Ireland is one of the few western nations to retain its protections for the lives of the unborn. But that could change this Friday 25th May as the Irish people vote in a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of their Constitution. First approved in 1983 the amendment gives an equal right to life to the mother and the unborn.
The amendment has had the effect of outlawing abortion in the Republic of Ireland except when the mother’s life is at risk. The Thirteenth Amendment, permitting travel to obtain an abortion overseas, and the Fourteenth Amendment, permitting information about abortion services in other countries were approved by the Irish voters in 1992 while rejecting another amendment to remove the risk of suicide as an exception for abortion.
The process to repeal the Eighth Amendment was begun by current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in 2017 who is a member of Fine Gael, which is Ireland’s liberal-conservative and Christian democratic party. The death of Savita Halappanavar who after being denied an abortion died from complications of a septic miscarriage is viewed as the main catalyst for the repeal movement.
After a consultation process with a Citizens’ Assembly, the Irish parliament proposed putting to the Irish voters the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018 to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the parliament to legislate for abortion in some circumstances. The legislation that has been proposed should the Thirty-sixth Amendment pass is that abortion is permitted if there is a risk to the health of the woman, a medical emergency, a fetal abnormality or up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The yes vote is supported by all of Ireland’s major political parties; Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Progressive media outlets and yes campaigners are claiming a yes vote would finally complete Ireland’s transition out of the dark ages. The New York Times even alleged that Ireland’s pro-life history is engrained in misogyny and taboo discussions about sex.
Many are comparing this vote on abortion in Ireland to that of country’s vote to legalise same-sex marriage in 2015. But it is wrong for both those on the left and the right to conflate the two issues and based on the polling the Irish people view same-sex marriage and abortion as completely different issues.
The same-sex marriage referendum was passed 62% to 38% by voters. Polling for this Friday’s referendum is much closer; a Sky News UK poll found 47 support, 37 percent opposed; an Irish Times/Ipsos poll showed 44 support favour and 32 percent against. As you can see Yes is failing to get a 50% majority in either poll and historically polling on sensitive social issues isn’t always accurate.
Both the yes and no side have been engaged in passionate activism. The yes side is arguing liberalising abortion laws will improve women’s safety in healthcare while no campaigners are warning about the increase in terminations that will follow. Children of parents who once considered abortion have been speaking out against the new amendment. Facebook has banned all foreign campaign ads on the referendum while Google has banned any ads outright.
Ireland, along with Latin America and the Philippines remain the last line of defence in the protection of the unborn. Given that these are all Catholic majority nations there has been much attacking of the influence of the Catholic Church. However, this is an insult to the intelligence of the people of these nations who although hold the same view as the church on the issue of abortion all differ as Ireland demonstrated on LGBT issues.
The referendum is being followed closely around the world as which way the vote goes will be viewed as an indication of which side is in the ascendancy in the battle for life. In Australia, the trend is for our states to legislate more liberal abortion laws including exclusion zones around clinics prohibiting the handing out of pro-life materials. After liberalising abortion laws its advocates are attempting to make all efforts to encourage a woman to keep her baby illegal. Once again a referendum all the way over in Ireland could have global implications.