LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, the Primate of Ireland, said repealing the country’s constitutional protections for the unborn “would be a point of no return” for the country.
The Republic of Ireland goes to the polls on May 25 to vote in a referendum which seeks to repeal the Irish Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which was passed in 1983 and guarantees the right to life of the unborn.
Ireland currently has some of the most robust protections for the unborn in the European Union, although most European abortion laws are more restrictive than those in the United States.
If repealed, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said his government would draft legislation to permit abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
However, Martin said the referendum is not about permitting “limited” abortion.
“It would bring about a radical change to our broad pro-life culture. It would end any Constitutional protection whatsoever for the unborn,” the archbishop said in a May 17 statement.
He also pointed out the government’s proposed legislation would not only permit abortion without restriction up to 12 weeks, but also permit abortion on physical and mental health grounds up to six months.
“In the future, it is possible that small minority parties of a coalition government could demand that abortion legislation be extended as part of a program for government,” Martin said.
The referendum comes as the Catholic Church is rapidly losing influence in the once staunchly Catholic country.
Revelations about clerical sexual abuse has left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in the history of Ireland.
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.
Many of those supporting a change in the country’s constitution are framing the referendum as a fight against Church influence in Ireland.
Martin alluded to the argument that science, not just faith, supports the pro-life position.
“It seems incongruous that just as medical science allows us to understand much more about the evolution of the baby in the womb, and his or her originality and unique identity, that we should simply throw out all Constitutional protection of the unborn child,” the archbishop said.
However, he also admitted to past mistakes by Church institutions when women faced pregnancies in difficult circumstances.
Martin noted the Church’s attitude “enhanced” a mentality in Ireland in which single mothers were “ostracized and humiliated,” calling it a “narrow moralistic culture.”
The archbishop said it was women who “stood up and challenged that culture” and “affirmed their desire and right” to be able to keep and give love to their children.
“We owe a debt to those women who, then and now, witness to life,” Martin said. “It is still not easy to be a lone parent and we have to create an environment to ease the obstacles and burdens of lone parents and their children.”
The archbishop challenged the Catholic Church in Ireland “to reflect on the deeper meaning of life.”
“The Church is called to be pro-life not just in words and statements and manifestos but to be pro-life in deeds, by being a Church which reflects the loving care of Jesus for human life at any stage,” he said. “That loving care includes support to help those women who face enormous challenges and who grapple with very difficult decisions to choose life.”
The archbishop said the Christian community must be a “beacon of support for life, especially at its most vulnerable moments, and a beacon of support at vulnerable moments of any woman or man along their path of life.”
According to a poll published on May 17 by the Irish Times, 44 per cent of voters said they will vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, while 32 percent said they will vote No.
The Yes vote has declined by 10 points since late April, but the pro-life side still has a lot of ground to cover before May 25.
The referendum is taking place just three months before Pope Francis visits Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, which is taking place in Dublin from August 21-26, 2018.