Last Month | MAY 18 | The Irish Abortion Referendum

I normally cover a multiplicity of topics and events in these posts. This time will be different because I feel like May was largely uneventful (save my Washington Capitals making the Stanley Cup finals and a spike in Toronto-based violence). Really, there was only one headline that caught my attention and it likely caught yours as well.

I am honestly not sure whether I could truly say I was surprised by the result of the Irish vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment to Ireland’s Constitution. These are the times we live in. Certainly, the “landslide” margin—over 66% voted ‘yes’, a telling figure—was a surprise to me as it was, perhaps, to most.

Ireland’s eighth amendment ensured the protection of the pre-born, or the “unborn”, at all stages of life, making abortion illegal and practically inaccessible.

It seems like it’s been forever that Irishmen and Irishwomen have campaigned fervently to vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to repeal, to defend pro-life or pro-choice values.

On May 25, the nation gathered in an exercise of democracy to vote for or against a repeal of this amendment and the people spoke—the amendment has ultimately been reversed making abortion legal.

My immediate thought in response to all of this is that I, as a Canadian, am incredibly disappointed that many in Ireland have opted for what seems to be the popular view concerning abortion and so-called reproductive rights–an ethic with a hierarchical view of human life, anchored in the necessity of convenience, having a bottom line as low as consent, applying in disproportionate fashion an under-defined conception of human rights. It disappoints me that the nation has turned this corner, at this time.

I’m also disappointed by the responses I’ve seen coming from secular American, Canadian, English and Irish sources—journalists, politicians, and writers. Here’s what I’ve noticed.

1. Ireland v. The Church

I’ve read a number of secular sources that have tied this undoing of a decades-old amendment to ongoing frustration with the (Roman Catholic) Church in Ireland. These sources suggest that the May 25 vote was resultant of a progressive loosening of Catholic tradition in Irish culture and thought. It’s a symptom, according to them, of reactionary liberalization borne from resentment and proliferated by socioeconomic deisolation.

For example, Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura in an online New York Times article, Where Did Ireland Go? Abortion Vote Stuns Those on Both Sides, writes, “The culture of silence and deference to religious authority that long dominated Ireland is gone. The country that has emerged is an unlikely leader of liberal values.”

Kimiko later adds, in the same piece, “Ireland’s impoverished past, as well as the outsize role of the Catholic Church, had set it apart from much of the rest of Europe. Many saw the referendum as the final step in aligning the country with the rest of the continent.”

This sort of linkage is also touched upon in passing in Emma Graham-Harrison’s piece for the Guardian entitled Irish abortion vote is remarkable political victory for Leo Varadkar. In this article, she sees this vote along a string of previous victories during Leo Varadkar’s term as Prime Minister of Ireland such as legalizing same-sex marriage which, according to her, “was a remarkable repudiation of Catholic doctrine, and a sign that the church’s once unbreakable grip on the country had loosened.”

It’s interesting that while the issue of abortion is certainly framed as a “human rights”, “reproductive rights”, and “women’s rights” issue by these predominantly liberal sources, it is also being to some extent framed as a conflict between Ireland, and the Irish people, and the Church.

Consider also these comments from Twitter:

This presents a few problems for everyone, I think.

I’m not sure many people necessarily voted simply because they “hate” the Church and want to see its demise. To clarify, I don’t think anti-religious sentiment necessarily is, or was, the dominant sentiment that drove or compelled the #repealthe8th campaign. Maybe it was, but maybe not. Me personally, I wonder how many of the Irish voters were merely reacting to past Church misbehavior and abuse, which Kimiko doesn’t hesitate to cite, or even more simply to the Church’s historical deep-rootedness in Irish culture. How many of the voters were fatigued by the Church’s presence? I’ve personally encountered several individuals who have targeted the Church and Christianity as altogether problematic sources of anti-woman attitudes and thus unbalanced viewpoints on the abortion issue. I’ve seen the Church targeted to defend the pro-choice position or rather to make the pro-life position undefendable.

Of course, if I’m correct in my assumptions, it is an unfair game being played. And certainly, this is not the type of game (if I may call it such) that should be played when children’s lives are at stake. Are hundreds, thousands, millions of lives lost at the onset of abortion legalization worth the outpouring and venting of pent-up resentment towards a religious institution?

Plain and simple, this battle should not be fought on these terms—the issue of abortion is a moral dispute with lives at stake and shouldn’t be whittled down to a sort of culture war. I understand that I’m not Irish and therefore have next to no understanding or experience of Irish culture, but it shouldn’t be.

