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Saying that they are happy but frustrated about Scotland’s approval of same-sex marriage yesterday, activists in Northern Ireland say they may turn to the courts. Via Gay Star News

John O’Doherty, director of The Rainbow Project in Belfast and chair of Equal Marriage NI, told Gay Star Newshe applauded Scotland’s politicians for voting in favor of equality.  ‘But it’s very frustrating when you consider Northern Ireland had the first ever civil partnership,’ he said. South of the border, the independent Republic of Ireland is likely to get gay marriage in the next three years.  O’Doherty said: ‘We will be the only country of these islands to still ban equal marriage.”
 But gay rights campaigners believe there is an opportunity. ‘The reality in Northern Ireland is that we have to rely on the courts on LGBT issues,’ O’Doherty added to GSN. ‘Examples of this in recent times are rights of same-sex couples and unmarried couples to apply to adopt and the MSM blood ban both of which were ruled as discriminatory by the courts in Northern Ireland.’

The Democratic Unionist Party has long opposed all LGBT rights measures in Northern Ireland.

The Cabinet has agreed to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage before the summer of 2015.

At their meeting today, Ministers accepted the recommendation of Minister for JusticeAlan Shatter that they should follow the advice of the Constitutional Referendum and put the issue of same-sex marriage to the people.

It is now expected that same sex marriage and a number of other proposed constitutional changes including a reduction in the voting age to 17 will be put to the electorate in May 2015.

This morning, Tanáiste Eamon Gilmore said it was important that the Government “win” any referendum on same-sex marriage.

“It is important that we win this referendum. It is an important issue and we know from referenda on social issues before that it is important to do some preparation before the referendum is held,” he said on his way into the Cabinet meeting this morning.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said he also supported the principle of gay marriage and had no objection to it. “If we’ve learned anything we’ve learned that different lifestyles should not only be accepted but celebrated,” he told reporters today.

There could be an age divide on the issue among the public, he said. “I have met nobody under 40 who is not in favour,” he said.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin indicated the majority of Cabinet believed there should be a referendum on same-sex marriage.

Mr Howlin said the Constitutional Convention was very strong in its recommendation that there should be a referendum. This was “probably the opinion of the majority of Cabinet”.

A number of Fine Gael TDs have expressed the fear that a referendum next year so soon after the defeat of the proposal to abolish the Seanad could lead to another defeat for the Government.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Shatter said he suspects the general public are suffering from referendum fatigue.

“Having been in the Dáil for many years, I can’t recall so many referenda taking place within such a short space of time on so many very important issues. It may well be the case that 2014 is a referendum-free year and that if further referendums take place, possibly they should be in 2015.”

H/T: The Irish Times

When it comes to abortion, is Europe like Texas with fresher fruit and topless beaches? As pro-choicers battled the Lone Star State’s proposed ban on abortion after twenty weeks, conservative pundits shrugged: So what? Texas women will still have more abortion rights than women in many Western European nations. What are you complaining about, liberal feminists who wish you lived in France?

“Across most of Western Europe, abortion is legal during the first trimester but heavily restricted later in pregnancy—after the fourteenth week in France, Germany and Spain,” wrote Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. “These limits are not a violation of liberal principles but a recognition that the inherent violence of late-term abortion is at odds with liberal principles.”

In a New York Times column that was muddled even for him, Ross Douthat observed that despite abortion restrictions, women are doing well in the prosperous welfare states of Western Europe—even in anti-choice Ireland—so Texas liberals should fight poverty, not abortion bans, and make Governor Perry accept federal Medicaid funding. (Never mind that Douthat, so eager to direct the pro-choice troops, himself opposes any sort of legal abortion, the Affordable Care Act and the big social welfare programs of Europe.)

Actually, this argument has been around for a while: in a brief post on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade last year, David Frum touted “Germany’s abortion compromise”: legal for the first three months, subject to counseling and a three-day waiting period, and forbidden thereafter except for serious threats to the woman’s physical or psychological health. “The result: an abortion rate only one-third that of the United States,” Frum crowed.

