What do you do when you have a political culture built almost entirely on not offending anybody and it comes up against a political question that can’t be fudged? The latest source of national angst on abortion, a brain dead woman being kept alive to support her foetus whilst judges decided whether the foetus was viable or not, defined the issue curiously clearly. On the one hand we had people (and possibly our constitution) who saw a foetus as an unborn legal entity with rights. On the other a group of people who see a woman’s body as inviolate, even if she is legally brain dead.
The reality is that there is no middle way with this issue. One side is always going to be pissed off, and we have to accept that. The best we can get is the country at least making a decision which we can all accept as the legitimate democratic will of most of the people who bother to vote.
Although it has never been done, it’s arguable that article 47 of the constitution permits the Dail to put a number of different options on the same ballot. There’s nothing to stop the Dail putting both the retention of the current pro-life article (effectively the status quo) and repeal of that article on the ballot, along with maybe three more options chosen by a free vote of the Dail, and then let the people decide.
There are problems with this approach, of course. It would be a very complicated referendum. Nor would our TDs fancy having to pick out which two or three other options should be on the ballot. It’s hard to have sympathy with them on that issue, by the way. Nobody forced them to run for the Dail.
But bear in mind that almost half the electorate, if turnout in the last referendum is indicative, don’t actually have that much of an interest in the subject one way or the other. The people who actually vote on the issue are the people who are most likely to read up on the different options anyway.
It’ll be nasty and divisive, but then, that’s what democracy is for. But most importantly, we’ll finally have a situation where pretty much every option will have been put before every citizen who cares, which will be a change, as we have never been asked do we want to make abortion available in this jurisdiction. Most importantly, we’ll get a decision, and that’s really the best we can hope for.