On Saturday the news, already predicted by exit polls, was clear: Ireland had voted by a decisive majority to change the country’s previous law that had forbidden abortion unless the mother’s life was in danger. Slightly disguised in legalistic terms as a vote to repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution or not, the Irish were in no doubt that a “Yes” vote would mean victory for the pro-choice faction and unrestricted access to abortion up to twelve weeks.
Ironically enough, Saturday’s Telegraph had a supplement advertising “The ultimate guide to your Ireland of adventure”, where tourists could lose themselves in “the breathtaking scenery of Ireland’s dramatic coastline”, “Explore magical hidden gems along those diverse and wondrous walks” and “Discover Ireland’s most beautiful and challenging golf courses.” What’s not to like? The emerald island of saints and scholars has become, not before time, a theme park where, if admiring the scenery palls, you can always wander round romantic ruins of ancient abbeys, noting the half-buried Celtic crosses at one-time sacred religious sites.
In his post-victory comments, Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s Prime Minister, used the universally approved lexicon of the “Yes” campaigners: it had been a “quiet revolution”, Ireland had finally “come of age”, the country now had a “modern constitution for a modern country” and “we trust women to make the right decisions about their own healthcare.” He added solemnly, “We voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink” and applauded the women and couples “whose own bravery and dignity have moved hearts, changed minds and changed our country.”
So free access to abortion up to 12 weeks – the time span when the vast majority of abortions take place – with no questions asked (even in England questions are still notionally asked) has become a sign of maturity and modernity, a question of healthcare in which participants are brave and dignified in their thoroughly adult choices.
A friend who is a mother of seven adult children and who lives in County Cork, emailed me on Saturday to tell me of a sermon some of her children heard in a Dublin church that morning. “The priest told the congregation that the outcome did not surprise him, it merely confirmed what he had long suspected, that there is virtually no faith in Ireland, only a veneer. At this point, a large portion of the congregation walked out of the church.” Why sit around listening to a despised member of a faith that oppresses women, causing them unnecessary shame and guilt, when you could be sitting at one of Dublin’s trendy restaurants or out playing golf?
My friend concluded bleakly and accurately, “This is a vote by the people. We can talk about a biased media but at the end of the day, not the courts, not the government – the people did this.”
And now, in the future, as the ease and convenience of abortion takes hold and the numbers inevitably rise, thousands of Ireland’s unborn babies will never live to grow up and enjoy their country’s “hidden gems”; they will never participate in any “quiet revolution” of ideas, nor blink their eyes at the wonders of reality. Their “brave and dignified” parents will have seen to that.
We mustn’t forget: this is progress.