The Irish Abortion Referendum, 2018

Abortion is legal in Ireland where the life of the mother is at risk, including cases of suicide. Around 26 are carried out each year, according to official figures. Since 1967, it has been legal in Great Britain (which doesn’t include Northern Ireland) where there is a risk to life or the physical and mental health of the woman or where the child will have a severe mental or physical handicap. There were 185,596 abortions in England and Wales in 2016, 97% of which were on mental health grounds. Of these, 99.8% were classified as “mental disorder, not otherwise specified”. It is a common misconception that abortion is freely available in Britain up to a 24-week limit. Legally this is not the case, but in practice the thin end of the wedge has made abortion on demand a reality.

On the 25th of May, the people of Ireland will vote on the removal of the constitutional protection of the unborn. There has been a lot of discussion about what legislation will be enacted if it is removed. This noise is, however, a distraction from the fact that a yes vote means that the unborn should have no rights at all under the constitution. At any time in the future, legislation can be introduced to make abortion freely available up to birth. While this is certainly unlikely at present, the fact that government ministers have been arguing over what they’ll do when they can do what they like underlines the importance of the constitution as a democratic safeguard of our fundamental rights. Contrary to what Irish politicians often say, our rights do very much belong in the constitution and deserve to be something that parliament cannot take away. It has been proposed by myself and others that the best solution here would be to amend the constitution to cover difficult cases like where a developing baby has a condition that means they cannot survive outside the womb. This is something that would comfortably pass. By rejecting this idea and putting the referendum at risk, the government has demonstrated that it isn’t too bothered about people in this very rare situation. It is using this and other arguments as leverage to have abortion on demand introduced.

EDIT: Here’s a link to an outline of the currently-proposed legislation. It is important to distinguish between this and a vote on a constitutional matter. The referendum is to completely remove the right to life of the unborn from the constitution. This will allow the introduction of the proposed bill but also remove constitutional restrictions on what laws they can pass in the future.

What’s wrong with abortion on demand? We live in a world that’s increasingly allergic to the idea of right and wrong. They’re all just constructs, surely? It is even seen as progress to throw out all of the old ways without really considering the implications. Even if right and wrong are mere constructs it doesn’t mean that their foundations are unsound. Respect for human life is a key part of an unspoken contract that holds our societies together. Nobody reading this is in constant fear of that their community will be pillaged and razed to the ground by rival tribes. In order for this to be possible there needs to be widespread subscription to the idea that if you respect the lives and property of others, they will reciprocate. If they do not then society will attempt to stop the offenders from doing what is “wrong”. This is where the idea that it is wrong to take human life comes from. It makes perfect sense and is a cornerstone of a caring society.

For the citizens of a caring society to commit widespread atrocities against the most fundamental of their values it has been necessary to dehumanise the targets of the killing. This has happened quite widely throughout history, especially in the 20th century. Something that helps facilitate this is groupthink. Forgetting the extreme example of Orwell’s totalitarian-left regime in Nineteen Eighty-Four, pressure to conform comes from many sources and can be for the most mundane and unimportant things. One coping mechanism that people can develop to live in an environment where their everyday existence is at odds with the values they hold dear, is doublethink. This is the ability to believe two contrary things at once, especially due to political indoctrination.

Those who support abortion on demand often say that the baby is only a clump of cells and is not really human. Terminology becomes very important here in controlling the conversation. There’s talk about viability and much argument about what the developing child can and can’t do at varying stages of development. The question of where life truly begins is raised, but little effort goes into finding the solution (which isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s simple biology…). All of these questions can be simply answered by waiting several months. A baby is not like a plant – something to be classified as a weed when unwanted. To take a human life is a serious thing and should only be considered in grave circumstances. A simple amendment can deal with the only one not compatible with Ireland’s current constitution (the current constitutional protection is from implantation so emergency contraceptives are available).

As somebody who doesn’t believe in a god I find it bizarre that to be against abortion is often made out to be something only the religious are concerned with. Since I think it’s extremely unlikely that there’s an afterlife it’s important to treasure the only one we may have. To end the life of another with no goal to save lives is a truly terrible thing to do. Life is something that struggles to continue to exist. Regardless of how limited it is, it treasures its own existence and should have the right to choose what to do with itself. Each life deserves the chance to live, no matter its starting circumstances.

