Abortion and the law

Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 01:07

Sir, – There is something rather obnoxious about the phenomenon of letters to the editor that are signed by a list of academics, as was to be seen in your edition of August 23rd, where 102 academics signed a letter demanding a referendum on abolishing the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution. Is this a case of academics overestimating the respect in which they are held by the population at large, who are well aware of their vulnerability to intellectual and political fashions? Or does it simply take 102 to compose one letter?

Let’s concentrate on arguments, not on letters after a name. – Yours, etc,



Sillogue Gardens,

Ballymun, Dublin 11.

Sir, – While it is decidedly impressive that 102 academics can agree on something, this is not in itself a decisive argument. The group make a good point in saying they are under 50 and haven’t had the opportunity to vote on abortion: it can certainly be argued that the issue is more pressing for the young, and that the youth of today deserve their say. They also show compassion for the distress the issue has caused the many, many women suffering the brunt of our laws prohibiting abortion, adding an important and poignant reason for holding another referendum.

Unfortunately the core argument they put forward to support abortion is flawed. Basing the right to abortion on the right of a woman to make decisions about her body overlooks a key fact about pregnancy, which is that the foetus is not the woman’s body. We can’t see it without the benefit of technology, and it lives inside the woman’s body, placing a severe burden upon her, but it exists as a distinct biological entity. An argument for abortion must deal with the potential rights for this entity. That is not to say that an embryo or foetus should have the full rights of a person; just that if we are making an argument for terminating the unborn we should take some account of its existence. If it is believed that the foetus should have no human rights, then this should be stated, and an argument made to support the contention. A society should choose its ethical position on the right to life with its eyes fully open. If we ignore the issues, we haven’t made our case, no matter how long the parade of academics. – Yours, etc,