Considering the value of the Eighth Amendment - Ireland’s right to life amendment

I remember very well when I first got involved in the pro-life movement. I was at an information stand on Societies day in NUI, Galway and a second-year student approached me. She said, ‘Please tell people that it’s not the answer’. She had been through abortion. It was offered to her as a ‘choice’ that would liberate her but instead had caused her significant suffering. It’s distressing that her voice and the voice of many other women like her are not given a hearing during this debate. They deserve better.

As the abortion topic hots up, it’s becoming more important than ever to reflect on the influence the Eighth Amendment has had on Ireland. Too often, we are presented only with the case for repeal without offering the public the chance to consider the positive impact of the Eighth Amendment.

That’s why I’m grateful for this opportunity to put forward the pro-life side of the debate following last week’s “Insider” column which baldly promoted repeal of the Eighth Amendment. I don’t find the pro-choice argument persuasive for many reasons, not least because I have met so many people and families who have benefited from the impact of the Eighth Amendment and have met many women who have suffered after abortion.

One of the most inclusive parts of the Constitution, the Eighth Amendment reminds us that we need to treat every human being equally, regardless of their age, or ability, or gender or social standing. It’s there in black and white – we can’t discriminate. Thanks to the Eighth Amendment, we haven’t allowed abortion to discriminate against people of different abilities. We only have to look at Britain to see how easily this can happen once an abortion culture is established. There, 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome in the womb are aborted and abortion is available up to birth if a baby is diagnosed with any disability – including conditions like cleft palate. In Denmark and Iceland, they aim to ‘eliminate’ Down Syndrome. This sends a clear message to the public about the value that we put on people who don’t fit a particular form of ‘perfect’. It’s upsetting, disrespectful and wrong.

Abortion cultures facilitate and encourage the view that some children in the womb, more than others can be targeted for abortion. We all know what an affinity Irish people have with members of our families and communities with Down Syndrome. A world view that includes removing such treasured members of society before they are born is particularly offensive and depraved. This is the reality from other countries that the ‘Insider’ column failed to address.

Last week’s column also falsely claimed that Ireland’s abortion statistics are roughly in line with other European countries. Thanks to the Eighth Amendment, the abortion rate of Irish women is much lower. While every abortion is one too many, the fact remains – countries like Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Denmark all have an abortion rate of around 1 in every 5 pregnancies. Consider one in every five people missing from your home, workplace, university or community. Think of five friends, which one could you do without? The fact is that these rates are four times higher than the Irish rate and readers deserve the facts.

In Britain, abortion was introduced in 1967 on supposedly “restrictive grounds”. But it’s very clear that there is no such thing as “restrictive abortion”, which is why I don’t think that the wording of any future referendum will matter. It’s obvious from the experience of other countries that once you introduce abortion, you eventually end up with abortion on wide-ranging grounds. Once you say that some babies in the womb don’t deserve the same protection as the rest of us, you’re saying that no babies deserve that protection at all.

And who gives us the right to decide who should and should not be allowed to live? We have a right to be alive by virtue of our humanity, and the baby in the womb is just as human as anyone else. She has a heartbeat at three weeks, the beginnings of her eyes, nose and mouth at 6 weeks, and organs that are forming at 8 weeks. With recent advances in ultrasound technology, we can see the baby moving in the womb and we can no longer dismiss her as a “clump of cells”. Repealing the Eighth Amendment and introducing laws allowing for abortion would drastically interfere with the right to life of this tiny, vulnerable human being who is relying on us to protect her.

We’re told by abortion advocates that the Eighth Amendment means doctors can’t do their job – but why then does Ireland consistently rank at the top of the world leader boards when it comes to looking after women in pregnancy? If our doctors’ hands were really “tied by the Eighth”, as is so often claimed, then our medical profession wouldn’t be ranking so highly – very often higher than countries where abortion is legal. And it’s really disturbing to see some abortion advocates still claiming that Savita Halappanavar’s tragic death in Galway in 2012 was due to the prohibition of abortion when three independent reports found that she died due to mismanaged sepsis, not the Eighth Amendment.

Last week, the Insider column tried to insist that you can be “pro-life” and “pro-choice” at the same time. It’s important to be honest about what these terms mean in the context of the abortion debate. “Pro-choice” has a very specific meaning. If you’re in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment and introducing abortion, then you’re “pro-choice” and accept the consequences of what that would mean for our country.

Describing yourself as “pro-life” means you want the opposite - you want to keep the Eighth Amendment in place and not introduce abortion. Why would you feel that way? Well, apart from the facts mentioned already about how abortion ends the life of a baby and allows discrimination, by far and away the more important reason for keeping the Eighth Amendment is that is a life-saving law. There are tens of thousands of people in Ireland who say their children are alive thanks to the Eighth Amendment. People who talk about how, when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, they considered abortion but because they had time to reflect before travelling, changed their minds.

The Eighth Amendment offers space for a “cooling off” period when someone is considering abortion. In the initial panic of an unplanned pregnancy, that’s hugely important and it has literally saved lives. Some people have told me that all they needed in those initial days of crisis was for one person to say, “You can do this and I’ll be there to help.” That’s what we need to do – offer help and support to women – not abortion. Being involved in the pro-life movement, I meet a lot of those families and when I’m meet their children, I’m not meeting a “choice”, I’m meeting a “child” – someone with the same rights as you or me.

At the end of the day, the abortion debate comes down to a decision on the kind of society we want – one where legal protection is stripped from the most vulnerable among us, or one where we all enjoy the same welcome and protection under the 8th Amendment and where we work as a society towards supporting single mums and families in every way possible and providing positive alternatives to abortion.

Eilis Mulroy is a solicitor and a spokesperson for Galway For Life, the local branch of the Pro Life Campaign

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