It is unfair to judge a philosophy, or the pro-life position, by the misdemeanor and offenses of some defenders, even if the offenses are widespread, even if the offenses are more than a few. It is logically fallacious. It is mere rhetoric. Many of these liberal writers have conveniently discarded any report or historical trace of Church support for the plethora of human rights causes it has financed and served (including being a core supporter/provider of worldwide anti-poverty programs and organizations as well as services for pregnant women in critical financial, social, and medical circumstances). This is unbalanced and dishonest.

In other words, if by legalizing abortion one thinks they’re delivering a fatal blow to the Church’s cultural “grip”, they have actually failed their own society by making secondary the fundamentally ethical issue and blindly welcoming into their land a Trojan Horse of regret and death, the factual consequences of abortion attested by the results of the current experiment in Canada, the United States, and beyond.

If the defeat of Church sovereignty is the goal, be sure to weigh the cost.

2. The Letter of a New Law

In the wake of the vote, legislation is still to be determined and finalized in a year’s time. A bill entitled Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy 2018 (find it here) has already been proposed with the following key points:

  • In life-threatening/critical medical situations: Termination of pregnancy (abortion) is lawful insofar as two medical practitioner’s (MP’s) establish the risk to the life of the mother, that the fetus is not viable (24 weeks), and it is appropriate to terminate (Article 4. (1)). In emergency situations for the mother, where immediate action is required to save her, only one MP need make the judgment (Article 5. (1)).
  • In the case where the fetus has a condition that will likely lead to death before birth or shortly after: Abortion is lawful insofar as 2 MP’s establish the condition’s likelihood of leading to death pre-birth or shortly after (Article 6. (1)).
  • Abortion is lawful before 12 weeks of development (Article 7 (1)). Three days have to separate the MP’s certification and the termination is carried out (Art. 7 (2)).
  • Objecting MP’s must make arrangements for transfer of care of pregnant mother to another MP “as may be necessary to enable the woman to avail of the termination of pregnancy concerned” (Art. 15. (3)).

With regards to the first point, the determination of “appropriateness” of termination/abortion seems pretty open-ended and subjective. In those life-threatening cases, where measures alternative to abortion are available to save the mother, can a physician still choose abortion? This is a problem, especially since most of those life-threatening cases that I know of have alternative procedures that don’t involve deliberate termination. And if we’re really trying to rarefy abortion, shouldn’t we provide some concrete guidelines for the calculation of appropriateness?

John Keown of the National Review outlines his own concerns over that particular portion of the bill, “The bill requires merely belief in a risk to life or of serious harm to physical or mental health, not a serious risk. There is a risk (however slight) to life and of serious harm to health whenever we drive a car or cycle. There is a risk (however slight) to life and of serious harm to physical or mental health in every pregnancy. What, then, would prevent two doctors from granting any request for abortion between the twelfth and 24th week if they thought it “appropriate” to terminate in order to eliminate a risk (however slight) that a pregnant woman did not wish to run? (Even if the bill were amended to require the risk to be “serious,” that word is far from precise.)”

My second thought is that this bill seems to follow the thought-process that the pre-viable human isn’t worth protection as per the Eighth Amendment yet, after viability, the human (or, for the pro-choicer, the fetus) is probably worth protecting. Which is intellectually incomprehensible, even when given a certain premise, and does seem awfully eugenic in nature when one follows the logic to its ultimate end. And this becomes far more uncomfortably–nay, disturbingly–apparent given Article 6. Which is ultimately the problem when we try to draw the unworthy-of-protection line somewhere between conception and birth based on physical capacities.

Remember, before viability, the fetus has a beating heart (3 weeks), a functioning brain (5-6 weeks) and the capacity to feel pain (20 weeks).

Now, abortion would only be permitted between 12 and 24 weeks for those life-threatening scenarios, past 24 weeks for emergencies deemed to require immediate action (which are all rare events). What should be absolutely considered by the medical community though is, given the scientific consensus that the pre-born has full living humanity (sample citation coming later), even from a pro-choice perspective, what measures exist to save the mother in that crisis which don’t involve deliberate and direct termination, and should those not be implemented as primary (or, rather, only) solutions?

With regard to the “eugenic” nature of drawing the line after conception, splitting the pre-born into categories of worth-saving and not-worth-saving, the physical distinctives apply to the already-born human which is why that arbitrary line is so demonstrably immoral.

Viability? Are we saying that those completely reliant on other beings or things for survival aren’t worth total protection? Drawing the line at viability or elsewhere is, by definition, discriminatory and easily seen as such when put this way. What’s being implied about the nature of human value? Hierarchy.

