It is good to know that people in Ireland are standing up “to save the Eighth” as this magazine reports – roughly 100,000 of them attended the recent pro-life rally in Dublin, a considerable number in a country of Ireland’s population. People on this side of the Irish Sea need to support them, as the outcome of the Irish referendum will certainly have an effect in the United Kingdom too; just as, for many years the pro-life witness of the Irish Republic has shown us all that there is a different way of doing things.
Two things need to be stressed in the current debate. The first is admirably summed up in the slogan “Love both”. Mother and child are not in competition; the unborn child is not an aggressor or invader; to be pro-life is to support the rights of children to life, and to support women and mothers. It is not either/or, but always both/and. It is a very simple point, but it needs to be made, to refute the insidious idea that to be pro-life is to be anti-women. It is not: indeed, as the case of sex-selective abortion proves, to be pro-life is to be truly feminist.
The second thing is to note that the constitutional protection afforded by the Eighth Amendment is the only protection that unborn children have, according to a recent ruling. In other words, if the Eighth goes, then abortion up to birth becomes a legal option for the Irish Parliament to consider. As should appear obvious from the United Kingdom’s example, to legalise some abortions will inevitably lead to legalising almost all abortions, as the current campaign in the UK to decriminalise abortion wants to see. The famous dictum “safe, legal and rare” is not to be trusted.
To allow one abortion is to allow any abortion, because a child is a child, whatever the state of its gestation – this is not a question of circumstances but a question of absolute principle. So the Eighth Amendment is the right grounds on which to fight this battle. If it goes, the battle is lost, though no doubt the war would continue – the war about where to draw the line: currently the Irish government wants to legalise abortion on demand up to 12 weeks. But 12 weeks is an arbitrary line. Why should a child of 11 weeks’ gestation have no legal protection, while one of 12 weeks could? That is the fundamental absurdity at the heart of the repeal campaign.
Finally, the recent rally in Dublin has done something very important. It has fired up the Pro-Life Campaign and convinced them, and the rest of Ireland too, one hopes, that this referendum is winnable. It didn’t look that way a few months ago. But 100,000 people walking in the rain – and virtually everyone in Ireland will know one of those people at least – make a powerful statement. By contrast, the words of Leo Varadkar, who tells us “I still believe in life”, while backing abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, lack all conviction.