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,


Templeville Road,

Templeogue, Dublin 6W.

Sir, – The letter signed by 102 academics arguing in favour of the “pro-choice” position on the abortion issue should not be misinterpreted to mean that academics generally agree with this argument. Indeed I do not know how academics would divide on this issue but I do know that it would not be difficult to get 102 academic signatures to a letter supporting the “pro-life” side of the argument. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor,

School of Biochemistry

and Cell Biology,

University College Cork.

A chara, – The slightly more than “100 academics” who signed the letter carried in these pages on August 23rd calling for a referendum to appeal the Eighth Amendment have an interesting idea of what a “mandate” is. A mandate is something granted by the people of the nation to their elected representatives on the basis of the manifesto on which they campaigned. It not something created by a self-selected group of people by virtue of their co-signing a letter, even if they happen to have graduate degrees. Galling for them, no doubt, but that’s democracy for you. And why, might one ask, does it happen that the majority of signatories are resident outside this jurisdiction? Are we to gather from this that, out of the thousands of academics living and working in the Republic, they could barely round up 50 to declare the existence of this “mandate” and needed to go outside our borders to bolster the numbers? Not very impressive when one notes that, even then, they could hardly break three figures.

But it doesn’t really matter if their letter was signed by one, one hundred, or a thousand; it still doesn’t manufacture a mandate for a referendum. That requires an election during which politicians are elected, or not, on the basis of their declared stance on the matter. And during that election each of those academics who signed will get exactly one vote each just like everybody else, presuming they happen to be in the country at the time and are eligible to vote.

It might be hard for some with many degrees to accept the idea that their voice or vote is no stronger than those who never finished school, but such is the way of things unless they can manage to swing a constitutional amendment of an entirely different type. I wish them luck trying. – Is mise,



Co Kilkenny.