DUBLIN — Ireland will soon go to the polls to vote on a referendum that legal analysts say would remove all constitutional protection for unborn children, currently provided for in the country’s constitution.
The people of Ireland are being asked to repeal the Irish Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which recognizes the equal right to life of the unborn child and the mother. A “Yes” vote on the government-proposed referendum would remove the 1983 pro-life amendment from the constitution and replace it with an “enabling provision” allowing for “the regulation of termination of pregnancy.”
In the event of the repeal of the Eighth Amendment — which recognizes the “equal right to life” of the unborn child and the mother — the government also intends to enact legislation for abortion on any grounds, up to 12 weeks, and on the grounds of “a risk” of serious harm to the physical or mental health of the mother, up to approximately 24 weeks, when the unborn baby is viable outside the womb.
In contrast, the current legislation requires that the condition of a “real and substantial risk” be met. And even then, a pregnancy may only be ended in cases where the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother is considered to be in danger.
While the new wording released by the government is subject to change, it also means that, in certain circumstances — for babies deemed likely to die either before or shortly after birth and for healthy babies in cases where there is an assessment of an immediate risk of serious harm to the physical or mental health of the mother — abortion would be allowed, without any gestational limits until the “complete emergence of the fetus from the body of the woman.” This appears to raise the specter of partial-birth abortion, in Ireland, at nine months.
The wording for the new legislation, also, for the first time, defines “termination of pregnancy” as “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the fetus.”
Together for Yes, which describes itself as “the national civil society campaign to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution,” says that it is “campaigning for a more compassionate Ireland that allows abortion care for women who need it.”
The group has also pointed out that Ireland’s Institute of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supports a “Yes” vote.
But Dr. Andrew O’Regan of Doctors for Life Ireland has said publicly that “no evidence has been produced to show that intentional destruction of the fetus is necessary to avoid risks to the life or health of a pregnant woman.”
He says the proposal the government has put forward “has nothing to do with health care.”
Some of the many other criticisms of the proposals on the “No” side have come from a group of 200 lawyers who have signed a document highlighting the “profoundly unjust” nature of the government’s plans.
One of the signatories, Benedict Ó Floinn, told the Register, “This is a relatively simple proposition that is being put to the people in Ireland. It involves the removal from the constitution of the constitutional protection of the unborn child, and the Supreme Court has confirmed, in recent weeks, that removal of this constitutional provision will leave the unborn child with no constitutional protections.”
He said that he was urging a “No” vote because of the “far-reaching nature” of the proposals. He told the Register, “If you repeal the Eighth, the unborn child has no rights.”
When asked about the prospect of the legislation being challenged subsequently in order to broaden the grounds for abortion even further, Ó Floinn said, “it is impossible for anyone to predict the outcome of any challenges to restrictions in the legislation. That is yet another unjust aspect to what the government proposes. That’s why it’s vitally important for everyone to vote ‘No’ in the coming referendum.”
Many pro-life and religious leaders appeared shocked that a referendum on what they see as a basic human right is being held at all — the Eighth Amendment recognizes the equal right to life of the unborn child and the mother.
Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe said in a pastoral letter issued Sunday, “I, along with many others, find it almost beyond belief and profoundly sad that we are being asked to abolish the basic right to life of the unborn child from our constitution, a most fundamental and basic right.”
Someone for whom the voting date of May 25 — Padre Pio’s birthday — has special significance is Father John Mockler, a consecrated member of the institute of Padre Pio’s Servants of Suffering. Father Mockler recently took part in an ongoing 40 days and nights of prayer and fasting pro-life initiative supporting the Eighth Amendment on the holy mountain of Croagh Patrick — which is associated with St. Patrick — and is also organizing a novena at multiple venues around the country to pray for life.
He told the Register, “It just shows where we’ve arrived at, that there is a referendum on something like this, because there are laws to protect species of snails or crows or bats, now. … We’re inventing laws for the protection of these creatures, and here we are: trying to remove the protection from the baby in the womb, from the only creature of God who is destined for eternity. It should not even be a topic of discussion.”
There has been a steady increase in other prayer and fasting initiatives throughout the country, as the referendum approaches. These include novenas, Eucharistic adoration and vigils.
Human Life International Ireland has called for repentance and reparation via seven nationwide events May 13, asking the nation to seek God’s face and repent of its sins. Pray-ers will be joined in prayer from Lourdes, France, by the successor of St. Patrick, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh.
A “Mass and Fast for Ireland” initiative also has been gaining support inside and outside Ireland. The lay initiative, which has now spread to the U.S., is in response to an appeal by well-known Sister of St. Clare Briege McKenna for prayers, fasting and Masses to be said privately or publicly in parishes, for conversions of heart, protection of the Eighth Amendment and in reparation for Ireland’s turning from God.
Last week, about 5,000 people across Ireland gathered at Knock Shrine for a day of pilgrimage organized by the Apostolate of Eucharistic Adoration. People can also be seen praying outside the houses of the Oireachtas, Ireland’s Parliament.
Another of the many priests organizing a novena to “save the Eighth” is Father Brendan Kiely from Dublin’s Aughrim Street parish. “If every priest were to intercede,” he told the Register, “this [the government’s abortion plan] could be conquered.” He said that it’s God’s priests that he really wants to make the sacrifices.
