When last I wrote for this publication, Ireland had been through a huge national and international controversy about the tragic death in an Irish hospital in late 2012 of a pregnant Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar.
The world, and the Irish public, had been led to believe that Savita died because “Ireland is a Catholic country.” Savita had been brought to hospital miscarrying and she asked for an abortion. She was told she couldn’t have an abortion because the baby wasn’t yet dead and because we are a “Catholic country” that does not permit abortion.
Ireland, as you most likely are aware, has a very strong pro-life clause in its Constitution. It has been there since it was voted on in a referendum in 1983, the so-called “8th amendment.” The margin of victory was two-to-one.
This amendment gave the mother and her unborn baby an equal right to life. The relevant section says: “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 clause never prevented doctors terminating a pregnancy to save the life of a mother when they felt there was no other option. It did not prevent doctors expediting Savita’s miscarriage if they believed her life was in danger.
Subsequent inquiries found that they did not believe her life was in danger until it was too late. She was succumbing to sepsis and her medical team did not spot this until she was past the point of no return.
Pregnant women have also died from sepsis poisoning in Britain and America and in other jurisdictions where abortion is freely available. These tragic events sometimes happen, unfortunately.
However, because the death of Savita was successfully blamed on our pro-life law, legislators soon passed a law which ensured there could be no further confusion in cases like this in the future (all they had to do was issue clear guidelines), but in addition the new law allowed for abortion in cases where a pregnant woman was deemed to be suicidal. Thus was a psychological ground for abortion introduced for the first time.
That law, passed in 2013, is euphemistically called “The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.”
The passage of this law, and the case of Savita more generally, have given the pro-choice movement in Ireland huge added impetus. Since then, it has trained its sights more than ever on repealing the 8th amendment.
In truth, pro-choice advocates have been seeking to repeal this clause ever since it was passed 34 years ago. They know it is a huge obstacle in their way. It was passed for two reasons. The first is that only ten years before, the American Supreme Court created a right to abortion out of almost nothing in the case of Roe v. Wade. Pro-life campaigners did not want the Irish Supreme Court to ever do anything similar. So the passage of the 8th amendment was a preemptive strike.
It was also passed to ensure that our legislators could not do something similar to what had happened in Britain in 1967 when that country’s abortion law was massively liberalised. Without a strong, pro-life clause in our Constitution, too much was being left to chance.
As a result of the 1983 referendum, the legislature cannot legislate for abortion and a court ruling can’t take the matter out of the hands of legislators à la Roe v. Wade. This means pro-abortion campaigners must have a referendum—and win it—to get their way.
The Irish battle should be of immense concern to the pro-life movement worldwide. Ireland is a last legal bastion of pro-life values in the West. To a lesser extent, it is a last bastion of pro-life values socially as well as legally, although social support for a culture of life has eroded substantially in recent years thanks to a constant barrage of pro-choice propaganda, aided and abetted hugely by a willing and compliant and totally biased media. (Media bias is the functional equivalent of fake news. It distorts the public’s understanding of any given issue every bit as much, maybe more so, because it has a veneer of “objectivity.”)
If Ireland’s pro-life constitutional amendment is repealed, it will be a huge victory, not just for the pro-choice movement in Ireland, but everywhere. If “Catholic” Ireland can be made to embrace abortion, then so can any country, any society. Imagine, if you will, how the New York Times will gleefully report this should it ever happen. The thought ought to send a shiver up the spine of every American who cares about the right to life.
International supporters of abortion recognise the importance of Ireland. This is why billionaire George Soros’s Open Society has poured money into the pro-abortion campaign in Ireland. A total of $500,000 has been given to three pro-choice groups, including Amnesty International’s Irish branch.
A leaked memo from the Open Society explained the reasons for the cash injection. It said it was funding the three organisations in order “to work collectively on a campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional amendment granting equal rights to an implanted embryo as the pregnant woman.”
The document continued:
With one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, a win there could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places.
The recent legalisation of same-sex marriage offers valuable and timely opportunities to advance the campaign.
Note this passage again: “With one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, a win there could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places.”
From an international perspective this is what it’s all about. Ireland stands out. Pro-life campaigners internationally can point to Ireland as an example of a country with a very strong pro-life law. To make matters much worse from a pro-choice point of view, Ireland also has a low maternal death rate by Western standards, lower than the UK or US rates, for example, with their highly permissive abortion laws.
If abortion is really needed to save the lives of women, as pro-abortion campaigners say, then why do two jurisdictions with liberal abortion regimes have a higher maternal death rate than Ireland with its strongly pro-life law? This is very awkward from a pro-choice point of view. Repeal Ireland’s pro-life law and they don’t have to worry about this anymore.
