New article: On public submissions to the Citizens’ Assembly

1-s2.0-S0277539518X0003X-cov150hMy latest paper, written with Mima Markicevic, has just been published in the Women’s Studies International Forum. The paper, entitled “Reforming abortion law in Ireland: Reflections on the public submissions to the Citizens’ Assembly“, builds on a hand coding of a sample of over 1,000 submissions to the Assembly on the 8th Amendment and considers the arguments made out therein, placing them against the backdrop of the Joint Oireachtas Committee and the eventual referendum campaign. Access is free through this link for the first 50 days of publication, and this extract from the introduction gives a good sense of the overall argument:

Following a detailed, hand-coded analysis of over 1000 of the submissions received we found that they attend primarily to ‘broad’ or ‘first principles’ arguments about abortion per se, and are only minimally concerned with technical (and technocratic) arguments about the future shape and nature of the legal regulation of abortion. Within the submissions themselves there is limited evidence that key arguments about harm, the impact of criminalization, and the requirements of international human rights law that were advanced by pro-repeal advocates achieved significant purchase, while the pro-retain submissions revealed a significant dependence on emerging arguments about disability and disability rights in anti-abortion activism. In contrast, arguments of constitutional design, of international human rights law, of legal certainty, of medical practice etc. dominated the official narrative that followed the Assembly, in particular the Joint Oireachtas Committee that was established especially to receive and consider the report of the Assembly and make recommendations to the parliament as a whole (Houses of the Oireachtas, 2017). In this paper we focus on the primary arguments made the submissions from the general public to the Citizens’ Assembly. We go on to consider the extent to which these arguments subsequently arose in the referendum campaign of 2018. Relying on a detailed exit poll from the referendum vote (RTE & Behaviour and Attitudes, 2018), we argue that the arguments made in these submissions continued to motivate voters on the day of the referendum itself, even where the elite and official discourses of the referendum campaign itself diverged somewhat from these. This analysis raises questions about the purpose of the Citizens’ Assembly per se and particularly about whether its primary impact was on official political narratives of abortion law reform in Ireland rather than on the everyday voter as she engaged with the issues.

 

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Position Paper on the Updated General Scheme of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018

Together with my colleagues Máiréad Enright (Birmingham), Ruth Fletcher (QMUL), and Vicky Conway (DCU) I have written and published a Position Paper on the Updated General Scheme of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. In the paper, which we have published on the Lawyers for Choice website, we make a number of recommendations for  (i) improvements to the General Scheme (ii) designing clinical guidance to avoid unintended ‘chilling effects’ which inhibit meaningful access to abortion care (iii) policy and resource commitments (iv) regulation of the medical profession. The overall thrust of the paper is that

The General Scheme is designed for a post-repeal Constitution in which women’s full rights must be taken into account. Abortion legislation must be drafted and interpreted to give effect, not only to pregnant people’s right to life, but to their rights to privacy, bodily integrity, freedom of conscience, liberty, equality, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment. However, the General Scheme does not make a sufficient break from the legal regime shaped and dominated by the 8th Amendment, which insisted on legal equivalence between a pregnant person and a foetus.

Continue reading Position Paper on the Updated General Scheme of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018

2018 Human Rights Lecture: The Impact of Brexit on Rights

Back in May, in the midst of the referendum campaign on the 36th Amendment to the Constitution, I attended the Law Society of Ireland where I delivered the 2018 Annual Human Rights Lecture. I had been asked to speak to the topic of ‘The Impact of Brexit on Rights’ and delivered a lecture that looked at this from three angles: protection of rights in the UK generally after exit day, the protection of rights in Northern Ireland in particular, and the future of a ‘Europe of rights’ in a Brexit context. The full text is available on the Law Society website here, but here’s the conclusion:

Brexit [is] an opportunity if not an imperative to re-make the argument for a Europe of rights and to ensure that the European Union operates as such. It can and should inspire us to make once again, and again, the moral argument for European solidarity, and for a post-nationalist solidarity of love and care across our continent. To do that we need to show that a Europe of rights can work, even as, as Ban Ki-moon has said, the world has “reached a level of human suffering without parallel since the founding of the United Nations”.[1]In this, our European Union, many millions of people live in intense suffering: they cannot school their children in their language and cultural traditions, they cannot express themselves freely without fear of persecution, they cannot walk through life without being subjected to sexual and gender-based violence, they cannot access appropriate healthcare including reproductive healthcare, they have no or unsafe homes, they have diminishing security in later life, they experience daily disregard for their dignity especially in sickness and/or old age, and they see around them at all times the deep and deeply rooted inequalities that set the conditions in which European human rights abuses occur.

Remaking the argument for a Europe of rights, thus, requires us both to articulate clearly the moral case for rights, even when their protection may require us to give up some sovereignty or when a rights violation in question seems far from our own experiences. It requires us to see a violation in Ljubljana and Limavady as equally injurious to our humanity; to care as much for our fellow European in Ghent as in Galway; to see our land as much as that of our European co-denizens as of our scattered, intergenerational diaspora.  

It requires us also to press with urgency for a Europe of rights that goes beyond practical and technical solutions to legal challenges and recommits to the true and rich solidarity that underpins the vision of Europe. That may in turn compel us to move on from a Wilsonian idealism that believes democracy and capitalism are the keys to freedom, peace and prosperity. It may require us to question again the ordoliberalism of the Union and its fiscal and economic structures and policies. It may require us to look with more care and more love on our compatriots and enact our esteem for them with more open borders, more supportive socio-economic models, and more welcoming hearts.  

This is not to say that some of the challenges thrown up by Brexit are not amenable to technical and practical solutions; of course they are. The nature and status of retained legislation in the UK is a matter, partly, of technical legal design. The operation of an all-island system of rights and a near-invisible border between the two jurisdictions can be resolved with a set of technical solutions. But even these technical and practical solutions will not work without an underpinning commitment to rights between all of the relevant stakeholders: the member states, the European Union, and the peoples of Europe and of these islands.

Technocracy ultimately fails because it conceits to divorce the technical from the political; when it comes to rights these two cannot be separated. If the reaction to Brexit is merely to seek technical and practical solutions without attending to the root causes and their potential persistence within the European Union then the setting for further ‘_exits’ will remain undisturbed, and the price may well be far greater than any us care to consider.

In Whatever you Say, Say Nothing, from which I have already quoted, Seamus Heaney closes with words that seem apt for the situation we find ourselves in now:

Competence with pain,

Coherent miseries, a bite and sup,

We hug our little destiny again.

Repealing the 8th: With new Postscript

9781447347514-405759-300x400In February Mairead Enright and I published Repealing the 8th: Reforming Irish Abortion Law with Policy Press. The book was finished on 15 November 2017 and, since then, there have been significant developments in the progress towards a referendum on the 8th Amendment including the publication of the JOC report, the Cabinet announcement that a referendum would be held, the publication of a Department of Health policy paper on the shape and form of future post-repeal legislation for access to abortion, a Supreme Court decision on the extent of foetal rights under the current constitutional arrangement, and the publication of the 36th Referendum on the Constitution Bill 2018. Happily, we have had an opportunity to update the book taking all of these developments into account with a new postscript as it went to its second printing run. The new, expanded version is now available to purchase online through Policy Press, in bookshops, and (free) on Open Access download here.