For decades Irish pro-lifers have soothed their nerves with the idea that abortion would only become legal if passed by a referendum. It was guaranteed by the 1937 Constitution that the Irish would have to vote on changes to the Constitution, before the constitution could be altered. In 1983, a pro-life amendment was added to the Constitution, guaranteeing protection to the unborn.
But our present prime minister, Enda Kenny, seemingly circumvented the constitution by his Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill. Kenny is quite the Svengali and used clever words to disguise the legally sanctioned obliteration of innocents. He swung the bill on the shaky basis that if abortion were performed on a suicidal pregnant woman, it would purge her of self-destroying plans. This caused even liberal-minded psychiatrists to scratch their heads. Some even had the nerve to reiterate that suicidal ideation increases in a woman after she has an abortion, but their medical evidence was brushed under the carpet.
But is the wording of the pro-life amendments in the Constitution going to be changed? It used to be the way that it could only be changed by a vote. In essence, the Irish have a constitution that forbids all deliberate sundering of the unborn, yet legislation that makes the life of the baby subject to the mother’s mental health.
Some would argue that the constitution was irredeemably undercut by the Irish courts giving leave to a 14-year-old to travel to Britain for an abortion in 1992. But the X Case did not permit for abortions to be performed, this precise surgical procedure, on the landmass of Ireland.
I think that our constitution is still in existence – as a stack of meaningless pages.
Even people who welcome the legislation must acknowledge that it has come at the price of utterly undermining our constitution, and relegating the Irish people to serfdom once more. Is there truth in the old stereotype of the Irish people as passive and obedient? Why have the Irish given up their say in the running their country?
If the Irish can stomach this violation of legal autonomy, then what next? Will this government demand that the death penalty by lethal injection should pass into law by a bill, even though the constitution does not allow it?
Our constitution, forged in the 1930s, is a Catholic document for a Catholic nation. The frittering away of the constitution is key to understanding the embittered Irish relationship with the Church: because it is a relic of our poor Catholic past, it must be tossed aside. But in the national drive to get rid of all vestiges of Catholic Ireland, are we simultaneously rubbishing our claims to self-determination? And is it worth it?
It bears asking again: if the legal framework of the country can be dismantled to control the Irish people on abortion, then what next? The constitution gave all Irish people autonomy in changing the country’s laws. In time, I may hear my fellow Irish call out that they are being subjugated, and that their rulers dictate to them. I doubt that they will be taken seriously. At that stage, they will be crying wolf.