A day after the Irish prime minister officially launched his government’s campaign to repeal the country’s constitutional pro-life protections, Bishop Denis Brennan of the Diocese of Ferns said the move “will strip the voiceless of their most fundamental right and make all talk of any other human rights irrelevant for them.”
The Republic of Ireland will hold a referendum on May 25 on whether or not to repeal the 8th amendment, which was passed in 1983, and guarantees the right to life of the unborn.
Ireland currently has some of the strongest pro-life protections in Europe.
(Abortion is also mostly illegal in Northern Ireland – the only part of the United Kingdom where this is the case – and its laws will not be affected by the referendum.)
On Saturday, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar launched the ‘Yes for Repeal’ campaign, which has been supported by the government and most of the major media.
The government has argued that if the referendum passes, abortion will only be legal up to the twelfth week of pregnancy, although there would be no constitutional limits on abortion, and the Irish legislature will be free to pass additional abortion legislation.
In a pastoral message issued on Sunday, Brennan said voters in the referendum will be the unborn baby’s last line of defense, and they should carefully weigh this responsibility and act in the best interest of the unborn child.
“What repeal would mean is very clear, namely that the unborn boy or girl whose heart beats at 21 days – and the older unborn baby who has all of her / his vital organs at twelve weeks – will have no rights at all in Irish law, should people vote yes to repeal,” the bishop said.
“This twelve-week-old unborn baby – who is now enjoying for the first time the ability to kick, to move and to yawn – would, in the first stretches of young life, be without the basic protection of the right to life itself,” he said.
According to the latest Sunday Times poll, released on April 22, 47 percent of the Irish population support repealing the pro-life protections, while 29 percent say they will vote no, with 24 percent undecided.
This is a 2 percent drop in support for repeal since last month, but the ‘No’ campaign still has a lot of ground to cover.
Once the most Catholic nation in Europe, in 2015 Ireland held a referendum on same-sex marriage in which 62 percent of the voters backed changing the constitution to allow the practice.
Revelations of clerical sexual abuse over the past decades, as well as other scandals, has left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in the history of Ireland.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, the Primate of All Ireland, told Crux the bishops are trying to avoid the abortion referendum becoming framed as a purely Catholic issue.
“Abortion is not wrong because the Catholic Church says it’s wrong, abortion is wrong in itself. The taking of a life of an innocent human being at any stage in its development is gravely wrong and can never be justified, and that’s not just because I said it,” the archbishop said on April 17.
He said that although the bishops are active within their diocese, they have avoided being prominent during the national debate “because if we try to say anything at national level that often it will be selectively reported or negatively reported.”
Therefore, Martin said the bishops are encouraging the lay faithful “to be gently acting as missionaries for life.”
“And I think that is happening: In families, in communities, in parishes, on the ground, in workplaces, where lay faithful are finding their voice, perhaps for the first time, finding their voice and speaking out on this critical issue,” he said.
The bishops’ conference did issue a statement in March calling for keeping the pro-life protections in the Irish constitution, although insisting the right to life is not a religious issue, but one of human rights, which “makes sense to people of all faiths and none.”
Several individual bishops have also issued statements to be read out in the parishes within their dioceses.
Martin did say the bishops will become more vocal as the referendum neared, and he expects more public statements.
In the statement issued on Sunday, Brennan said that no referendum can change moral truth.
“The direct and intentional killing, of an unborn human being, would be just as immoral the day after it was ‘legalized’, as it had been, the day before,” the Ferns bishop said.
“None of us should ever have the power to decide on the death of another,” Brennan said.
“To concede to any person the right to intentionally take the life of another – in this case the life of a voiceless unborn child – is not only to redefine human life as less than sacred, it is also to make a hierarchy of human life – where some lives are deemed to be of no value at all,” he continued.
“In matters of life and death, none of us is a supreme judge who can decide the fate of another, least of all the vulnerable and the voiceless, the unborn child,” Brennan said.
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.