Ireland also has a very low abortion rate by Western standards. Well, of course it does, you might say, because we have that pro-life law. But then several thousand Irish women travel to England each year to have an abortion (3,500 at the last count).
However, expressed as a proportion of babies delivered alive, this is very low. It means that there is “just” one abortion for every 20 live births in Ireland. Even if you very generously allow that, say, 1,500 Irish women a year are buying the abortion pill illegally online, it is still “only” one abortion for every 15 births. (I pick a figure of 1,500 because until a few years ago, it was roughly 5,000 Irish women a year that went to England for abortions).
In the UK, however, there is one abortion for every four babies born. It is the same in France. In Sweden, it is even worse. In Sweden, there is one abortion for every three babies born. That is horrendous.
This means that by Western standards Ireland is a very safe place for unborn babies. And it is also a very safe place for pregnant women, given our low maternal death rate. So, that is a win-win—something we should be very proud of, and something the entire pro-life movement worldwide should be very proud of as well.
If the 8th amendment—the pro-life clause in our Constitution—goes, there will be nothing to be proud of anymore. In this regard, we will have become another standard-issue Western country. This is why the international pro-choice movement is so keen to see Ireland fall. It is why the international pro-life movement should be very keen to see Ireland stand its ground.
But the pressure to repeal the 8th amendment is being ratcheted up all the time. The pressure is being exerted domestically and from overseas. I have already referred to the money from George Soros. In addition to this, UN committees “find,” with drumbeat regularity, that Ireland’s pro-life law “violates” this or that international treaty or covenant we have signed.
These committees are, of course, effectively gerrymandered, which is to say they have been entirely commandeered by the left and turned into glorified left-wing, pro-abortion pressure groups. Nothing in any UN document creates a right to abortion. No international court that has anything to do with Ireland has ever found a right to abortion.
Still, pro-abortion groups, aided by these UN committees, like to pretend otherwise, and they think that if they keep on saying loudly enough and self-confidently enough that Ireland’s pro-life law “violates” international law, eventually people will believe it. Certainly, our political establishment and uniformly pro-choice media are happy to believe it.
For example, last year the UN Human Rights Committee declared that Ireland had violated the rights of a woman found to be pregnant with a child who had Edwards’ Syndrome, a condition that is usually fatal within days or weeks of birth (although in about 10 percent of cases the child can live a year or more), by not permitting her to have her abortion in Ireland.
The document under which Ireland was found wanting is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The committee declared that Ireland had subjected her to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Needless to say, the rights of the poor child did not enter the frame at all, nor was a thought given to whether or not abortion is itself a form of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
In any event, our Government tugged the forelock to the committee, said it would do what it can to make amends, and paid the required fine of €30,000.
In stark contrast, some years before, this same committee also found against Ireland (I won’t labour you with the details, suffice it to say it had nothing to do with abortion), and the then-Government basically told the committee to take a run and jump.
The case that came before the UN Human Rights Committee is undoubtedly one of those hard cases. Some children are diagnosed in the womb (usually at about 20 weeks) to have a life limiting condition like Edwards’ Syndrome. Pro-abortion groups prefer to the use the term “fatal foetal abnormality” and they give the public the impression that these conditions mean the children in question will be dead upon birth.
The media have adopted the term “fatal foetal abnormality” and repeat it continually even though our health department prefers the term “life limiting condition.”
The reason the more official term is “life limiting condition” is that many of these children last for days, weeks, months, and even in rare cases a year or more after birth. Why do they not have a right to whatever natural span of life they have, however short?
Our Constitution rightly protects these unfortunate children and forbids their being aborted. However, a majority of the public, convinced that these babies will die at birth, or even in the womb, believes it is cruel to make a woman carry such a baby to term and so supports abortion in these cases. This means they support repealing or amending the 8th amendment, because that is the only way the aborting of babies with life limiting conditions can be permitted.
Over the last two or so years, pro-choice groups have focused great public attention, with the full cooperation of the media, on these hard cases. Women who went to England to have these very sick babies aborted have been regularly interviewed. Women who were also told by doctors that their babies were very ill and would not live long past birth, but who carried them to term nonetheless, have been interviewed far less frequently. It’s no wonder public opinion is currently moving in one direction only.
All this pressure has resulted in the setting up by the Government of something vaingloriously called the “Citizens’ Assembly.” This consists of a judge plus 99 delegates randomly chosen from the public by a polling company—but weighted to ensure they represent the socio-economic mix of the population as a whole. How 99 people are supposed to be representative of the public is anyone’s guess. Would you trust a poll of 99 people?
