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Ireland, once one of the most pro-life nations, hosts ‘How to Change Abortion Laws’ Event at the UN

by | Mar 19, 2024

By Marie Smith, Director, Parliamentary Network for Critical Issues (PNCI)

Celebrations of all things Irish took place this last weekend in the US, but sadly, these celebrations are tarnished by Ireland’s abandonment of protection for children alive in the womb but not yet born. Ireland’s Mission to the United Nations in New York exhibited how far the country has strayed from being one of the most pro-life countries in the world before legalizing abortion in 1998. Now it is telling activists and organizations how to change laws against abortion in other countries.

Ireland’s Mission hosted and fully supported a breakfast side event during the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) tweeting: “Sexual and reproductive health & rights are fundamental to the empowerment of women & girls. Today hosted a #CSW68 side event celebrating legal and policy reforms on #SRHR from across the world.”

The event launched the Center for Reproductive Rights’ new manual on successful strategies to change laws on abortion and other issues in the sexual and reproductive health and rights agenda called Pathways to Change: Building Stronger Legal Guarantees for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The purpose of the event and manual was to share “insights into strategies for creating effective and lasting change” that can be used in “other countries and communities.” CSW is the largest UN gathering of women with over 15,000 women in attendance from 139 countries.

CRR describes changes occurring “through legislative processes in parliaments, through administrative mechanisms and government decision making, through public referenda, through litigation and constitutional reform.” Examples given include the legalization of abortion; advancement of policies on comprehensive sexuality education; and the eradication of bans on emergency contraception. According to CRR, the examples “represent only a snapshot of those in which important reforms on SRHR [Sexual and reproductive health and rights] have recently occurred”.

The publication documents how 23 organizations in 13 countries changed laws and policies including changing laws on abortion in Chile, Colombia, Ireland, Moldova, Nepal, North Macedonia, Peru and Rwanda.

Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee, attended and spoke at the event tweeting that she shared “Ireland’s journey toward providing and protecting SRHR.” Translation: How Ireland went from giving children in the womb an equal right to life with their mothers in the Eighth Amendment to allowing abortion on demand for the first 12 weeks and later for exceptions.

CRR explains in the manual that in Ireland “political engagement strategies were a central component of efforts to secure repeal of the ban on abortion.” Another key to legalizing abortion through the referendum vote was targeting the majority of voters who were uncertain as to what change they would support so this became their targeted group with a “messaging strategy” that presented “a new narrative on the issue of abortion that would connect emotionally and rationally with them.”

How religious opposition to abortion was overcome in Chile and Rwanda is also highlighted and explained. CRR writes that in Chile, “alliances with Catholic organizations and experts on Catholicism facilitated engagement with policy makers from a religious perspective. Workshops between members of Congress and relevant experts provided an important space for discussions that engaged with their religious beliefs and facilitated exchanges about how the reforms could be supported by Catholics.”

In Rwanda, CRR explains that “because the Catholic church was staunchly opposed to the reforms, engagement with religious leaders from other religions and churches proved important. Many of them were not against law reform and although they would not actively support calls for legal and policy change, they would not oppose it.

”By revealing a spectrum of diverse religious views, the force of religious arguments against reform were weakened. This was highly influential with policy makers, who realized that they would not face as much opposition from religious groups as they had previously feared.”

Peru is a country where activists are still pursuing implementation of national abortion guidelines which they successfully lobbied the government to adopt in 2014. CRR writes: “Since the adoption of the guidelines, efforts to overcome implementation challenges continue, as does work to secure comprehensive legal and policy reform on abortion in Peru.”

CRR and its friends in the Irish government and Mission to the UN hope that the manual will be used as a resource providing “strategic insight, inspiration and encouragement to activists and organizations the world over” that seek to change laws on abortion.

Pro-life organizations around the world can glean useful insights from the strategies presented in order to be better prepared to defend life and family in their own countries and communities.

Categories: Ireland