The mainstream media – British and overseas – is starting to report on Ireland’s referendum on May 25 to repeal, or retain, the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, which protects the life – “where practicable” – of the unborn child. Such reporting tends to fall into predictable clichés about “modernising” liberals versus “conservative and Catholic” Ireland.
But in setting up this rather tired duality, it seems to me the media are missing a more interesting story – which is the increased prominence of an intelligent and articulate generation of Irishwomen who are defending the pro-life cause with poise and confidence.
Two younger pro-life women now often seen on Irish television are notably impressive: Maria Steen, 37, of the Iona Institute, and Wendy Grace, 31, a presenter on a Dublin Christian radio channel called Spirit Radio. Both are terrific speakers, fearless yet compassionate, and either of them could be candidates for a brilliant political career. As it happens, both are also pretty, which shouldn’t matter, but in a visual age appearance can bolster communication. Both are married and are mothers.
So while the overseas media relapses into tired old tropes about the declining power of the Catholic Church, the Church itself, while stating its position on life issues, is not so much to the fore in the current referendum campaign.
Instead, the most visible elements defending the pro-life cause are … women. Cora Sherlock, an accomplished lawyer, of the energetic Pro Life Campaign, and Dr Ruth Cullen, a clinical psychologist of Love Both (mother and baby), are equally remarkable. Caroline Simons is another clever and knowledgeable lawyer, who last weekend appeared on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show arguing the case against liberal abortion for Ireland.
Nobody would deny that there are difficult and anguishing cases – rape, incest and a diagnosis that the baby is so handicapped it cannot survive – and in public debates, these women have faced tough questioning. And it’s quite right that the public discourse should involve hard questions, addressing difficult cases.
But it’s time to recognise the political narrative here: it’s not the “conservative” power of the Catholic Church that is sustaining the campaign to protect the Eighth Amendment: it’s the driving force of a cohort of educated and motivated Irishwomen, who are bringing some of the fierceness of the maternal instinct to this serious constitutional matter.
This article first appeared in the May 4th 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here