Abortion and the law

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 01:11

Sir, – May I remind Fintan O’Toole (“Why Ireland never faced up to the issue of abortion”, Opinion & Analysis, August 26th) that while many of the organisations supporting the pro-life agenda are Roman Catholic, there are many non-Catholics with coinciding views who are just as passionate? If I mention that I am a pro-life Protestant (Christian), would that throw Mr O’Toole into statistical confusion? Could he cope knowing that someone who has no connection or affiliation to the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion?

He may be disappointed that Ireland is the “only country in the democratic world to have a constitutional ban on abortion” but for most people, I suggest, this fact is a cause for relief, not dismay. – Yours, etc,

GEOFF SCARGILL,

Loreto Grange,

Bray,

Co Wicklow.

Sir, – In their letter of August 28th, a large number of academics argue that “it is time that this generation had its referendum” and that “that referendum must transform the law on access to abortion care”.

We support their case for repealing the eighth amendment (and the other subsequent amendments that sought to mop up the mess left by it). We also share their objection to a set of laws that fails to account for the moral principle that women ought to have control over their own bodies.

But we are wary of repeating the error of inserting detail into the Constitution on this broad question. No matter what the wording, the constitutionalising of matters such as access to abortion care places judges in the position of having to interpret vague text in the light of particular circumstances, unavoidably influenced to at least some extent by their own predilections and preferences.

Just as before, constitutional wording and judicial decree would come to shape and even stifle subsequent public debate on the matter, often excluding reasonable policy choices.

Too often the Constitution has been used by political actors as a shield behind which to hide from making decisions on difficult issues.

A constitution is mainly a mechanism for establishing the essential political institutions. It can also serve to entrench broad principles of equality and liberty, as well as general rights and freedoms. It is up to citizens and their representatives to make the best of those principles and rights through ordinary politics. More constitutional provisions might merely impose this generation’s beliefs on subsequent generations. – Yours, etc,

Dr TOM HICKEY,

Dr EOIN O’MALLEY,

School of Law

and Government,

Dublin City University,

Glasnevin,

Dublin 9.