Abortion on request will follow shortly after repeal of amendment

It’s hard to see how anyone can really believe 12 weeks is line in sand

It is just wrong-headed to expect that those who have firm pro-life, anti-abortion convictions will simply exit the stage of public debate and advocacy. They will not be silenced; they will no more beat a genteel retreat than will their fellow-citizens on the other side of the issue. Photograph: Alan Betson

It is just wrong-headed to expect that those who have firm pro-life, anti-abortion convictions will simply exit the stage of public debate and advocacy. They will not be silenced; they will no more beat a genteel retreat than will their fellow-citizens on the other side of the issue. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

What will happen after the referendum on the Eighth Amendment? Will the issue be parcelled neatly away, so that those who see the result as a victory can rest easy, and those who see it as a defeat can arrive at a sad acceptance of the way things are? Far from it.

This is one issue that is not going away, irrespective of the outcome of the eventual referendum. Anyone who votes in the hope of finally laying the matter to rest will be disappointed.

It is abundantly clear that a 12-week gestational time limit for abortion is not the aim of those who campaign for freedom of choice. Twelve weeks is an increment, a step on the way towards liberalisation.

It’s hard to see how anyone can really believe that 12 weeks is a line in the sand, but those who do will most certainly be disappointed. The 12-week figure, however it may be justified, does not rest on any principled view of the nature of unborn human life. It is a pragmatic figure, intended to keep the door open to a more liberal abortion regime.

If it is enshrined in law, the principle that will then weigh most heavily will be that the unborn do not have a constitutional right to life. After that, there will be a push to remove the 12-week barrier, by as many further increments as it takes.

Abortion on request

This is not fanciful; it can be tested by listening to those who seek abortion on request. Their silence on the 12-week limit is telling: it contradicts their hopes for a liberal abortion regime, yet they are not protesting.

They know that middle Ireland is not ready for ``free, safe, legal abortion on request,” and that partial progress is the best way to achieve the more complete solution they desire

They know that middle Ireland is not ready for “free, safe, legal abortion on request,” and that partial progress is the best way to achieve the more complete solution they desire. The last thing we need expect is that they should rest after what would be just another step on their way.

Those who are committed to the right to life of the unborn will not rest either. They will not utter a resigned “it could be worse,” and leave the matter at that. They will continue to advocate, to demonstrate, to provide a voice to the voiceless. Even if the law should be recruited in an attempt to silence them, as it is in some jurisdictions, they will not be silenced.

The whole point of pro-life advocacy is the protection of the unborn, a large group of vulnerable beings whom pro-lifers persist in regarding as human, despite their size, silence and vulnerability. This is too fundamental an issue for our common humanity and for the common good ever to be let go of, ever to be surrendered.

I am aware that in using the word “surrendered”, I am transgressing one of the canons of recent discussion, in which the sacredness of life has been eclipsed by a presumed sacredness of “reasoned debate.” There is something rather visceral about the notion of surrender. Can’t we be more genteel and polite?

There is nothing to be said for poisonous diatribe or personal attack, and when our politicians make a sincere effort to avoid such pitfalls, their civility is to be welcomed.

But it is just wrong-headed to expect that those who have firm pro-life, anti-abortion convictions will simply exit the stage of public debate and advocacy. They will not be silenced; they will no more beat a genteel retreat than will their fellow-citizens on the other side of the issue.

The clash of orthodoxies will most certainly continue, so let’s not be so naive as to vote with the intention of laying this issue to rest

Post referendum, there will still be people who speak and write sagely of legal minefields, and who demand legal clarity, even if they are not so forthcoming as to tell us that the easiest route to legal clarity is provision for abortion on request up till full term.

Equally, pro-life advocates will be as adamantly public as ever. They will not settle for the notion that their position is doctrinaire or doctrinal, or that it has no place in the public square.

The clash of orthodoxies will most certainly continue, so let’s not be so naive as to vote with the intention of laying this issue to rest. The referendum will be one more skirmish (albeit a terribly significant one) in the struggle between two fundamentally opposed world views.

There will not be a post-referendum peace. The world views will be unchanged, and there will still be more than enough in the debate to tax us all, be we principled, unprincipled, or simply jaded.

Fr Chris Hayden is a priest of Ferns diocese and editor of Intercom magazine

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