Wouldn’t it be great if these mansplainers with their world-class bully pulpits knew what they were talking about? For example, given that even in the United States, where later abortions are legal (if expensive and tricky to find), 88 percent take place during the first trimester, how could Germany’s time limit be the reason its abortion rate is one-third that of ours? Could it be that the reason German women are less likely to have abortions is that they are less likely to have unwanted pregnancies? Germany has one of the world’s lowest birth rates, after all, despite a generous basket of benefits for families. Thirty percent of women have no children. That suggests some serious contracepting is going on.

Here’s what’s really different about Western Europe: in France, you can get an abortion at any public hospital and it’s paid for by the government. In Germany, you can get one at a hospital or a doctor’s office, and health plans will pay for it for low-income women. In Sweden, abortion is free through eighteen weeks. Moreover, unlike the time limits passed in Texas and some other states, or floating around in Congress, the European limits have exceptions, variously for physical or mental health, fetal anomaly or rape. Contrast that with what anti-choicers want for the United States, where Paul Ryan memorably described a health exception to a proposed late-term abortion ban as “a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it.” If a French or German or Swedish 12-year-old, or a traumatized rape victim, or a woman carrying a fetus with Tay-Sachs disease shows up after the deadline, I bet a way can often be found to quietly take care of them. If not, Britain or the Netherlands, where second trimester abortion is legal, are possibilities. (In 2011, more than 4,000 Irish women traveled to Britain for abortions.)

Here are some other differences: in Western Europe, teens get realistic sex education, not abstinence-only propaganda. Girls and women have much better access to birth control and emergency contraception, which are usually paid for by the government. In countries that require mandatory counseling, it is empathetic and nondirective: nothing like our burgeoning network of Christian “crisis pregnancy centers” and state laws requiring women to endure transvaginal ultrasounds, hear fetal heartbeats and look at sonograms. European doctors are not forced to read scripts that falsely warn women that abortion will give them breast cancer and drive them to suicide, and tell them that an embryo the size of a pea is “a unique living human being.” In countries that have waiting periods, distances are smaller, and just to repeat, abortion is widely available and integrated with the normal health system, not shunted off to clinics in a few
cities and college towns. You do not have to travel eight hours four times to get the counseling and fulfill the waiting period—or sleep in your car or the bus station till the time is up.

And just because you’ve read this far: there are no screaming fanatics thrusting gory photos at you as you make your way to your abortion. No one takes down your license plate in the parking lot and calls you—or your parents—later with hateful messages. Doctors who perform abortions do not wear bulletproof vests, nor are they ostracized by their communities and shunned by other doctors. The whole climate of fear that makes many doctors reluctant to perform abortions and makes some women postpone going to the clinic does not exist.

h/t: Katha Pollitt at The Nation

Ireland’s abortion policies are still fairly restrictive, but an important step in the right direction. 


Irish lawmakers back bill allowing abortion in health emergency

APIreland’s lawmakers voted 138-24 to back a bill legalizing abortions in life-threatening cases. The proposed law faces final passage next week. 

Prime Minister Enda Kenny easily prevailed as he sought all-party endorsement of his government’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Ireland, almost uniquely in Europe, officially bans abortion in all circumstances. But the Supreme Court in 1992 ruled that terminations should be legal if doctors deem one essential to safeguard the life of the woman — including from her own suicide threats.

Photo: This Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012 file photo shows abortion rights protesters holding pictures of Savita Halappanavar as they march through central Dublin, demanding that Ireland’s government ensures that abortions can be performed to save a woman’s life. (Shawn Pogatchnik / AP file)


Anti-choicers in Ireland are giving the prime minister hell because he’s supportive of liberalizing their incredibly harsh abortion ban. Enda Kenny reports, “I’m getting medals, scapulars, plastic fetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system, and it’s not confined to me.” Man, Catholicism does weird shit to people’s brains. It’s funny that they call themselves “pro-life”, when their tactics—obsessing over blood, fetishizing surgical pictures, sending scalpels in the mail—seems much, much closer to the habits of a serial killer.

Which, actually, under the circumstances is totally appropriate, because this deluge of mail has nothing to do with “life”—fetal or otherwise—but is straightforward advocacy of murdering pregnant women through medical neglect.

Spurred by the international outrage surrounding the death of Savita Halpannavar — an Indian woman who died after being denied an emergency abortion in an Irish Catholic hospital — Kenny approved legislation in April that would allow women to access abortion services if their life is in danger. On Wednesday, Ireland’s ministers signed off on a completed form of the legislation, and the parliament hopes to enact it before adjourning in July.

