Next May or June the people of Ireland will be asked to vote on the contentious topic of abortion in the first of seven different referenda proposed over the next two years. This without a doubt will be the most important one and its result will have far reaching repercussions for Ireland into the future. Essentially its result will say a lot about this country and what we value. It is basically a referendum on human rights.
The right to life is the most fundamental right the vast majority of us take for granted. Without this right, all other rights are naturally meaningless. The question then is, can we define when this right comes into existence?
Do we say that the right to life comes into effect at the age of 18 when you are deemed by society to be an adult and theoretically can fend for yourself? Do we pick another age, let’s say a 7 year old child. What about a new born baby’s right to life?
We all agree that all of these people have an indisputable right to life, from dependent children to young adults. They are dependent on their parent(s )/caregiver(s ) for love, support, nourishment etc. to enable them to continue to grow and reach self-sufficiency in adulthood.
If we argue that a new born baby has the same right to life as an 18 year old adult, can we argue that an unborn baby in the last trimester has no rights whatsoever? My view is that we cannot. We are talking about somebody at different stages of their development, different stages of dependence on their mother. The earlier stages referred to are outside the womb, the latter stage is inside the womb.
Let’s go back further. How about an unborn baby in the first 6 months of gestation? This individual is incapable of living outside the womb. Yet can we argue they have no right to life? A baby’s heart beats just 21 days after conception. Is it alright to play God at this stage and say a foetus has no right to life before this? If we concede on this principle we are conceding on a principle which effectively undermines the sanctity of all our lives.
I now wish to refer to the recent Insider article titled “It’s time to repeal the Eight – women are counting on you to vote pro-choice.” Firstly the title assumes all women are Pro Choice when in fact they are not. Furthermore I found it incredible that the word “baby” isn’t mentioned even once. In fact many so called Pro Choice people use the word “foetus” in an attempt to de-humanise the unborn baby. Interestingly this word is only used once in the article. “Foetus” is actually a Latin term meaning “offspring” or “little one.” Whatever term you wish to use, the actual life at the centre of the abortion debate is scarcely mentioned!
The author erroneously claims that “Irish abortion statistics are proportionately in line with other European countries.” This is nonsense. In Ireland 1 in 19 pregnancies ends in abortion (1 ). The statistics for some other European countries are Sweden 1 in 4 (2 ) and 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in abortion in England and Wales (1 ), France (2 ) and Spain (2 ). [Statistics supplied by Department of Health, Abortion Statistics England & Wales, 2015 (1 ) and WHO European Health for all Database (2 ).]
The author also refers to the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar. Many Pro Choice people blame our restrictive abortion laws for her death even though obstetricians agreed afterwards there was no evidence that termination of her pregnancy by abortion would have saved her life.
The author refers to the X-case in 1992 but neglects to mention that the Supreme Court overturned the original High Court ruling which had prevented the girl having an abortion. In any event in an interview with the Irish Times in 2013 Supreme Court Justice Hugh O’Flaherty, now retired, said that as X miscarried shortly after the judgement, this rendered the case moot in Irish law.
Staying with cases of rape Pro Choice people use this argument to substantiate the need for readily available abortion. However you don’t find many of them mentioning that according to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre more than 8 out of 10 women made pregnant through rape don’t have an abortion. According to Sandra Mahkorn in “Pregnancy in Sexual Assault” most women felt abortion in these circumstances would be another violation.
The abortion argument is essentially a reflection on what kind of country we want to live in and how we perceive ourselves. It is estimated that 250,000 Irish people are alive today because of our restrictive abortion laws. In cases of “fatal foetal abnormality,” also referenced by the author, which is a grossly misleading term in itself as doctors have no way of knowing how long a child with a life limiting condition will live, abortion is presented as the only solution. There is no mention of perinatal hospice care as a positive alternative to abortion. In fact many women in these circumstances recount how uplifting the experience of holding their newly born baby even knowing that child may only have hours or days to live.
Do we want a society like the UK where 90 per cent of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted? In Denmark they have set a goal to be Down Syndrome free by 2030.
Many countries around the world will be closely watching the result of our upcoming referendum. We have a chance to show the world that we value human life at all stages of its existence and ability. The Eight Amendment didn’t suddenly give unborn babies a right they never had before, it simply recognised a pre existing right and ensured the laws in the Republic of Ireland would defend that right. If this protection is removed it will have very far reaching repercussions not just for unborn babies. Are we willing to allow that to happen?