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Three Reasons to Repeal

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MSU & the eighth amendment:

As a democratic Union, the student voice is paramount to how we work for the students. Students need to have their say, to have their opinion debated in a fair and respectful manner and to allow the wider student body to have their say by way of referendum.

In the academic year 2015/2016, an elected class representative and member of Union Council (the then the governing body of the Union), brought forward a motion which asked for a referendum to be called on whether MSU should campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann or not. This topic was debated extensively at Union Council, where all members were allowed to have their say, with a motion eventually being passed asking the MSU Executive to draft wording for a referendum before the end of the academic year. The Executive subsequently brought wording back to Union Council which was approved.

A referendum was then called on whether Maynooth Students’ Union should campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann. MSU did not campaign for either side of the referendum but facilitated equal funding for both a Yes and a No campaign to be organised by students. A ‘Town Hall’ (meeting open to all students to attend to discuss the referendum topic) was organised with students holding both sides of view present and exchanging their opinions.

The referendum polling took place on the 20th of April 2016 and the students voted clearly in favour of Maynooth Students’ Union campaigning to repeal the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution, taking 72% of the vote. The results were ratified by the elections and appeals committee of the Union a few days later. This referendum has set the mandate for the students’ union to campaign for a repeal of the 8th amendment.

The 'MSU Students For Choice' committee was set up to help following the student referendum on whether or not MSU should campaign to repeal the 8th amendment. The purpose of this committee is to help enact the mandate by helping to direct the Union in their campaigns. We aim to make the campaigns that are held by MSU informational, respectful and educational. This committee formulated a Position Paper that outlined MSU's '3 Reasons to Repeal'.

MSU's 3 Reasons To Repeal:

1. In 2015, 1019 women who presented themselves in UK clinics with an address in the Republic of Ireland were between the ages of 18 and 24.

The issue of abortion is viewed as an issue of equality and women’s rights. Access to safe and legal abortion is critical in advancing gender equality and the position of women in Irish society. Between 2012 and 2016 a yearly average of over 1,100 Irish women aged 18-24 presented themselves in UK clinics with an address in the Republic of Ireland.

The UK department of Health statistics show that approximately 30% of women who procure an abortion in the UK that give Irish address are between the ages of 18-24 (Amnesty, 2015:6). According to the Central Statistics office in 2013, 51.6% of women in Ireland attended an education institution which shows this affects over half the female student population in Ireland between the above age group.

2. The disproportionate cost impact on students seeking abortion who are already under financial pressure

The below statistics show that students are often under a serious financial burden and, as we already know, they are among the most likely segment of society to procure an abortion. The cost of having to go abroad to do so could increase the stress on what is already a difficult situation.

The Higher Education Authority published a survey in 2010 showing that 40% of full time students were struggling financially. With accommodation and the cost of living in Ireland set to rise, it is very likely the situation has worsened since then. On a local level, a representative sample Survey of Student Opinion conducted by MSU found that financial challenges have impacted negatively on the student experience of over 55% of Maynooth students this year. 

As stated the general student age  of 18-24 are those most likely to seek an abortion however it is clear that the expenses associated with availing of an abortion in the UK is extremely costly. According to the Marie Stopes UK Clinic abortions cost between €560-€1690,as well as this traveling after abortion is not recommended, therefore, those traveling from Ireland would most likely not only have the addition cost of flight but also a one night minimum accommodation.

Adding the financial hardship of travelling abroad on top of their already existing financial burden on students to avail of abortion services is unhelpful. This additional cost for those who wish to seek full rights to their reproductive healthcare leaves students at a disadvantage to others within Irish society.

3. It does not reflect contemporary public or student opinion

We believe that the 8th Amendment no longer reflects the majority views of Irish students. In 2016 72% of students at Maynooth University voted in favour for Maynooth Students’ Union adopting a motion that mandates them to support and actively campaign for repealing the 8th Amendment. Maynooth students are not alone in this regard. In 2014 TCD voted by a huge 73% to adopt the same motion. Since then an increasing number of Students’ Unions from across the country including UCD, NUI Galway, ITT, DCU and UCC have voted in favour of repealing the 8th Amendment, with strong majorities of between 70% and 80%.

We strongly believe that students have always been at the forefront of social change, so too will they be at the forefront of this referendum. Year after year we are seeing more students engage with national and international issues. Article 40.3.3° was brought in by referendum in 1983, some 35 years ago. Attitudes in Irish society have changed since that vote as reflected in the recent Amnesty International/Red C Poll which found that a majority of people in Ireland (60%) believe that women should have access to abortion on request, either outright or within specific gestational limits. Indeed, the Coalition to repeal the 8th amendment said in their submission to the citizens assembly ‘Crucially, no woman of childbearing age has ever had the opportunity to vote on the amendment’.

To Sum Up:

The 8th amendment in its current form was passed in 1983, this was long before most of our current students were born. Students are among the most affected by the 8th amendment and among the least likely to be able to cope with it.

Students bear this burden on a daily basis, or resort to illegal measures to procure an abortion. This can lead to 14 years in prison under current Irish law and potential serious long term health effects, however for many this is the only viable option. At MSU we envision a modern health care system that is accessible for student. 

The 8th amendment is an outdated law that was informed by the social context in which it was created. It does not reflect the opinion of the Irish people of today. This constitutional amendment reflects an Ireland in 1983 where divorce was not only not heard of but prohibited, an Ireland in which homosexuality was criminalised and where women made up less than 7% of our government.

This is not the Ireland that our students would feel part of. The Irish Constitution is the most fundamental law of our country. It is supposed to guarantee fundamental rights of our people and should reflect the identity of our nation and bring us together in shared values. 

Just as it was the right of the people in 1983 to vote on whether to put the 8th amendment into the constitution, it is the right of the people now to vote on whether to take it out.

You can read our Full Policy Paper here.

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