But, even though Ireland’s amended abortion law is still incredibly harsh — it doesn’t include any exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal fetal defects, and women’s health advocates caution that it’s only an incredibly small step toward greater reproductive rights — the deeply conservative nation has erupted into controversy.

Because letting women live is controversial. If the vessel cannot bring forth the child, the vessel—who has no value outside of being a baby machine—needs to be tossed onto the trash. That said vessel is a human being with feelings, thoughts, and people who love her is no matter, apparently. I bet even veternarians in Ireland are allowed to abort a pet’s pregnancy if it’s a danger to the animal. That’s where women rank in the minds of anti-abortion fanatics.


After the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, the 31-year-old woman who died after being denied an abortion in an Irish Catholic hospital, the fight for reproductive rights has taken on a new fervor in Ireland. Activists flooded the streets to declare that Savita’s death won’t be in vain, demanding a policy shift in the socially conservative country’s stringent abortion laws. And now, inspired by the momentum sparked by Savita’s case, pro-choice activists are risking up to 14 years in prison to spread the word about how Irish women can safely travel to Great Britain to obtain an abortion.

Under Ireland’s total abortion ban, women aren’t able to legally terminate a pregnancy unless their lives depend on it — but, as Savita’s case illustrates, doctors in the deeply Catholic country are often wary to provide abortion care even in cases of medical emergency. The rest of Europe allows for much greater reproductive freedom. On average, about 11 Irish women travel to Britain each day to terminate a pregnancy. Activists are risking jail time to disseminate information to those women, giving them more resources to help them access the care they need either abroad or online:

They are targeting cafes, pubs, clubs, gym changing rooms and public toilets with thousands of leaflets giving contact details for British abortion clinics as well as the price of terminations. The literature includes a website where Irish women can buy early abortion pills (effective up to nine weeks of pregnancy) online via

Organisers and supporters behind the campaign, which began after Savita Halappanavar’s death in Galway University Hospital last autumn, say they intend to intensify their leaflet blitz after the government approved a bill on Tuesday to allow for strictly limited abortions in Ireland.

Disseminating information on how to buy early abortion pills is illegal in the Republic and under the new legislation those helping to procure an illicit termination risk being jailed for up to 14 years.

The Abortion Support Network (ASN), a Irish charity that helps women access abortion services in Britain, applauded the guerrilla campaign. “The leaflet is a one-stop shop that tells women which local organisations can provide unbiased information about all their options, contact details for clinics in England and information on where to turn to for financial help or access to early medical abortion pills,” one of ASN’s founders, Mara Clarke, told the Guardian. “This information needs to be put into the hands of women and I hope the leaflets find their way into every women’s toilet, changing room and pub in Ireland.”

The proposed measure also doesn’t include any exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal fetal defects. A group of women who were forced to travel to Britain to obtain an abortion because their fetuses had fatal abnormalities, and therefore would have died shortly after birth, told the Guardian they have been “left out and let down” by the new legislative push.

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress Health



The Irish State has finally said sorry to 10,000 women and girls incarcerated in Catholic Church-run laundries where they were treated as virtual slaves.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was forced into issuing a fulsome apology on Tuesday evening to those held in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland.

The apology in the Dáil (Irish parliament) came about two weeks after a damning 1,000-plus page report was released detailing the way women and girls were maltreated inside the nun-controlled laundries.

Survivors groups were enfuriated when the Irish premier initially declined a fortnight ago to explicitly apologise for the state’s role in sending women and girls into the Magdalene Laundries, sometimes simply for coming from broken homes or being unmarried mothers.

In a powerful speech to a packed Dáil Eireann, Kenny made some amends for what many view as a major error of judgment on the day the report was released.

At the end of his address, Kenny appeared to break down briefly, choking back tears as he quoted a Magdalene woman’s song to him during a meeting recently.

The Taoiseach said what happened to the Magdalene women had “cast a long shadow over Irish life, over our sense of who we are”.

He said he “deeply regretted and apologised” for the hurt and trauma inflicted upon those sent to the Magdalene Laundries.

Apologising to the women and girls of the Magdalene Laundries, he told parliament that they deserved “the compassion and recognision for which they have fought for so long, deservedly so deeply.”