It isn’t that bizarre that those who do not support abortion are often attacked as religious. This goes back to political indoctrination. By dint of being legal in many jurisdictions, abortion has become normalised and accepted. In the UK, support for abortion comes from across the political spectrum and those who oppose it are hunted out by the media. My point here isn’t that it’s unimportant to know the views of those you’re voting for, more that this normalisation is the main reason abortion has such support. It can’t be reasoned for from first principles as being supported by the values that bind society together. The Yes campaign argues that abortion on demand should be legalised because it’s happening already (outside Ireland) and that voters should “trust women” not to misuse the removal of legal restrictions. These are contradictory arguments. It is indeed happening already, but outside the country. We can only decide our own laws and they should be based on what’s right and wrong, not whether something is already happening or cannot be stopped. I would suggest that if there had never been a murder in the history of humanity, it would not be illegal. A law forbidding it would more likely be introduced if it became a problem. That law will never completely succeed, but that’s no reason to remove it.

Other slogans common on posters are to “show compassion” (note the imperative). There’s a balance of rights in question here. The mother’s life trumps everything, of course. Where there is no risk to the life of the mother (which will be the case in the majority of cases if there’s a yes vote), allowing abortion would be deeply uncompassionate and thoughtless. Instead of trying to balance the rights that come into conflict and act proportionately, we simply say that those who are not yet born don’t deserve any rights. Lucky us to have already been born. Perhaps many people campaigning for a yes vote would not be here today if abortion had been freely available… unless their parents held (the pro-life) views they despise.

A good example of both doublethink and political indoctrination is Amnesty International. According to its website, the organisation is against the death penalty in all circumstances, unless you haven’t been born yet. They insist that abortion is an important human right, explaining that:
“In order to comply with international human rights law, governments must provide access to abortion not just in theory but in practice.”
This doesn’t explain why it’s right in a logical way – it merely says that it is right because “it is written”. It’s essentially a commandment without a foundation in reason. In the eyes of Amnesty the likes of Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing fascist who killed 77 people in Norway (who was caught red-handed and is unrepentant) has an absolute right to life, but the most innocent and vulnerable form of human life deserves no protection. Amnesty International is a heavily politicised organisation. Its Irish branch is in breach of a Standards in Public Office order over an illegal foreign donation. Its chief executive has refused to repay the money, stating:
“We’re being asked to comply with a law that violates human rights, and we can’t do that.”
Human rights are very much written by human beings and should not be considered absolute, unquestionable truths. Otherwise the self-appointed commandment-givers can do whatever they like.

One of the problems with Irish society at the moment is the media. Reporting of the news cannot be completely without bias but when they all support one agenda, it’s very easy to create an artificial perception of popularity for a movement. The Rupert Murdoch-controlled The Times Ireland is backing abortion has been attacked by the native media, but at least it has nailed its colours to the mast. The home-grown media are flying a false flag when they claim to be impartial, and this is particularly true of The Irish Times. Comically described by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary as “Pravda” (a Russian communist newspaper that was a state propaganda organ), The Irish Times’ spread of its ideology goes beyond its opinion writers use of Orwellian language like “anti-choice” to describe those who don’t support abortion on demand. When it comes to plain news reporting, pro-life groups are described as “anti-abortion” rather than their chosen moniker. In fact, the paper often only uses the term “pro-life” when quoting someone or when referring to the group called the Pro-Life Campaign. See for yourself. The paper’s Social Affairs Correspondent Kitty Holland, who herself has had two abortions, has been questioned on national radio about inconsistencies in how she broke a story which implied that a woman died because she was refused an abortion in an Irish hospital. The main charge was that she had potentially misled people into believing that the eight amendment was responsible. In spite of the fact that the report into the incident finding that the problem was a failure to assess and monitor the patient and to diagnose and treat sepsis and that the eight amendment was not responsible, the paper still continues to misreport and state that the amendment to protect the unborn was to blame. This is deliberate misreporting. When a paper like this is still regarded as the newspaper of record by some, democracy itself is under threat.

It is being claimed by the Irish Times and other supporters of abortion that its introduction would somehow change the outcome in cases like that of Savita Halappanavar. This is simply untrue. Firstly, she was 17 weeks pregnant so an elective abortion would not be permitted under the new legislation. More crucially, the hospital staff absolutely needed to diagnose treat the sepsis quickly. If this required an abortion then this outcome is already fully compatible with the constitution. It is untrue to say that the outcomes for maternal sepsis will be improved by introducing abortion. 44,000 of the 250,000 people who contract sepsis in the UK each year die from it and 60,000 are left with life-changing effects. Looking specifically at maternal sepsis, the mortality rate there has increased by a factor of 2.83 between the 1980s and 2006 – 2008. The majority of deaths were caused by substandard care, usually meaning it was diagnosed too late. In Ireland, the maternal death rate from sepsis has been reported as typically zero. To be clear, this disparity doesn’t seem to be due to the availability of abortion as the official statistics for England and Wales typically report either no or one death each year from as a result. That said, such an invasive procedure doesn’t come without risks, so claims that widespread availability of abortion is necessary to maintain the health of healthy women are nonsense. Elective operations of any kind that are this invasive increase the risk to your health. It’s extremely rare that it results in death, but that does happen.

