LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Unborn children will have less protection than some animals under Irish law if the country’s Eighth Amendment is overturned, warned an Irish bishop ahead of Ireland’s May 25th abortion referendum.
“It is remarkable that the State, which, under the Wildlife Act, has so many legal protections for non-human life, is trying to remove the most basic right of the child in the womb,” said Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross in a May 19 statement.
The country’s Eighth Amendment to the constitution, which was passed in 1983, recognizes the right to life of the unborn child.
The wording of that amendment states:
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.
Ireland currently has some of the most robust protections for the unborn in the European Union, but if the Eight Amendment is repealed, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said his government would draft legislation to permit abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
“Some people fail to see the humanity of the unborn and consequently their right to life. The baby and the inhumanity of abortion are rarely mentioned in the political debates,” Buckley said in his statement.
The bishop said in 2018, no one can deny the personhood of the life in the womb, noting the evidence of ultrasound and other modern technology.
“Our own Irish language has a beautiful word for the unborn – beo gan breith – which means alive but not born,” he said.
He also argued against the idea that abortion is a “compassionate” choice for women facing difficult pregnancies.
“Compassion is not one-sided,” Buckley said. “Compassion for the mother is vital but we must also extend our compassion to the child in the womb. There is no semblance of compassion involved in ending the life of the innocent child. Compassion means that we look after the mother and the child,” he said.
As the nation approaches the referendum, the bishop said the choice facing the Irish people “is quite clear.”
“The right to life in the Constitution will be replaced by the right to end the life of an innocent person. The unborn baby will be left with no protection whatsoever,” he said.
Buckley was one of several bishops to issue statements last weekend, the last before the Friday referendum.
Ireland’s two primates – Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh (the Primate of All Ireland) and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin (the Primate of Ireland) – both issued statements.
The Armagh archbishop warned Ireland can expect “a very liberal abortion regime” if the referendum passes, and his Dublin counterpart said repealing the Eighth Amendment would “bring about a radical change to our broad pro-life culture.”
Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin provided several points for voters to consider before deciding how to vote.
- Without abortion, Ireland is a world leader in healthcare for women and their babies. No matter what you may hear, women do not die because of the Eighth Amendment. Ireland has one of the lowest levels of maternal mortality in the world. This is a fact based on international research carried out by the World Health Organization.
- The Irish government has outlined the kind of legislation it proposes to introduce in Ireland. Based on the experience of similar legislation in England, this change would result in the deaths of thousands of unborn babies every year, most of whom would be perfectly healthy. The official statistics in England and Wales show that one in five pregnancies ends in abortion and over 185,000 abortions are carried out each year.
- Following the Supreme Court ruling on March 7, 2018, if the Eighth Amendment is removed, unborn babies will be left with absolutely no constitutional protection.
- Without the Eighth Amendment, the well-being of women and their unborn babies would be left in the hands of whatever group of politicians happens to hold the balance of power at any particular time.
Doran said every person is obliged to vote in accordance with the judgement of his or her conscience.
“Conscience is not just a feeling or an opinion,” the bishop emphasized. “It is a judgement, using the God-given gift of reason, and taking into account all the relevant facts. For Catholics, the formation of conscience is guided by the Word of God and involves giving careful attention to what the Church teaches.”
In the Diocese of Achonry, which is currently without a bishop, the priests of the diocese issued a joint statement urging their parishioners to vote No on the referendum.
“In our parishes, we are privileged to share the joy of mothers and fathers in the birth of a new baby. We witness again and again their wonder at the new life they have helped to create and the tenderness of their care for the infant who is so entirely dependent on them. We see too the wider welcome given to a baby by older brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles,” the statement reads.
The Achonry priests said that in their parish work, they have accompanied mothers – and fathers—who have been overwhelmed by news of pregnancy, who struggle to cope, who are unsure and uncertain about the future, but who choose to welcome their child with the support, compassion, care and love of family, friends and community.
“As pastors, we have also shared the journeys of mothers and fathers who become aware during pregnancy that their baby has a life-limiting condition. Though there is heartbreak, we have seen so often the gratitude of parents for precious days, hours, even minutes with their baby after birth, giving them time to name and baptize their child, making memories that live long in the heart,” the statement reads.
The letter said these experiences with the people they serve left the priests with the firm conviction of the wonder of human life that begins at conception.
“On a purely human level, that sense of wonder is supported by developments in science and medicine that give, in our time, ever greater insight into the hidden life of the little child in the womb with his or her own unique and never to be repeated DNA structure, whose heart begins to beat at 21 days, who by 12 weeks can yawn and stretch developing limbs,” the statement says – “In all of this, we see the hand of God for whom human persons are the high point of Creation, made in God’s image and likeness.”
Ireland’s referendum comes at a time when the Catholic Church is rapidly losing influence in the once staunchly Catholic country, and just ahead of a much-anticipated visit by Pope Francis to the country in August.
Revelations about clerical sexual abuse have left public confidence in the Church at its lowest level in the history of Ireland, and 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.
However, the referendum on Friday is expected to be much tighter.
A Sky News poll on May 21 showed 47 percent supporting removing the Eighth Amendment and 37 percent opposed; 11 per cent said they did not know and 6 percent said they prefer not to say.
The results show an over 10-point swing in favor of the pro-life side in the past 6 weeks, and pollsters now say the vote could be too close to call.