He said he hoped “it would help us make amends in the state’s role in the hurt of these extraordinary women.”

Kenny also announced a governnment-funded memorial to remember the 10,000 Magdalene women.

After more than seven decades of exploitation and a 10-year struggle for justice, Ireland on Tuesday admitted its role in the enslavement of thousands of women and girls in the notorious Magdalene Laundry system, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology from the government.

A long-awaited report headed by Senator (Seanadóir)  Martin McAleese said there was “significant state involvement” in how the laundries were run – a reversal of the official state line for years, which insisted the institutions were privately controlled and run by nuns.

But the Irish Premier (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny’s failure to give the women and their supporters a full, formal, public apology in the Dáil on Tuesday afternoon has infuriated the victims and their supporters, who said such an approach risked undermining Ireland’s attempt to right a historic wrong. Instead Kenny stated his “regret” about the stigma hanging over the women.

“The stigma that the branding together of all the residents, all 10,000, in the Magdalene Laundries, needs to be removed, and should have been removed long before this,” Kenny said. “And I really am sorry that that never happened, and I regret that it never happened.”

Claire McGetterick of the Justice For Magdalenes group said last night: “Frankly their country has failed them again”.

Labelled the “Maggies”, the women and girls were stripped of their names and dumped in Irish Catholic church-run laundries where nuns treated them as slaves, simply because they were unmarried mothers, orphans or regarded as somehow morally wayward.

Over 74 years, 30,000 women were put to work in de facto detention, mostly in laundries run by nuns. At least 988 of the women who were buried in laundry grounds are thought to have spent most of their lives inside the institutions.

Among the key findings were:

• Over a quarter of the women, at least 2,500, who were held in the Magdalene Laundries for whom records survived were sent in directly by the state.

• The state gave lucrative laundry contracts to these institutions, without complying with Fair Wage Clauses and in the absence of any compliance with Social Insurance obligations.

• The Gardaí pursued and returned girls and women who escaped from the Magdalene institutions.

The report concluded there was no physical or sexual abuse by nuns or others on their charges, some of whom were only girls as young as 12.

Stephen O’Riordain, who made a film about the victims of the laundry system and speaks for Magdalene Survivors Together, said ex-inmates were “completely surprised” by the Taoiseach’s stance in the Dáil. “I don’t think sorry is enough for these women who were seeking a fulsome, public apology. I feel he has let us down as a leader of the country.

Established in 1922, some Magdalene laundries operated as late as 1996. Half of the women incarcerated in these institutions, which washed clothes and linen from major hotel groups and even the Irish armed forces, were under the age of 23.

The Justice for the Magdalenes group said it was time for a compensation scheme to include “the provision of pensions, lost wages, health and housing services. Magdalene survivors have waited too long for justice and this should not be now burdened with a complicated legal process or closed-door policy of compensation.”

The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was prompted by a report from the UN Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.

Ireland’s government pledged Tuesday to pass a law soon that will allow women to receive abortions if continued pregnancy threatens their lives — including from their own threats to commit suicide if denied one.

The announcement comes after decades of inaction on abortion in Ireland, and just weeks after the predominantly Catholic country faced international criticism over the death of an Indian woman hospitalized in Ireland with an imminent miscarriage.

Health Minister James Reilly said parliamentary hearings on the issue would begin next month, lawmakers would receive a bill by Easter and they would be expected to vote on it by the summer. This would mark the first time that Irish lawmakers have ever voted on abortion, arguably the most divisive issue in a country whose constitution bans the practice.

The government of Prime Minister Enda Kenny promised a swift response after the Oct. 28 death of 31-year-old dentist Savita Halappanavar. Authorities did not make public the woman’s death at the time, but her widower accused doctors at University Hospital Galway of refusing to terminate the pregnancy because the doomed 17-week-old fetus still had a heartbeat.

Halappanavar spent three days in increasing pain and illness before the fetus died and its remains were surgically removed. She then died from blood poisoning and organ failure three days after that. Her husband has refused to cooperate with two official Irish investigations into her death and instead is planning to sue Ireland in the European Court of Human Rights.