The Assembly has been meeting for one weekend a month since late last year. At each of these weekend sessions it is examining the issue of abortion with a view to eventually recommending to the Government how it might go about approaching the issue. At the time of this writing, it is considering precisely what it will recommend to the Government. No one is in any doubt, or ever has been in any doubt, that it will recommend a referendum.
It is similar in character to the so-called “Constitutional Convention” which was basically called to prepare the way for the referendum on same-sex marriage in 2015.
The Convention and the Assembly were arranged so that the Fine Gael-led Government could say that “the people,” and not it, wanted a referendum on the contentious issues of marriage and the right to life.
Fine Gael, once a Christian Democrat party, is now reliably liberal/left on social issues though some of its supporters remain socially conservative. The Convention and the Assembly were partly a way of telling them that it was not Fine Gael as such that had called for referenda on the two issues and therefore no blame was to be attached to it.
Like the Convention, the Assembly has been hearing from expert witnesses who give presentations and then take questions from the delegates. Some of the experts have been genuinely neutral in their approach, but others have offered what really amounts to a pro-choice viewpoint. I am not talking here about experts who were called in for the express purpose of offering a pro-choice point of view.
Apart from the pro-life advocates who were invited in by the Assembly to offer a pro-life point of view, none of the “neutral” experts spoke about abortion from the point of view of the unborn child. Again and again, things were seen from the point of view of the woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy. This obviously had the effect of skewing things.
In addition, the Assembly heard from someone from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), one of the Britain’s biggest abortion providers, and also from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion think tank.
They were invited in because some of the delegates asked for their point of view to be heard. This was worrying in itself. Why didn’t some of the delegates want to hear from (say) a pro-life pregnancy counselling agency? If the delegates were truly representative of the public, then several dozen of them ought to have been solidly pro-life.
The Guttmacher expert, among other things, told the Assembly that married women are more likely to have abortions than are unmarried women. It arrived at this totally false conclusion (the reverse is true), by counting cohabiting women as married women.
The representative also said that countries with restrictive abortion laws have higher abortion rates than countries with permissive abortion laws. But as we saw above, Ireland has a far lower abortion rate than the likes of the US, the UK, or Sweden.
Before each session, delegates were presented with a series of questions for consideration. Not one question asked them to consider the moral status of the unborn child. Again and again they were prompted to look at things from the point of view of the woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
At the session in March, representatives of pro-life and pro-choice organisations were invited in to address delegates, including the organisation I head up, The Iona Institute. During questions and answers, delegates fired lots of tough questions at pro-life speakers and almost none at pro-choice speakers.
To repeat, if the delegates were representative of the public, this should not have happened. So either they aren’t representative or the pro-life delegates are very, very quiet.
The Assembly is, therefore, all set to recommend a referendum and the only question is, what type of referendum? A referendum to repeal the 8th altogether, or one that will replace it with something less restrictive, but still quite restrictive by international standards?
If the 8th amendment is completely repealed, it will put Ireland in a unique situation. Just like in 2015, when we became the first country to put a right to same-sex marriage into our Constitution by popular vote, next year or the year after (whenever the referendum is held) we could become the first country to vote explicitly to remove the right to life of the unborn from our Constitution.
We would be saying, by popular vote, that unborn human beings have no constitutional right to life. If a somewhat restrictive law was then challenged in court in the name of a woman’s right to privacy or health or bodily autonomy, the life of the unborn child, constitutionally speaking, would carry almost no weight at all. Lawyers arguing for a more liberal abortion law could tell the court that the Irish people had expressly decided the unborn should have no rights and no protection.
For what it’s worth, my own view is that a vote to amend, but not repeal our pro-life provision would probably pass, depending on the nature of the amendment.
But if it could be made clear to the Irish people what repealing it would really mean—even if the Government was promising an initially restrictive piece of legislation—I think it would be defeated. I don’t think Irish people want abortion-on-demand, or a law that would amount to the same thing.
One way or the other, Ireland is facing a momentous decision. It is one the international pro-choice movement is certainly interested in and it is bending might and main to see our pro-life law overturned. The international pro-life movement should be every bit as interested.
If the 8th amendment goes, it will not just be a defeat for the Irish pro-life movement, it will have tremendous symbolic power beyond the shores of Ireland. The international pro-choice movement will carry it around the world like a trophy, just as George Soros’s Open Society and many others want. We have to do everything we can to ensure this does not happen.