Presbyterian Church urges ‘No’ vote in abortion referendum

Proposed law ‘regressive, incompatible with human dignity and morally unacceptable’

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has called for retention of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which recognises the equal right to life of mother and unborn, in next month's referendum.

In a letter circulated this weekend to all minsters and congregations in the Republic, it said that: "The General Council of our Church, acting with the authority of the General Assembly, has concluded that meaningful protection for the unborn can only be secured if the Eighth Amendment is retained in the forthcoming referendum.

“We therefore encourage church members to consider these matters prayerfully and with great care over the coming weeks and to vote in accordance with their conscience.”

The letter is signed by the Church's moderator Rt Rev Dr Noble McNeely, clerk of the general assembly Rev Trevor Gribben, and convener of the Republic of Ireland panel, council for public affairs, Very Rev Dr Trevor Morrow, also a former moderator of the church.


They recalled how "in January, representatives of our church wrote to members of the Oireachtas, affirming the value of every human life, emphasising the importance of care for women, children and families in times of crisis, and urging all to work for a truly progressive Ireland where the weak and vulnerable, including children in the womb, are cherished and protected".

Since “then the Government has pressed ahead with proposals to introduce unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, should Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, the Eighth Amendment, be repealed”.

“As Christians, we see the scriptures speaking consistently of the importance and value of human life, including that of the unborn. On that basis, we are responsible before God to honour the sanctity of human life.”

Mixed views

They said that, “while recognising that there are mixed views within our church about the adequacy of the current Constitutional provision, particularly around those exceptional circumstances in which the termination of pregnancy may be necessary, we consider the proposals for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy to be regressive, incompatible with human dignity and morally unacceptable”.

Looking to the position of the other main churches in Ireland, the Catholic Church opposes abortion in all instances and wants the Eighth Amendment retained.

The Methodist Church rejects the proposed unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks but says abortion is permissible where there is risk to the health of the mother as well as in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality and where the foetus is incapable of survival.

The two Church of Ireland Archbishops – its Primate Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson – said they were opposed to "unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage". However two of the church's bishops, Bishop of Limerick Kenneth Kearon and Bishop of Ossory Michael Burrows, have said they favour repeal of the Eighth Amendment as has former Archbishop of Dublin John Neill.

Rabbi Zalman Lent of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation favours repeal as his community believes abortion should be permitted where there is a risk to the mother's health.

Dr Umar al-Qadri, chairman of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, has said he believed the Eighth Amendment should be repealed while Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin's Clonskeagh, opposes repeal.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times