ADDED: One particularly odd argument from the Yes campaign is to bring up how women who became pregnant outside marriage were treated in the past. One recently-discovered example of this is the Tuam mother and baby home. It was the case in the pass that families sent their daughters to these places. Conditions in this particular case must have been very poor and infant mortality, high. Just as I’m asking that you think about the current referendum and make up your mind independent of the current pressures of society, the families who sent their daughters to these homes should have stood up to the pressures back then and supported them. This would have been very difficult, of course, as the family would very possibly have been ostracised, much like opponents of abortion on demand currently are. It is a strange world we live in where people think that the modern rights-based approach to this situation would be to deliberately kill the babies via abortion. This includes our minister for children, Catherine Zappone.

Repealing the right to life of the unborn from the constitution would be to say that they deserve no rights at all. Since an amendment would provide for the only hard case where no options are currently available (like a baby with no brain), why isn’t this what we’re voting on? It’s because this is primarily a referendum for the introduction of abortion on demand. Anything can follow in the future as parliament will not be restricted by the constitution on what it can legislate for. Even though politicians and journalists aren’t typically the most trusted of people, they seem to be successfully leading the charge on this matter. Our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar is on record as saying that he doesn’t believe the unborn should have no rights but that is exactly what he is proposing now. Why has a man who had declared himself pro-life made such a drastic volte-face? Politicians are fond of popularity and Irish politicians are very sensitive to international criticism. This has come over the years from several external sources including the EU, the UN and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. The fact that democracy is directly responsible for our more balanced approach to abortion doesn’t matter to these critics. It seems odd to me that we’re even being asked to vote for abortion on demand as grassroots support seems limited to an extreme fringe. Abortion is legal up to birth in Canada and Trudeau has ensured that those who disagree with it cannot receive summer job grants. Even if it takes ten or twenty years for the proposed limit of 12 weeks to be doubled and fifty to a hundred for abortion to be allowed up to birth, this is something a Yes voter completely supports by not considering the consequences.

Abortion is a purely moral issue and the only expert you need to consult to know how to vote is yourself. Please reflect deeply on this and vote with your conscience. I very much hope you will agree with me and vote no. Even if you have no problem with the moral inconsistencies of groups like Amnesty International and support abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, it still makes sense to retain some limitation on parliamentary power in the constitution. A no vote is the only way to guarantee this.

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6 thoughts on “The Irish Abortion Referendum, 2018

    • Hi. Thank you for your comment. The current proposed legislation is for no limitation up to 12 weeks. The vote is not on the legislation, however, it’s on the constitutional position. The constitution is what is currently restricting parliament from enacting any legislation it pleases. Effectively, the current legislation would likely have been enacted and passed (or something up to 24 weeks like in the UK) if there was no constitutional protection. This is why I encourage anyone who does not support abortion up to birth to insist on an amendment to the constitution so that parliament is restricted in what it can do in the future. Here’s a link to an outline of the currently-proposed legislation:
      https://www.rte.ie/news/2018/0327/950308-draft_abortion_bill

      The life of the mother is already assured by the current constitution but cases where babies cannot survive after birth are not. That is why I support a constitutional amendment to provide for this situation. By deciding to remove the constitutional protection on the unborn completely rather than amend it, the government is endangering providing for this very rare case.

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    • I missed one of your questions from earlier. In the UK it’s up to 24 weeks. I was very surprised that they don’t technically have unrestricted abortion and that most of those done over there are done under the mental health category (but without stating any actual condition). Questions of just how sentient a baby is at any given stage of development are quite possibly ones that will never be answered definitively. I think people often settle on whichever suits their views! The baby would be considered a baby if it was wanted, though. That’s good enough for me.

      I’d encourage you to have a good look around yourself for information from various sources. It’s definitely exhausting as it often involves people insulting each other. Could be good to read the wording of the amendment as well. Here’s a link:
      http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1983/ca/8/enacted/en/print

      They could possibly add in a line to state exceptions like babies that will die at birth. That’s what I’d like to see but a multiple choice referendum with the two favourite new wordings going forward to a second vote would be the best way of finding out what the voters really want. They did this in New Zealand to see if people wanted to pick a new flag, which seems much less important an issue than this.

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