The people of Portugal voted yesterday to legalize abortion, by a margin of almost 20%, despite a low turnout in the referendum. This now leaves among those EU countries that still outlaw abortion, Malta, Poland...and Ireland. I wonder is there going to be a public representative with the balls to table a motion calling on the government to offer the nation another referendum, which will this time unequivocally offer the choice of legalizing it, without any of the cop-outs that have previously been thrown up, pleasing nobody but successive governments terrified of losing the support of one Christian fundamentalist TD?
One of the people interviewed before the Portugal poll predicted a victory for the 'Yes' vote because, in their opinion, Portugal is a 'soft' Catholic country. I would say the same thing about Ireland; even in the days of a nation turning blind eyes to the Magdalen laundries, sexual abuse in Catholic institutions and rolling the red carpet out for the Pope, Irish Catholicism was always driven less by conviction than by docility and cowardice. A ban on abortion was always an easy sell for the minority of Catholic fundamentalists, armed with their plastic, made-in-Taiwan foetuses and abhorrent Holocaust parallels. The majority of people in Ireland, in the main people who had no need for abortions, nor any suspicions that people in their own families possibly did, were quite willing to support a ban on it, and would even go to a polling station to do so.
That has changed however and the defeated referendum of five years ago, which attempted to tighten the screw even more on the already nigh-impossible conditions for termination of pregnancy, lost simply because the only people that were sufficiently mobilised were the pro-choice camp. There was a low turnout, just as there was in Portugal yesterday, because the majority of people do not see it as something to bother moving their arses to vote on anymore. This does not necessarily mean that, were a referendum on legalisation to be held tomorrow, the 'yes' vote would win, but there would be a far greater opportunity than in the past. I don't expect any pro-choice candidates in this year's election to touch the subject with a barge-pole on the hustings but, should any of them get into government, hopefully they will show some backbone and endeavour to consign this hypocritical and inhumane law to history. And, making the morning-after pill available over the counter would be a nice way of introducing the 21st century to Ireland too, lads and lassies.