My third thought is that the 12-week marker, before which abortion is totally permitted, is pretty strict compared to most other countries where abortion is legalized. But it still calls us to ponder the seriousness of the voting result, that some of our own species will not be protected by law, that someone’s child, sister or brother, will be destroyed for any reason whatsoever. But not just one. Many. And with the subjectivity of the language in the bill, far too reminiscent to me of Canada’s Bill C-14, and as Keown further explains, the carnage could be worse than one might expect.

My fourth and final thought is concerning the last point which discusses the issue of conscientious objection. It puts Irish pro-life MP’s in exactly the same spot as MP’s in Canada, currently, with respect to assisted death especially. If you, as a physician, won’t perform the act on the basis of conviction, you must pass the patient on to another MP that very well may perform the service. Is there any justice in this?

3. Cause for Celebration?

Sifting through the massive amounts of Twitter praise for #repealedthe8th, you really get a front-row view of the foundations of the pro-choice movement. Many of the celebratory remarks, below, intertwine with the disturbing, tired, fallacious go-to slogans and arguments of the movement forever married with modern second- and third-wave feminism. It’s saddening and much of it absolutely abhorrent.

Theresa May:

Of course, Trudeau:

And many many others chimed in…

“Safe and responsible”. “#HerBodyHerChoice”. Let me just drop this below:

“Human life begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. 2003. pp. 16, 2.)

It is clear from sources like this one, and many more, that it’s understood in the scientific community that the zygote satisfies the definition of “human” and “life”. If there’s any disunity among scientists with this knowledge, it’s over the willingness to call the zygote a living, human being. However, the above quote seems pretty clearly in agreement.

With this in mind, how can we honestly say the decision to abort primarily affects the mother? That it affects her body and her’s alone?

How can abortion be safe when it is absolutely and necessarily lethal to one individual (the pre-born) and potentially endangering to the other (the mother)?

And what is the distinction between a responsible and irresponsible abortion if the understanding is that the pre-born are merely masses of tissue, lifeless, non-personal, inanimate? What’s the consequence?

I wish the compassion were equally distributed to other, smaller, more vulnerable human beings inside the womb. I’m sure they’d appreciate it, too.

Glad there’s an appreciation for human rights and dignity in folks like Ms. MacMillen. Now, can we try for a consistent application of said argument, in light of my previous citation?

Well, Lindsey Kelk (and Wendy Davis), I’m not one of these “‘pro-life’ people” you’re addressing.

The idea that the pro-lifer is an angry misogynist trying to keep women in the kitchen or that the pro-lifer only has a narrow/simplistic view of the otherwise complicated motives for having an abortion show that these individuals in particular either have little to no experience engaging with the pro-life community directly (likely the case for Lindsey) or they have deliberately caricatured us in a stroke of blatant dishonesty (likely the case for Wendy). A straw man’s a straw man. Easily attacked.

I should mention that I try to avoid the blanket generalization, whenever possible, when engaging with the pro-choice community. While it’s near-impossible to not make some generalized statement when engaging, I try to choose my words carefully (I truly wish I were better at this). Remember that I chose not to blindly accuse all pro-choice voters of Church-hate but rather I wondered how many carried a motive of resentment. Also keep in mind that I’ve chosen not to accuse all pro-choicers of murderous intent. I tend to follow up my concerns with questions posed to the opposition because I’m genuinely interested in hearing an answer, in hearing people’s own personally-defined positions.

This last one I think most accurately represents how I feel (the poster is presumably pro-life):

Some Closing Thoughts

The Taoiseach (PM) Leo Varadkar in a speech delivered after the voting results were revealed said that “[…] this was a once in a generation vote. Today I believe we have voted for the next generation.” But, really, the only beneficiaries of this vote will be the generation that survives.

If you have the time, I recommend reading an open letter, which you can find here, by a pro-life Irishman to his country after the vote.

Pro-lifer–Take heart. These are difficult, trying times. It’s easy to give in and compromise when it feels like you’re in the minority. Read the letter. Be inspired. Speak up. Keep fighting.

Pro-choicer–Contrary to what many think, abortion is not a grey moral area, and it’s not something we can afford to sweep aside or quit fighting over. My respectful and sincere plea to you is that you will continue to listen, have ears to hear, and critically examine our position as well as your own. Remain committed to applying a consistent ethic. Do your best. It’s all I can honestly expect. I hope we can find common ground and move forward from there.

May 25 was a tragic day in the life of the world. The prize won was convenience at the expense of our young. How many truly understood what they were voting for? How many truly knew the cost? A more unsettling thought–how many knew and ignored or, worse yet, embraced?


Feel free to comment below. No matter your view, I’d love to hear your thoughts! If you enjoyed reading, you can subscribe by pressing “Follow” at the bottom of the page. 

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