions, Cllr Prendiville pointed out, as up to 4000 women go abroad each year and he focused in particular on the Ms Y case, where a young, migrant woman who had been raped was refused an abortion in Ireland, detained in Britain and then force-fed by court order. And he warned there could be more tragedies in the future.
His party colleague, Cllr Paul Keller, said they should trust the people of Ireland and allow a referendum take place.
For too long, there had been a “head in the sand” approach, Fianna Fail’s Cllr Shane Clifford said, supporting the call for a referendum. And he appealed for an end to treating the thousands of women who go abroad for abortions as statistics.
“These are real people with real stories,” he said. “Give people a real choice, not just a choice to terminate,” he continued, pointing out that it was cheaper to buy 12 cans of beer than 12 condoms.
Sinn Fein’s Cllr Ciara McMahon, supporting the motion, pointed out that she came from a single parent family. Her mother, she said, had chosen to have her but was stigmatised as a single mother.
“If women had a choice, they would look for an education, a decent job, a decent home and probably a decent partner,” Cllr John Gilligan Ind said, arguing that nobody makes a choice for abortion.
“That choice is forced on people and nobody makes that decision lightly.”
Opposing the motion Cllr Emmett O’Brien said we are all equal before the law and there is no greater equality than that between the life of the mother and that of the unborn child. The eighth amendment has flaws, he said but “offers the best protection for both”.
“What choice has the unborn child?” Cllr Eddie Ryan FF asked, saying he had no hesitation in opposing the motion.
“It is a matter for legislation,” Cllr Noel Gleeson FF declared, also opposing the motion.
Fine Gael leader Cllr John Sheahan said they had discussed the motion and opinions had been expressed but they would not be supporting the motion.
Labour’s Cllr Elena Secas pointed out that they were not being asked to vote on the eighth amendment.
“We are asking the government to call a referendum on the eighth amendment,” she said.
The motion was defeated by 23 votes to 12. There were five councillors absent.