Orla Traynor, Opinions Editor.
On the heels of Leo Varadkar’s June announcement to hold a repeal on the eighth amendment, a Donegal man has begun a hunger strike outside the offices of the Dáil in Dublin. Tim Jackson, who ran for the Irish parliament in 2016, announced his intentions via a Facebook video. Jackson demands that Leo Varadkar, Irish Taoiseach, and the Oireachtas Committee on Abortion, watch a graphic video of an abortion procedure, before formally making the decision to hold a referendum which could potentially legalise abortion.
As part of his protest, Jackson concedes that he will drink water and will not starve himself to the point of death. Jackson’s protest is not only redundant, it is hugely insensitive to the memory of the many women who have died as a result of their lack of access to abortion, many of which were in Ireland.
Calls for the legalisation of abortion have grown in the Republic since the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year-old dentist originally from India, in 2012. Savita’s very much wanted pregnancy ended in septic miscarriage yet due to legislative uncertainty, she was denied an abortion which would have been life-saving. Unlike Mr. Jackson, Savita did not have the power to protest, as Ireland’s criminally primitive laws denied her the right to life – the same right that Jackson proclaims to value so dearly.
The Repeal the Eighth campaign has only gained traction in recent years. At the end of this month, the sixth Annual March for Choice takes place in Dublin; the previous year’s march drew crowds of approximately 20,000. In May 2017, an Irish Times/Ipos MRBI poll found that 73% of respondents agreed with abortion up to 12 weeks gestation. It is clear that the tide of public opinion towards abortion is changing in the Republic of Ireland, particularly among young people.
Earlier this month, master of the Holles Street Maternity Hospital in Dublin, Dr. Rhona Mahony, came out in support of the repeal the eighth movement. Dr. Mahony added ‘We can’t keep pretending it doesn’t happen,’ making reference to the number of Irish women go abroad to seek terminations, which is estimated to be 10 every day. In her speech, Dr. Mahony highlighted the cruelty of Irish law in forcing women to travel in order to receive a potentially distressing procedure.
As he sits outside the Dáil obstinately, I would urge Mr. Jackson to let democracy take its course and refrain from making manipulative emotional appeals concerning a situation he himself will never be in. In making his decision to hunger strike, Jackson is making a decision about his own health and wellbeing – Irish women do not have such a right.