Dear Members of the Citizens’ Assembly,
As a spokesperson for the Pro Life Campaign, I reiterate the comments made in our main submission. I would however like to make some personal comments and appreciate your reading same.
Removal of a human right
• There is something very unjust about what we are being asked to consider. Removing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution wouldn’t just mean the removal of a few words. It would mean removing a human right from the Constitution. Pro-choice advocates don’t want the public to stop and actually think about what that means. They suggest that the Constitution is the wrong place for the right to life of unborn children. But they couldn’t be more wrong. The Eighth Amendment represents the right to life of unborn human beings. This is a basic right, a fundamental right. The Constitution is entirely the correct place for it. If we decide that such a basic right can be removed, the question then becomes – who’s next? Who will be next to have their rights targeted for removal from the Constitution? The only way to ensure that everyone is protected in our society is to keep the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution.
• Much is made of the fact that we have not been allowed to vote on this matter since 1983. This is not an argument which holds any weight. The Eighth Amendment is a human right – it is the human right, the right to life. Human rights do not “grow old”. They don’t pass a sell-by date. If anything, they mature and become recognised as an integral part of society. It’s very clear from listening to personal stories that this is what has happened with the Eighth Amendment – it has protected tens of thousands of unborn children in Ireland. A recent independent actuarial report (1) provides a conservative estimate of 100,000 people alive thanks to the Eighth Amendment and confirms this point.
• I would also point out that when the Eighth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution in 1983, this did not “create” a right to life for unborn children. It is not possible to create such a right, just as it is not possible to remove that right. Unborn children have a right to life for the same reason as you or I – due to their intrinsic dignity as unique members of the human race. What happened in 1983 was an acknowledgement of this right to life, and an express decision to insert it into the Constitution as the appropriate document for safeguarding the rights of members of Irish society. Removing the Eighth Amendment would be an attempt to exclude unborn children from the protection of our laws. In a country like Ireland, that values inclusion, this would be deeply regressive step.
• Those who try to use democracy to push for a referendum in this regard are mistaken. There is nothing democratic about holding a referendum to remove human rights. Democracy provides for the protection of the human beings living in society. Unborn children are the most vulnerable members of those society. If a referendum to remove their right to protection under the law was to be allowed under the pretext of democracy, it would damage our democratic process. We cannot simply ignore the fact that these children are alive, and just like other children, they are deserving of protection under the law. What kind of “democracy” could we claim to live if we gave the right to decide whether human beings can live or die to voters? While prochoice campaigners are fond of this argument, it is not something which should be given any weight because it is easy to see how considering the ending of human lives as part of “democracy” causes the entire system to unravel very quickly.
• There is nothing very democratic about the discussion we are having in Ireland at present. Far more time is given to the prochoice side of the debate that to prolife stories. Just recently, the Pro Life Campaign launched the LoveBoth initiative (2) which is intended to provide a platform for families to share their experiences of lives being saved by the Eighth Amendment. Launches took place in Dublin, Galway and Cork. It was not even covered on any bulletin by the national broadcaster, RTE, despite the fact that they ran an abortion story in their main evening new programme on the same day. This is just one example of the extreme imbalance which deprives the public of hearing all of the facts surrounding the Eighth Amendment. It is no way to conduct a debate on any subject, never mind something which concerns life and death.
Abortion cultures abroad
• In Ireland, it’s very easy for us to fall into a false sense of security when it comes to abortion. We think we have spent years and years debating this issue when in reality, we have been protected from the worst excesses of the abortion culture worldwide. This is thanks to the Eighth Amendment which has fostered a culture in Ireland where families are supported and babies are cared for. The normalisation of abortion in a country doesn’t just lead to abortion – it leads to a situation where respect for vulnerable people gradually drains away, where people are not seen as unique and valuable. Perhaps the most troubling example of this is the way in which abortion targets unborn babies with Down Syndrome. Until Sally Phillips’ excellent document, “A World Without Down Syndrome?” many people would not have been remotely aware that 90% of babies diagnosed with the condition are aborted in England and Wales (3). I have taken part in many student debates in this country where this figure comes up – you can see the horror and disbelief on the faces of students. They don’t believe it, and don’t want to believe it, which is understandable. But it strikes me that students in England and Wales would not have the same reaction. They wouldn’t be surprised because it would make sense – in a country where only 10% of such children are born, it would be relatively rare for students to know any personally. This is very sad but we must accept that it is the logical conclusion of removing their right to be born, which is currently protected under the Eighth Amendment. We know that researchers are currently working to perfect the test that screens for Down Syndrome in the womb, something that will increase the number of abortions taking place. How would any of us feel if we knew that researchers were spending all their time trying to perfect a test that will result in the elimination of people like us? This is not something out of a science fiction film. It is reality in 2016 and we must accept that abortion assists this frightening discrimination.
• There are so many other aspects of abortion which are not discussed in Ireland. Prochoice campaigners have no interest in drawing attention to the high rates of abortion in England and Wales, say, where 1 in every 5 pregnancies ends in abortion (4). What that means in practice is that for every 5 people you or I know, 1 of them simply wouldn’t be here. Who could you live without? This is another fact which shocks people in Ireland. We don’t have to think about it thanks to the Eighth Amendment.
• In the course of debates on this issue, prochoice advocates don’t want to discuss issues like women regretting their abortions, the fact that no country has been successful in controlling abortion or the physical trauma that women can suffer after abortion. Deeply upsetting stories of babies who are born alive and left to die after abortion procedures that go wrong are simply brushed under the carpet (5). These testimonies should be addressed and discussed so that we know exactly what abortion involves, how it affects children, parents and the wider society.
Abortion is always polarising
• The abortion debate in Ireland is often presented as a polarising argument, something which pits various interest groups and individuals against each other. I believe that this is true, and unavoidable. It is important to bear in mind that discussing abortion means discussing a life-and-death issue. The reasons why women have abortions may be many and varied, but there is one constant feature of every abortion procedure: a human being loses his or her life. It is only to be expected then that this fact would provoke passionate discussion, as has been the case in every other debate in history where lives have been at stake. I would urge you to resist the temptation to try to seek “consensus” out of a belief that this is preferable. There can be no consensus where human lives are ended. Either we are a country that will countenance this practice, or we are not. There is no such thing as restrictive abortion. Other countries have found this out to their cost but most particularly to the cost of their unborn children and the welfare of their women. Ireland is very much a country that protects human beings. We have always done so and the Eighth Amendment has contributed enormously to this protection.
• It is very clear from the experience of other countries that there is nothing positive about abortion, which ends the life of an unborn child and very often leaves women experiencing deep regret or worse. The concept of social solidarity is what we truly need in Ireland – looking at the reasons why women feel the need to have abortions and then providing the supports that will help them to find a way to keep their babies. Please give these matters your consideration – the need to improve our services surrounding adoption, perinatal palliative care, childcare facilities, accommodation, and financial support. In my own work with the Pro Life Campaign, so many people say that it was something small which made them feel that an unplanned pregnancy represented an insurmountable obstacle but that when the right kind of help was provided, they did not even consider having an abortion.
Thank you for taking the time to read my submission.
4. Department of Health, Abortion Statistics, England & Wales, 2015
5. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-512129/66-babies-year-left-die-NHS-abortions-wrong.html; Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health, Perinatal Mortality 2005 England, Wales and Northern Ireland, April 2007.