If Ireland can have an abortion referendum, why can’t the North?
Following the result of the referendum on abortion in the Irish Republic, people have been demanding something similar in Northern Ireland. I advise against it. Am I being undemocratic? Far from it! I believe referenda carry great risks and can operate against the interests of democracy. I have written about this issue previously.
Why is an abortion referendum complicated?
There are many views about abortion. Some people think it should not be allowed in any circumstances, as they value the life of the unborn child as much as that of the mother. Others think a woman should have the right to dispose of an unwanted foetus at any time, for any reason. Between these extremes, there are many who would permit abortion on medical grounds or in certain other situations, such as cases involving rape. Then there is the question of time. Should there be a cut-off point, when we recognise the foetus as an unborn child whom we should protect? When?
What are the risks of a vote on abortion?
It is, therefore, impossible to ask a Yes/No question about this, unless you set out one specific proposal for people to vote on. Who is to decide the wording of the question? Once voted on, it will be difficult to amend the terms without another referendum, or the government will be accused of ignoring the will of the people. In normal politics, people negotiate compromises to find acceptable, workable solutions, because things are seldom black and white. Those who consider themselves to have won a referendum are seldom open to giving ground afterwards.
Is there another risk to an abortion referendum?
Those who have lost will have nowhere to go. No scope for further lobbying. What to do? They may feel disengaged from the political process. Sometimes this can lead to violence or illegal activity, if people feel very strongly about something. In the case of Northern Ireland, there will be accusations of interference in the province’s politics by either the Republic or the UK. People have strong views about such interference.
If the Republic can do it, why not anyone else?
We have yet to see how things work out in the Republic. As UKIP discovered, the vote is not always the end of the process. Time will tell.