No vote would diminish hope for the unborn


OPINION:The anti-Lisbon group Cóir claims the treaty could usher in abortion. They are wrong, writes EDMUND GRACE

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT resolutions – or more correctly, opinions – have been quoted, along with the views of a few MEPs, as evidence that abortion will be imposed on Ireland by the EU. In particular the Charter of Fundamental Rights, contained in the Lisbon Treaty, is cited as the Trojan horse that will make it all possible.

All this ignores a simple statement – clear, in black and white, repeatedly made. The Maastricht Treaty, followed by the treaties of Amsterdam, Nice – and now Lisbon – all make it clear that “nothing shall affect the application in Ireland of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland”. This provision protects the rights of the unborn and is further underlined by the legal guarantee given by the EU member states in June.

As for the charter, it will only apply to the workings of EU institutions and no European court could even entertain the possibility of using it to “get around” a commitment repeatedly made in European treaties with regard to the constitution of a member state.

No amount of legal ingenuity could disguise the damage that this would do to the framework of mutual trust on which the EU depends. It would mean that Adolf Hitler’s view of international treaties, as worthless bits of paper, had prevailed. The underlying issue here is not abortion, but a basic trust in the democratic values of our European neighbours – a trust that seems to be absent from the arguments of groups such as Cóir and Youth Defence.

Cóir quotes an initial critical comment about the charter from Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, but they do not tell us that his views have developed. In 2004, less than a year before his election as pope, Benedict wrote: “The Charter of Fundamental Rights may be a first step, a sign Europe is once again consciously seeking its soul.” He singled out for praise its outlawing of human trafficking. Since becoming pope he has spoken of the European Union as “a most significant achievement which has brought a period of peace heretofore unknown to this continent formerly consumed by constant conflict and fatal fratricidal wars”.

All this is far removed from the suspicion and fear being generated in his name.

At the same time the views expressed in the European Parliament constitute a challenge to debate. They reflect a libertarian secular world view which sees the anti-abortion position as indefensible and which gives pride of place to self-development and personal liberty. It is ill at ease with the total dependence of the unborn child – a situation in which the child’s liberty is non-existent and the mother’s greatly curtailed.

Given this starting point, the pro-choice position has a certain logic: just as an unborn child depends on its mother for life, so its right to life is also dependent.

This secular world view is held in good faith by many people who equate “fanaticism” with “religion” and “ideology”. It represents a conscientious response to that misguided zeal that has led to war, genocide and decades of tyranny. The challenge facing the anti-abortion movement is to convince such people of goodwill that our motivation is one of human solidarity rather than fanatical zeal and that our vision is rooted in hope rather than nostalgic attachment to the past.

The great weakness of this secular world view lies precisely in the realm of hope. Those who glorify personal choice are often strangely paralysed when it comes to making practical commitments. It is one thing to have a choice, but the actual making of a choice can be painful. It requires that we take one path to the exclusion of others. In terms of personal liberty, this is a kind of death, which explains why commitment is often feared in today’s world.

Without hope, no one can endure the poverty of having made a commitment. Hope is absent when a woman decides to end the life of her unborn child. Hope is absent when a society says to such a woman: “What you choose is your business.” Without hope the commitment of parenthood is something to be feared, which may explain why Europe’s population is in decline. In the coming years, as the aged become more numerous and those in their prime become impoverished by the burden of support, the prevailing secular world view will face unfamiliar questions.

If we vote against the Lisbon Treaty we will be saying that there is no hope for the rights of the unborn in the wider forum of Europe. We will be calling into question the goodwill of our fellow Europeans and condemning ourselves to the role of sulky outsiders by refusing to engage in debate at a European level at a crucial moment.

If we vote for Lisbon, we will be insisting on one area of fundamental disagreement, but in a context of trust and mutual respect. As the underlying weakness of the secular world view becomes clear we will be in a better position to make the case for the equal rights of the unborn based on a world view that protects liberty by placing it in its rightful context of human solidarity and mutual respect.

Fr Edmond Grace is a Jesuit priest, a barrister and is director of the Conversation on Democracy in Ireland

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