Father Cathal Price, a priest associated strongly with the Divine Mercy devotion, is urging people, whenever they go to Mass, to “make a deal” — offer their Masses for the holy souls in purgatory and ask them in return to defeat the evil coming against the country and to save the Eighth.
Saved by the Amendment
As a consequence of the Eighth Amendment, tens of thousands of Irish people, of all creeds and none, are alive and able to vote May 25, who might otherwise have died through abortions that could have been carried out in maternity hospitals and doctors surgeries across Ireland.
One of those who says he “wouldn’t be here if the Eighth Amendment wasn’t here” is young atheist Gavin Boyne, who told the Register that “the manner in which a child is conceived doesn’t determine whether he or she should live or die.”
His grandparents, Boyne explained, had planned to have him aborted after his mother became pregnant at age 15 following a one-night stand. “They knew that abortion was illegal in Ireland but didn’t really know why. They found out it was because of the Eighth Amendment, so they looked into the Eighth Amendment, and they found out what it did and they recognized my humanity and they came to the conclusion that I was a human being and it would be wrong to end my life.”
He said, “The one thing that is probably most crucial with this referendum, that probably hasn’t happened yet, is thinking” about its purpose.
Another of those campaigning on the “No” side is Peadar Tóibín, a self-described “left-wing politician and an Irish Republican.”
“This is the human-rights debate of our generation,” the Sinn Féin representative told the Register. “The unborn child is an individual living human being. She is the weakest and most vulnerable of all human life. She has no voice at all, but currently within our constitution, her life is protected. As a left-wing politician and an Irish Republican, I believe that we need a law that protects the life of both mother and unborn child.
“But we also need to be pro-life for the whole life,” he added. “Many low- and middle-income expectant mothers feel like they don’t have a choice. This must be reversed. We need investment in maternity services, real health services, housing, child care and a decent living wage. We need to make sure all the children of the nation are cherished equally.”
“The polls are clear: The ‘pro-choice’ vote is sliding, week after week, and the pro-life vote is gaining. It’s also interesting that the pro-life vote is stronger in Irish Republican and working-class areas.”
Independent representative Mattie McGrath says that the referendum is really about removing “the last bastion of support” from the unborn child and that people are not aware of that, and “they are not aware that they will never be asked to vote again” on this issue.
He told the Register that there were a lot of confused Catholics who want to vote “Yes,” and he hoped “the Catholic Church will become more involved here.”
Another common concern of pro-life campaigners was voiced by the Tipperary representative when he complained about “the amount of misinformation and bias in the media.” He said that you could count on one hand those who were not “on a crusade.”
He also believes that there is an abortion industry being “pushed on us,” and “there are people waiting on the sidelines rubbing their hands in glee.”
‘Safe, Legal and Rare’
When Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar formally announced his government’s intention to hold a referendum in January, he expressed the hope that if the referendum and subsequent legislation were passed, then abortion would become “safe, legal and rare.”
The logic of this position has provoked particular criticism in subsequent months, and McGrath added his voice to these criticisms, pointing to the millions of abortions that had taken place in the U.S. since the term was first used there in 1996 by President Bill Clinton.
The makers of the documentary Gosnell, about the notorious abortionist convicted of murdering three infants who were born alive during abortions, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer, were in Dublin for a special sneak-peek viewing of the movie April 30.
At a question-and-answer session afterward, and later when speaking to the Register, the couple also challenged the “safe, legal and rare” concept, pointing out that practically no one uses that expression in America any more, now that 60 million children are dead.
Also, they asked the question, “If it’s really women’s health care, why should it be rare?”
On another point, Phelim McAleer said that he had studied abortion for four years in various states and countries, and “I just find it extraordinary that people are being asked to vote and no one has told them what an abortion looks like and how it’s carried out.” This is “nowhere to be found” in official sources in Ireland, he said.
Caroline Simons, who is a solicitor and legal consultant to the Pro Life Campaign, also raised concerns about the nature of the current public discourse around the referendum.
“A lot of fear has been engendered,” she said, “that women may not get adequate care for their pregnancies, but this has been challenged by experts.” And “while they keep talking about hard cases, these few make up a tiny proportion of abortions.”
John O’Reilly, a veteran of the 1983 campaign and one of the few surviving architects of the Eighth Amendment, also shared his thoughts on the current proposal before the people and on the population-control ideology that helped bring it about, through the attempted provision of illegal abortion pills and other tactics. “Once you accept abortion,” he says, “the whole culture changes.”
That latter idea was echoed by Bishop Monahan, who told the Register, “This choice will inevitably shape our society for generations to come.”
With voting now just two weeks away, and one final “Stand Up for Life Rally” planned for May 12, tensions are on the rise. “No” campaigners have strongly criticized a decision this week by Google to ban all ads related to the referendum. Such ads are a way of doing an end-run around media bias, “No” campaigner David Quinn said May 9 on Twitter.
Dr. Orla Halpenny of Doctors for Life observed that the campaign has “certainly intensified over the last few days.”
It is “going to be tight,” she thinks, but “hopefully the ‘No’ side will win.”
Dónal O’Sullivan-Latchford writes from Dublin, Ireland.
He is associate news editor for EWTN Ireland.