Deficiencies with Eighth do not mean law should be removed, says Bruton
Change in law will not address concerns around importation of abortion pills online
Former taoiseach John Bruton said Ireland should be proud ‘because we’re one of the few countries in the world that actually has in its Constitution a protection for the right to life, not just of a person after they’re born but before they’re born as well’. Photograph: The Irish Times
Former taoiseach John Bruton has said just because there are deficiencies in the Eighth Amendment it does not mean the law should not be there.
Mr Bruton, who believes the law should be retained and that Ireland should be “proud” of having protection of the unborn child enshrined in its Constitution, said on Tuesday there were many laws on the Statute Books that are imperfectly enforced.
A referendum will be held in May on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which places an equal right to life on the unborn child and the mother, thereby prohibiting abortion almost all cases. He has confirmed he “won’t be voting in favour of repeal”.
Speaking on Newstalk’s Breakfast programme on Tuesday Mr Bruton said a change in the law would not address some of the concerns raised by those advocating change, such as the importation of abortion pills into the State.
“People ordering those pills over the internet. That’s a problem in Britain as well and it hasn’t been cured by their having very liberal abortion laws, so I think that remains a problem.”
Mr Bruton said Ireland should be proud “because we’re one of the few countries in the world that actually has in its Constitution a protection for the right to life, not just of a person after they’re born but before they’re born as well.
“We recognise that human life is a continuum, that life doesn’t just begin the day you’re born, they’re already alive as a human being with inherent life before you’re born.
“In the Irish Constitution that’s recognised. I think increasingly that medical knowledge is showing us that a lot of human development is taking place in a baby before its born, it can feel things, it can react to stimuli, it can be seen, its sex can be recognised, all of these things.
He said this was all the more reason to protect that life.
Mr Bruton said on this basis doctors should adopt a precautionary principle, particularly when it came to pain.
“Nobody knows for sure what pain any other person is feeling, even if they’re born because pain is something very internal to yourself. I wouldn’t think doctors are in a position to be dogmatic about that.”
“But in any event we should adopt a precautionary principle, if there’s any possibility that we could be inflicting pain I think we should avoid doing so.
Mr Bruton also said a fatal foetal abnormality was not an argument for removing all protections.
“If the government’s proposed amendment goes through there will be no protection whatever for an unborn life.
None at all.
“The government or the committee didn’t seem to examine the situation of an unborn child in any great detail, or examine its rights.
“All of the reports that I read, that have been produced were about changes that would need to be made rather than protecting what we already protect.”
Mr Bruton said if the referendum was passed there will be “substantially more abortions taking place among Irish people than are currently taking place”.
“At the moment one in 14 pregnancies in Ireland ends in abortion whereas in Britain where they actually have a less restrictive abortion regime than they one we’re proposing, I think it’s one in seven pregnancies end in abortion.
When asked how the Dáil will vote if the referendum is passed, Mr Bruton said said it was impossible to tell.
“What we know for certain is that if the protection of life of the unborn is removed from the Constitution, the Dáil can do what it likes. It can allow for abortion at any stage, and in fact the proposal that we’re hearing about allows for abortion if there’s a risk to the mental or physical health of the mother right up to the day of birth, up to 12 weeks without any indication.
“In Britain for example you have to have some health ground to have an abortion in the first 12 weeks: in Ireland, it would seem to be on demand under the proposal that the government is contemplating. “I’ve no idea whether the members of the Dáil will vote for that.”