Submission of the Communist Party of Ireland to the Citizens’ Assembly on the eighth amendment to the Constitution of Ireland

16 December 2016

The Communist Party of Ireland requests that the Citizens’ Assembly give consideration to our views in your discussions on the eighth amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann, its legal and human consequences, and how we should deal with these. 
     The Communist Party of Ireland participated in the original campaign in 1983 to oppose the eighth amendment, which inserted article 40.3.3 in the Constitution. The lived experience of tens of thousands of women in the subsequent decades has shown that our opposition was indeed correct, both morally and democratically. Our position, therefore, in favour of the removal of this article is born out of that experience. 
     This is a fundamental question of democracy and the democratic right of women to decide what is in their best interests, both as individuals and as part of a family group. Women’s rights should be primary and superior to, and not circumscribed by, their social or biological role within social relations. 
     Under article 40.3.3, and subsequent judgements, the opinions of doctors and experts have been placed in a superior position to those of the women concerned. This is an unacceptable undermining of women’s democratic rights. 
     Once again we need to draw upon the past historical experience of women and children—and not only them—at the hands of an uncaring state and religious institutions. The neglect and abuse meted out to vulnerable women and children leave those institutions with no moral authority to decide upon, restrict or impose boundaries on women. 
     The removal of article 40.3.3 should be the first step in the decriminalisation of abortion and in affording women the right to choose what they do with their bodies while pregnant. 
     We believe that a woman is best placed to decide what is in her or her family’s interests—not doctors, judges, or institutions. Article 40.3.3 reduces women’s rights, treats women with disrespect, and places them in an inferior position to that of men in society. Men have no restrictions placed on them regarding what they may or may not do when confronted by deeply personal decisions, medical or otherwise. 
     This society has sacrificed generations of working-class women, reducing them to poverty and to second-class citizenship. The state gives priority to private child care and has abdicated all responsibility for providing publicly funded and organised child care for working mothers, making it available only to those who can afford it. It has taken a similar approach to the provision of public housing, leaving families at the mercy of banks and speculators. Once again this state has no moral authority to tell women what they should do. 
     We also believe that the formulation of legislation on the subject of abortion is a matter for the legislators, that is, for Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, and that it is not necessary or desirable to prescribe or limit their power in this regard by a constitutional requirement. 
     We believe, therefore, that article 40.3.3 should simply be removed, not adapted, and the responsibility for legislation on abortion be given to the Dáil and Seanad. 
     Many views have been expressed on the subject of abortion and on what laws on the subject are desirable; and no doubt all or most of these views will be represented in your assembly. Your discussions will help to promote a rational debate, which can inform the political decisions that have to be made. 
     To arrive at a consensus, or even a majority view, would be a difficult task. However, even if you can do so it is our view that proposing a new version of article 40.3.3 would be a mistake—possibly leading to a repeat referendum in the future. We believe that the Constitution is not the appropriate place for legislation in this regard.