As of this writing, Irish voters are preparing to head to the polls to cast their ballots May 25 for something once considered utterly unimaginable in the Republic of Ireland: whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which would effectively legalize abortion across the predominantly Catholic country.
The Eighth Amendment was passed in Ireland in 1983 by a national vote of 67%. It recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child, which means that abortion in Ireland is illegal unless the mother’s health is endangered. It reads, in part: “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.”
Thirty-five years later, there is massive pressure from both inside and outside of Ireland to repeal a law that has historically been supported by the Irish people.
A “Yes” vote in the referendum will not simply do away with a law that grants equal protection to both mother and child. It will unleash a process that abortion advocates openly say will lead to unlimited access to abortions up to 12 weeks. And it will not end there, as there are plans to include a legislative provision for abortion up to approximately 24 weeks, when the unborn baby is viable outside the womb, in cases where there might be “risk” to the physical or mental health of the mother. The United States is one of seven countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks.
The gruesome reality of what repeal would mean for the unborn was revealed in March, when the Irish Supreme Court allowed the referendum to proceed despite arguments that it trampled unborn children’s rights. The Supreme Court struck down a previous finding by the High Court that the unborn had personal rights and declared bluntly that the only constitutionally protected right of the unborn is the right to life in the Eighth Amendment.
By repealing the Eighth Amendment, the Irish people would be stripping the unborn — according to the highest court in the country — of all legal protections.
Fortunately, there are strong and dedicated voices for the cause of life in Ireland. The Catholic bishops of Ireland have spoken out, but they cannot stand alone in the fight, especially given the loss of episcopal credibility in the country because of the failure of many Church leaders to deal with the sex-abuse crisis.
Nevertheless, Irish bishops are making the case for life, and doing so effectively. Bishop Fintan Monahan of the Diocese of Killaloe, for example, issued a pastoral letter May 4, exhorting the faithful to vote “No” on the repeal. He noted especially the irony of a repeal that is being sold in terms of compassion and improving the health of the country:
“The medical care offered to both mothers and babies in Ireland is among the best in the world in terms of safety and excellence. The Irish Constitution as it stands offers protection and care in equal measure to both women and unborn babies. Why would we want to alter this carefully worked balance to the detriment of either mother or baby? ... Thank God that modern medicine allows us to love, cherish and care for both mother and baby. 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.”
The Catholic bishops have been joined by tens of thousands of Irish women and men who have been working for months to protect both the unborn and their mothers.
In March, more than 100,000 people took part in a pro-life rally in Dublin, the Irish capital, and Catholics and pro-life supporters all over the country have been taking part in prayer, novenas, rallies and grassroots efforts to galvanize opposition to the repeal. Their work has been genuinely heroic, especially given the clear bias in favor of repeal by most Irish media, the massive involvement of international pro-abortion special-interest groups and the deluge of celebrity endorsements.
The Irish government is squarely in support of abortion rights, starting with Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.
A key supporter of Ireland’s referendum in 2015 that allowed same-sex “marriage” who declared his same-sex attraction in the lead-up to that vote, Varadkar claims to have once been pro-life, but his views have “evolved over time.” He has promoted the repeal aggressively and claims, “It is a matter for people to make their own decision based on the evidence they hear, compassion and empathy, and I want the debate to be respectful on all sides, and it should never be personalized.”
This is ironic, given the brutal treatment of supporters of “No” in the referendum by most of the Irish and British media. A writer in the Irish Times dismissed the pro-life “Love Both” campaign as “cruelly simplistic.” International Irish celebrities, from the rock band U2 to the actor Liam Neeson, have also spoken out in favor of repeal, just as Facebook and Google announced April 9 that they would cease accepting all ads related to the referendum.
Facebook claimed, “Our goal is simple: to help ensure a free, fair and transparent vote on this important issue.”
The moratorium had the effect of shutting down what had been the strongest means at the disposal of the “No” supporters to influence the vote — digital media — especially given the complete imbalance of the government, secular media and celebrities pushing for “Yes.”
In the days leading up to the referendum, polls were still tight, with a slight edge to “Yes,” but with a high 18% as yet undecided. All analysts agreed it would be close, with all also agreeing that the repeal effort has bitterly divided the country.
If Ireland votes for abortion, the Irish will join the growing number of once-very-Catholic nations who have embraced the secular Western worldview, with the consequences of hastening the breakdown of the family, demographic decline and the embrace of what Pope Francis warns is a “throwaway culture.” If Ireland votes “No,” the Irish people will have accepted their important role, along with Poland, as the vanguard of the culture of life in Europe.
The fruits of the referendum are already apparent. A profound struggle is underway in Ireland, and future generations may look back and ask how their country became captive to the culture of death.
On May 25, Bishop Monahan wrote in his pastoral letter, “we will be asked to express our opinion on a vital issue of life or death in relation to the Eighth Amendment of our Constitution. It is a question that has profound moral and religious implications for us all and specifically for the right to life of the unborn child. The choice we make will shape our society for generations to come.”
We pray that Ireland chooses to love both.