'We knew that to bring about that change we needed to have a mass movement.'


Abortion and the referendum in Ireland

Niall Behan, Chief Executive, IFPA


The Irish Family Planning Association has a long track record of opposing restrictions on abortion in Ireland. It felt risky when we first started calling ourselves a pro-choice organization in a country where abortion was criminalized. But our view is good reproductive health services and rights for women must include abortion care. It’s a human rights approach.

We knew the harmful impact the law had on women. We looked at what the best medical practice is. We had our own analysis and evidence based on what women told us in counselling. And then we applied that analysis to the abortion situation, and we felt that we had to go on the offensive and push back because we felt if we didn’t do it no one else would. We knew that to bring about that change we needed to have a mass movement. We needed to get a whole range of other civil society organizations involved, but that proved very difficult to do.

We looked at the instruments we could use to push the argument forward - Human Rights Institutions such as the UN and European Court of Human Rights. We started making submissions to them. We were very conscious that women's voices were important, so we made them central to our litigation. Abortion was stigmatized and only a handful of women had ever spoken about their abortion experiences in Ireland. And there were very strong well-funded anti-choice groups who picketed clinics, targeted people or politicians who spoke out. They had a very strong voice within the mainstream media. As an organization we had a reputation as the voice of reason and that formed our communications strategy. We needed to start talking about the harms that Ireland’s abortion laws were having on women.