For two decades, successive Irish governments have resisted passing any law in support of a 1992 Supreme Court judgment that abortion should be legalized in Ireland in exceptional cases where pregnancy endangers a woman’s life. Ireland’s highest court ruled that a 14-year-old girl who had been raped by a neighbor should be provided an abortion because she was making credible threats to kill herself if denied one.

In 1992 and 2002, governments asked voters to approve constitutional amendments that would permit abortions only in medically essential circumstances, and exclude suicide threats as valid grounds. Voters rejected the proposals on both occasions.

Catholic conservatives oppose the court’s suicide-threat justification, arguing it could be used to expand access to abortion beyond relatively rare cases where a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life.

DUBLIN (AP) — About 10,000 people marched through Dublin and observed a minute’s silence Saturday in memory of the Indian dentist who died of blood poisoning in an Irish hospital after being denied an abortion.

Marchers, many of them mothers and daughters walking side by side, chanted “Never again!” and held pictures of Savita Halappanavar as they paraded across the city to stage a nighttime candlelit vigil outside the office of Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

The 31-year-old, who was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child, died Oct. 28 one week after being hospitalized with severe pain at the start of a miscarriage. Her death, made public by her husband this week, has highlighted Ireland's long struggle to come to grips with abortion.

Doctors refused her requests to remove the fetus until its heartbeat stopped four days after her hospitalization. Hours later she became critically ill and her organs began to fail. She died three days later from blood poisoning. Her widower and activists say she could have survived, and the spread of infection been stopped, had the fetus been removed sooner.

The case illustrates a 20-year-old confusion in abortion law in Ireland, where the practice is outlawed in the constitution. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling decreed that abortions should be legal to save the life of the woman, including if she makes credible threats to commit suicide if denied one. But successive governments have refused to pass legislation spelling out the rules governing that general principle, leaving the decision up to individual doctors in an environment of secrecy.

The Irish government’s inaction on abortion means that the only law on the books dates to British rule in 1861, declaring that the “procurement of a miscarriage” amounts to murder and could be punishable by up to life in prison.

Irish voters in 1992 passed constitutional amendments legalizing the right of Irish women to receive information on abortion services in neighboring England, where the practice has been legal since 1967, and to travel there without fear of facing prosecution. British health authorities estimate that 4,000 to 5,000 Irish residents travel annually to England for abortions.

h/t: Yahoo! News

Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian woman living in Ireland, went to the hospital when she first began to miscarry — but thanks to Ireland’s stringent abortion ban, medical professionals denied her repeated requests to quickly terminate the pregnancy because they could still detect a fetal heartbeat. The Irish hospital required her to extend her miscarriage over three days until the fetus’ heartbeat officially stopped, and by that time, Halappanavar had developed serious blood poisoning. She passed away just a few days later.

Halappanavar’s death helps highlight the tragic effect of Ireland’s stringent abortion ban, but the impact of that type of restrictive legislation isn’t just limited to that country. In fact, lawmakers in Ohio are quietly pushing extreme anti-abortion legislation that would subject the women in that state to a situation incredibly similar to the one in Ireland.

During this year’s lame duck session, Ohio legislators are planning to revive HB 125, a so-called “heartbeat” bill that would ban abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which can first occur as early as five or six weeks, before many women may even know they’re pregnant. The proposed legislation represents the most restrictive abortion ban in the United States. If HB 125 is passed, it would criminalize all abortions after the emergence of a fetal heartbeat without allowing even the narrowest exceptions in potential cases of rape, incest, or the mental health of the woman.

A 1992 Supreme Court ruling in Ireland amended the country’s abortion ban to include an exception in cases where the woman’s life is in danger, but Irish hospitals don’t always know how far that medical exception can stretch. They are often reluctant to provide women with abortion services unless the situation is very clearly life-threatening — and for women like Halappanavar, that can already be too late.

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress Health

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A Tea Partier decided to pick a fight with a foreign president. It didn’t go so well.

Michael D. Higgins (who was elected president of Ireland last year) is fed up with over-the-top Tea Party rhetoric, and he isn’t afraid to show it. Listen to him call out radio host Michael Graham on everything from health care to foreign policy, and thoroughly and factually shut him down. And then call him a “wanker.” Do we really need to say more?

Update: Check out what the Irish Times has to say about our write-up of this impressive smackdown (which is currently going CRAZY viral), complete with full audio of the debate.