Leo Vs. Simon: When it comes to abortion rights does it really matter?

By Christina O'Sullivan

The next leader of Fine Gael will be announced on Friday, with Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar fighting it out to become Ireland's new Taoiseach. 

Abortion rights have been a hot topic during the leadership campaign, but where do both men stand on the issue?


In the run up to the 2016 general election, Coveney said politicians should not be asked their views on abortion because it's “personal and difficult” for people. 

"I think to break it down into a single blunt question of are you in favour or aren’t you of repealing the eighth, I don’t think gives this discussion and debate the kind of sensitivity it needs," he told RTE.

Fast forward 18 months and his stance hasn't much changed. 

He believes the recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly went too far and made him feel "uncomfortable". He also said he would not support any change to the constitution that would “effectively facilitate abortion on demand”.

Coveney has, however, admitted this issue should be put to the people. He wants to hold a "referendum day" in 2018, which will see a vote on the Eighth Amendment, alongside a question on voting rights for the Irish abroad. 


Varadkar has said the Eighth Amendment is too restrictive - and believes abortion should be an option in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and when a women's life is at risk.  

But despite being repeatedly questioned on the wide ranging recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly, he has refused to comment on the specifics.

Speaking at a Fine Gael hustings last week, Varadkar said he approached the issue of abortion as a "politician, a doctor, a brother and an uncle" - and was against "abortion on request". 

This will be unsurprising to those, who have long been aware of Varadkar's anti-abortion stance. 

In 2010, when asked about the thousands of women a year who travel from Ireland to Britain for terminations, he said: “People travel overseas to do things that aren’t legal in Ireland all the time. 

"You know, are we going to stop people going to Las Vegas? Are we going to stop people going to Amsterdam?"

That was seven years ago. Of course we don't know if Varadkar still holds these views. Nonetheless, likening a woman's journey for an abortion - to a stag party, is never OK. 


Varadkar is tipped for Taoiseach - but neither option really fill us with hope. Both have said there will be a referendum in 2018, but it seems likely that will only push for minimal change. 

It's obvious the Citizens' Assembly was used by Fine Gael as a stalling tactic. They claimed it was important to thoroughly examine this issue. But when the results didn't go their way - both candidates recoiled.

The women of Ireland, of course, deserve better than this. Neither men will be our advocates or allies. 

But I take solace in the fact that most societal changes do not come from politicians. They come from the people.

Leo Varadkar was right when he said the abortion issue was "not going to go away".

The middle-aged men of Irish politics don't inspire us, but the strength and creativity of the pro-choice movement does. 

Whoever is leading the country next week - better be ready.