LEICESTER, United Kingdom – As Ireland’s May 25 referendum on abortion approaches, several bishops issued statements over the weekend urging the Irish people to vote “No” on the proposal.
Ireland currently has some of the most robust pro-life laws in the European Union, although most European abortion laws are more restrictive than those in the United States.
Current polls show the majority of the Irish electorate will vote to repeal the country’s 8th amendment, which was passed in 1983, and guarantees the right to life of the unborn.
However, the latest poll has shown growing support for keeping the amendment, giving hope to pro-life campaigners as they enter the final weeks before the referendum.
“In the coming weeks I invite you to pray earnestly that the people of Ireland will ‘choose life’ and that the lives of all women and their unborn children will always be loved, valued, welcomed and respected in this country,” said Bishop Alan McGuckian of Raphoe in a pastoral letter distributed the weekend of Apr. 14-15.
“When we change or delete a law we run the risk of blinding ourselves over time to the truth behind it even though all the evidence we need is before our eyes. In our day we see more clearly than ever before how everything begins at conception,” the bishop said.
“At every point, from conception on, the baby has within him or herself the full potential to be whatever destiny might allow. All he or she needs is time and nurturing.”
McGuckian said it was a “great irony” that Ireland is debating taking away the rights of the unborn when the scientific evidence of the personhood of the child in the womb “was never clearer than it is now.”
“Knowledge about the mysterious workings of DNA and the stunningly vivid evidence of ultrasound images of little persons in the earliest weeks in the womb should be making us more committed than ever to the protection of unborn life,” he said. “Something is going on in the national psyche. Is it really what we want?”
In a pastoral statement issued April 15, Bishop John Buckley of the Diocese of Cork and Ross warned that “if a society decides that human life is disposable at its beginning, it will not be too long before it decides the same for human life at its end.”
“Human life is sacred and precious. Every human being must be treated with the greatest respect. This is true in every moment of life from its first beginning to its natural end,” Buckley said. “This respect for life is shared by people of all faiths and none. While it is enriched by our Catholic faith, it is our common humanity that convinces us of the right to life of every human being.”
The bishop complained that some people think the Church is telling doctors to choose unborn children over their mothers, which he said wasn’t true.
“The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of the child in the womb should be preferred to that of the mother. A doctor may give any treatment that is necessary to either mother or child without deliberately intending harm to the other,” Buckley said.
“Abortion is the deliberate medical intervention to end the life of an unborn child. There is a danger that people may confuse abortion with necessary medical intervention,” he continued.
In a statement issued the same day, Bishop Denis Nulty of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin said the “hard truth” is once a society denies the right to life of the unborn, “we can no longer defend ourselves from what flows from an abortion culture.”
“For instance, we are in deep denial if we cannot recognize that an abortion culture fundamentally alters our attitude towards disability. The statistics in this regard from other jurisdictions do not lie,” he said.
“We risk compromising our humanity if we do not continue to be supportive of life, even when this poses great difficulties,” Nulty said.
The bishop added that voting “No” in the May 25 referendum is not enough.
“The real challenge for us is to work even harder to strengthen a culture that values all life. Being pro-life must mean that we advocate for all who are in need of protection in our society,” Nulty concluded. “Let us rededicate ourselves to this essential and blessed task.”
The referendum is due to take place just three months before Pope Francis is expected to visit the country during the World Meeting of Families, which is taking place in Dublin from August 21-26, 2018.