What’s At Stake In The Fight Over Ireland’s Pro-Life Eighth Amendment

What’s At Stake In The Fight Over Ireland’s Pro-Life Eighth Amendment

As Ireland nears a summer referendum on whether to change a constitutional provision ensuring unborn children’s right to life, public demonstrations have broken out.
Holly Scheer
By

As Ireland nears a summer referendum on whether to change a constitutional provision ensuring unborn children’s right to life, public demonstrations have broken out. Earlier this month, thousands of Irish marched in Dublin to support keeping the country’s pro-life laws, just days after thousands more marched against them.

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The historically Catholic nation’s Eighth Amendment has long kept the nation one of the world’s few to outlaw abortion except when the mother’s life is at stake. It currently reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” This amendment allows for abortion under “extraordinary” circumstances, and passed with 67 percent approval in 1983.

Yet on March 7 Ireland’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the unborn in Ireland have no rights under the constitution other than the right to be born, and that legal references to the “unborn” do not include unborn babies. The next day, the Irish Cabinet announced they had finalized wording for an Eighth Amendment replacement if a recent referendum to repeal the amendment passes. The proposed new language reads: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”

In a recent poll, the Irish people were divided about the potential changes to the amendment. Forty-three percent of voters said they support allowing abortion with no restrictions, a similar regime to the United States’ law that is almost equally rare across the world. Only seven countries allow abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, which is approximately when unborn babies can live outside the womb with appropriate medical care: Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

In the poll, 35 percent of Irish voters said they opposed unrestricted abortion. When voters were asked about abortion after 12 weeks for cases of potential abnormalities in the unborn baby, 60 percent were in favor, with 19 percent opposed and another 22 percent unsure.

Ireland’s longstanding pro-life culture should be unsurprising. The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, with nearly 89 percent of Irish people considering themselves Catholic. The Catholic Church has firmly opposed abortion for centuries, as reaffirmed in the pope’s “Humanae Vitae” encyclical in 1968.

This document says: “Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.”

Repealing the Eighth Amendment would represent a fundamental shift in the way Irish people treat pregnant women and health care. Recognizing the worth and rights of unborn babies alongside those of the mother is a just and moral way to handle complicated issues of life and death.

Pro-life advocates, includes those in America, are speaking up in support of their counterparts in Ireland. An open letter signed by the “Friends of Ireland,” which includes dozens of faith community leaders, pro-life medical doctors, and Irish expats, reminds the Irish people:

It would be a grave injustice, a grievous betrayal, and an existential tragedy if Ireland were to repudiate the Faith and legacy of Saint Patrick and embrace, instead, the ethics and practices of alien societies who have, through acts of violence, victimized the weak and the helpless, including, in past generations, the unoffending people of Ireland.
We would remind the people of Ireland, and her political leaders, that the best and most meaningful way to celebrate our patron saint is to preserve his patrimony, in both the Faith for which he evangelized an entire nation, and in his enduring solicitude for the lives of all of his flock who were endangered.
We urge the people of the Republic of Ireland to uphold the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution and to continue to protect innocent human life.

Moderate pro-choice people are being pressured with the argument it’s not enough to move the ban to 12 weeks instead of a full ban, and that the only acceptable legal solution is a full repeal. Seven out of ten Irish general practitioners oppose the idea of changing the abortion laws and having to start performing abortions like doctors in nearby Britain.

Other Irish groups strongly in favor of protecting the Eighth Amendment—and the lives of unborn babies—are religious and disability groups worried that a change in the laws will mean targeting disabled babies for abortion. These campaigns are trending on social media under the hashtags #Savethe8thinfo, with constant updates as news is released.

Ireland is at an important crossroads in how they will protect mothers and babies. Will they keep their long heritage of being proudly pro-life, or will they repudiate their faith and history? Voters have a decision before them that will have lasting effects in Ireland and beyond. The world is watching.

Holly Scheer is a writer and editor. She’s fascinated by politics, culture and theology. Follow her on Twitter @HScheer1580.

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