Bill a further step along road to industrial abortion

Column: The destination of what is termed the ‘liberal’ agenda is the unpicking of the prevailing social edifice

Members of the Pro-Life Campaign in a protest outside the Dáil this week. Photograph: Alan Betson

Members of the Pro-Life Campaign in a protest outside the Dáil this week. Photograph: Alan Betson

Fri, May 3, 2013, 12:00

It’s possible to see the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 as a “compromise” outcome that successfully strives for a better and clearer “balance” between the competing rights of mother and unborn child. This is precisely why it is, inevitably, one more step along the road to industrial abortion.

The two sides of the abortion debate see themselves as opponents, perhaps enemies, but they are really allies in a rarely acknowledged process. Sometimes it seems that neither side has correctly identified the deeper nature of their struggle, though sometimes I suspect that those on the “pro-choice” side know precisely what they are doing. So-called pro-lifers have been drawn into thinking that the crux of this matter is a tug-of-war between the “rights” of mothers and unborn children. This is a partial and partisan way of describing a much larger phenomenon – insinuated as the headline by those controlling the discussion.

At the back of the abortion debate there reposes like a shadow a context rarely adverted to. This context would, if generally perceived and understood, fundamentally change the terms of these debates, by, among other things, rendering it more difficult for those promoting fundamental changes to abuse language and use selected victims to promote their agenda.

At bottom, the abortion debate is part of a programme of change aimed at shifting society from a model of “human rights”, which defines how human beings might coexist and reside together, to one in which individualised rights will be the critical and defining characteristic.

The Constitution of Ireland is, as an entity, dedicated to spelling out how people might abide together – in society, communities, families and varying kinds of social or intimate relationships. It’s possible to argue as to the comprehensiveness of its prescriptions, but hard to avoid that the defining ethos can almost invariably be identified as an antithesis of individualism. The promotion of selfishness does not require a constitution: you simply allow people to pursue their most instinctive desires and the devil take the hindmost. The Constitution of Ireland is in general aimed at enabling and encouraging solitary beings to function in human relationships – to come and remain together, to agree, co-operate, share, cohabit, reconcile and resolve their differences, to see themselves as part of larger organisms in which “rights” are held in a complex commonality.

Behind virtually every attempt to change the text of the Constitution is essentially a different way of seeing human existence. Those pursuing changes are almost invariably seeking to dismantle the Constitution’s original logic aimed at building and protecting a social organism on the foundations of human nature – and replacing this with individualised understandings which inevitably tend in the opposite direction. In the new dispensation, the “rights” of individuals are understood as discrete, contesting entities, and the aim is to create the maximum individual “freedom” while minimising the risk of immediate societal disintegration.

Had “pro-lifers” back in 1983 sought to defend the Constitution’s “way of thinking”, rather than pursuing “rights” for the unborn, they might now be winning the argument. But by campaigning to copperfasten the rights of unborn children by a constitutional guarantee, they unwittingly conspired in redefining the rights of mother and unborn child within a new understanding of individualised rights. This had the effect of rendering abortion inevitable.

As a fact of nature, the unborn child is dependent upon the mother’s willingness to protect him or her. The chances of the unborn child arriving to breathe in the world depends, you might say, on the mother’s ideation. And since the core of the “pro-choice” position is that the unborn child is not a viable “individual”, it becomes clear that, in the new individualised culture, an unborn child cannot acquire true rights of the new kind. Once you redefine the relationship of mother and child outside its natural symbiosis, identifying the two parties as competing entities, the child has a diminishing chance of survival.

The destination of what is termed the “liberal” agenda, then, is in effect the unpicking of the prevailing social edifice, the return of the human being to a state of autonomy, isolation and self-centredness, and the creation of a new means of maintaining social cohesion which places the State in control of each individual’s destiny and “rights”.

This was the defining characteristic of the recent “Children’s Rights” referendum, but here again many self-styled “conservatives” failed to see what was at stake. Once any individualised “right” is established, and society takes steps – however cautiously – to provide for it, the only question is how long it will take for the “choice” thus rendered available to become a new norm. And so, although we cannot foresee precisely how this will happen, we can be certain that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 will nudge us onwards towards a dispensation in which the phrase “unborn child” will appear increasingly oxymoronic, with the inevitable results.

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