My Turn: Abortion, Ireland, and a citizens’ assembly

  • The U.S. Supreme Court is seen early Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington. A draft opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, according to a Politico report. Whatever the outcome, the Politico report represents an extremely rare breach of the court’s secretive deliberation process, and on a case of surpassing importance. AP PHOTO/JOSE LUIS MAGANA

Published: 5/12/2022 11:10:57 AM

I never liked Roe v. Wade. It never seemed right to me that nine, politically appointed, individuals should decide the law of the land on a topic like abortion.  That should have been Congress’ job, to meet and deliberate, weigh all sides of the issue, and come up with good law that reflects the will of the people, the people they represent.

But no, that’s not what politicians do.  Instead they try to make an issue like abortion divisive.  They want us to be in pro-life or pro-choice camps, and get mad at each other.

Those very labels completely cloud the issue.  We have a word, “fetus,” which we use because there is nothing else like it.  The pro-life people want us to think a fetus is just the same as a newborn infant, who we all agree has a right to live.  The pro-choice people want us to think the fetus is just like a blemish every woman has a right to remove from her body with elective surgery.

But the truth is, it’s not an either-or situation.  I don’t think even the most adamant pro-choice person thinks an eight month pregnancy should be aborted.  Nor are there many pro-lifers, except the hard core, who think a morning after pill is a bad idea.

Instead, it’s a question of where you draw the line.  Even the Texas law says abortion is OK in the first six weeks, and Roe v. Wade said states could ban abortion in the third trimester. Most of the people in the country kind of agree abortion should be legal in some situations and not in others.

As I said, Congress doesn’t deliberate on issues like this.  But there is a better way, and it was done in Ireland, and it worked.

Like here, abortion was a volatile issue in Ireland, with demonstrators and politicians doing the sorts of things they do here.  As an alternative to that, a Citizens’ Assembly (CA) was convened to study the abortion issue and make recommendations on what abortion law should be in Ireland.  The CA was made up of around 100 people drawn from all walks of life who got together to listen and discuss the different sides of the issue, and make a recommendation on what the law of the land should be.

All well and good in theory you might say, but can it work for real?  Yes it did.  People with wildly differing initial opinions, came together on a middle ground recommendation.  How did it become law you might ask?  Well the Irish legislature decided to put the CA’s recommendations up to a national referendum, and the people voted, and it easily passed, and those recommendations, from a demographically diverse group of citizens, without a financial or political stake, became law.  Law that, according to various surveys, closely matches public opinion.

In a way, this was quite freeing for the politicians, no longer having to worry about taking a stand one way or the other, of offending some voters at the expense of others, no longer having to frame such a complex issue with sound bites for their base.

I highly recommend Googling “When Citizens Assemble” on YouTube to learn about that particular CA (  The video was shot before the final ending resolution became law.  And to further research,, and to learn more about how CAs are being used today for other issues around the globe.  This is actually happening, it can be done.  It’s not pie in the sky.

Instead of people gathering and protesting with pro-life and pro-choice signs, I’d love to see them gather to demand a Citizens’ Assembly be convened to write the law of the land, and not nine, politically appointed, individuals.

Dennis Merritt lives in Shelburne Falls. More of his thoughts and interests can be found at


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