It’s been an extraordinary election in many ways, but one thing is very clear from the result: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil did not reap any of the rewards they thought would accrue from the electorate for supporting the repeal of the 8th and introducing one of the most liberal abortion regimes in Europe.
In fact, the opposite seems to have happened. Many of the most strident voices for repealing the 8th have lost their seats in Election 2020. In contrast, all fifteen of the TDs who voted against the abortion bill in 2018 retained their seats. All fifteen of them. Every single one.
That’s pretty remarkable given that the pro-life TDs were bullied, vilified and harangued in the media, online and in the Dáil, before, during and after the referendum and the subsequent vote on the bill.
Many of them defied the predictions of pundits and pollsters who forecast their seats would be in trouble. Some had to deal with constituencies that had been redrawn, or their previous party pouring huge resources into the area to try and oust the pro-life candidate. Almost all of them faced continued, targeted abuse on social media from abortion campaigners who, despite having won the referendum, wanted to punish anyone who stood up for their principles or refused to compromise their beliefs. It is clear that this vindictive mindset was not shared by the electorate. For many voters, abortion is not really an issue to the forefront of their mind at election time when concerns such as health and housing are paramount, but its also clear that opposing abortion as a matter of conscience doesn’t seem to lose candidates votes.
The principled stance of Mary Butler, Seán Canney, Michael Collins, Michael Fitzmaurice, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Danny Healy- Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Lowry, Marc Mac Sharry, Mattie McGrath, John McGuinness, Carol Nolan, Eamon O’Cuiv, and Peadar Tóibín, who put real compassion before political expediency, won them the admiration of pro-life voters everywhere.
Repeal supporters didn’t seem to hold many of its most strident advocates in quite the same regard. Kate O’Connell of Fine Gael was a shrill supporter of Repeal, who made repeated personalised attacks on pro-life TDs and commentators. A media darling, she continued to attack pro-life counselling agencies after abortion had been legalised. She lost her seat in liberal Dublin Bay South.
Lisa Chambers was considered to represent the new, liberal face of Fianna Fáil, and described abortion regret as a “makey-uppy thing” in the Dáil. She lost her seat in Mayo. Another leading liberal light in Fianna Fáil, Timmy Dooley lost out in Clare. Dooley supported repeal of the 8th and voted against giving pain relief to babies in late term abortion.
Ruth Coppinger, of the Socialist Party, is a radical abortion campaigner who also strongly opposed peaceful pro-life vigils at abortion centres. Coppinger led an “abortion pill bus” around the country in 2015 and 2017, despite warnings from senior obstetricians that it could endanger women’s lives. She won’t be returning to Leinster House after the election.
Minister for Social Protection, Regina Doherty, abandoned her previous pro-life stance to become a leading government campaigner for repeal, describing the pro-life position as ‘ignorant’. The Meath East TD was out on the sixth count.
Repealing the 8th and legalising abortion was a chief priority for Minister for (Some) Children, Katherine Zappone. She argued that abortion on-demand, without limit, should be legal. She lost her seat in Dublin South-West.
Catherine Noone became a figurehead for Fine Gael’s Repeal campaign when she chaired the Oireachtas Committee on abortion, and famously claimed she couldn’t find a pro-life doctor to give evidence. Noone polled just of 2% first preferences in the election.
Her Dublin North West colleague Noel Rock also lost his seat. Rock was one of many Fine Gael TDs who supported abortion and were part of the media pile-on which savaged pro-life students for attending a conservative conference in the US. In Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael’s Mary Mitchell O’Connor (‘pro-choice’ and pro-repeal’) failed to hold her seat, which went to pro-life TD, Cormac Devlin of Fianna Fáil.
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy in Laois/Offaly was considered a strident supporter of repeal in the party. She lost her seat to Carol Nolan, the strongly pro-life TD.
It was a terrible election for Labour, who’ve achieved one of their worst votes since the party’s foundation. Joan Burton and Jan O’Sullivan, both strong supporters and campaigners for Repeal, are no longer TDs for the party.
Fine Gael who led the campaign to repeal the 8th and introduced abortion legislation have seen their vote fall to 20%. Neither has Fianna Fáil’s incredible journey to wokeness been rewarded with extra votes: instead their mediocre performance sees them being forced into considering going into government with Sinn Féin.
Despite the referendum result, there seems to be no bounty accruing from voters for repealing the 8th and supporting abortion. It may indicate that a great many Yes voters in the referendum are not as supportive of the current regime as politicians like to imagine.