Churches’ stance against abortion is ‘virtue signalling’

The Eighth Amendment is morally repugnant and places women in dire situations

Many church leaders have chosen to oppose abortion in Ireland by defending the retention of article 40.3.3 in the Irish Constitution.

This is a morally defective stance, if the aim is to mitigate the relatively high rate of abortion in Ireland.

Retaining the article means the current situation will continue whereby Irish women are in effect excluded from accessing health services in Ireland when faced with what they experience as a crisis pregnancy and so cannot be embraced by the comprehensive health and support services which would support them and thereby often reduce the need for terminations.

It does not seem the churches  have really studied the legal, medical and moral defects in the current situation

Article 40.3.3 – which was correctly opposed in 1983 by the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church because the complexities of abortion ought not to be governed by simplistic phrases in a Constitution – has indeed proven a legal and medical minefield.


It has contributed to women’s deaths and lack of healthcare in their own country as well as the criminalisation of women and having a chilling effect on medical practitioners.

Churches have a key responsibility to proclaim and respect the moral autonomy and dignity of each person and the current constitutional provision has greatly diminished this for women.

Women’s healthcare

Those churches which wish to reduce the need for abortions would be better employed confronting the State with the need to address the appalling gaps in health and social services for women through new investment in comprehensive women’s healthcare and in social support services including child and adult disability services and paediatric hospice care.

It seems that the churches urging a No vote are simply “virtue signalling” to their more traditional constituencies.

It does not seem that they have really studied the legal, medical and moral defects in the current situation as described in the reports from the Citizens' Assembly and the Oireachtas Committee and, indeed, other key documents relating to the many legal cases and medical inquiries which have arisen because of the great defects of the Eighth Amendment.

Any study of this substantial body of evidence reveals the need for legislative, medical and other changes which can only occur with the repeal of the article.

It is not defensible for Christian leaders to advocate the retention of a provision in the Constitution which has become morally repugnant.

The evidence has shown that it has not protected either life in the womb or safeguarded women’s health but has placed women in dire and unacceptable situations, either in their own homes self-medicating or overseas without their own doctors or health support.

All churches need to learn to practise some democracy before they criticise the people's democracy

Churches which wish to reduce our relatively high and unsafe rate of abortion would be in a morally stronger position if they focused upon the detailed legislation which will be possible if the people vote yes.

This will require substantial consideration in the Oireachtas and extensive public deliberation and consultation with health and social service providers.

In addition, the churches might advocate that such careful legislation be accompanied by a totally new approach to investing in comprehensive women’s healthcare and social supports for children and for disability services.

Cherishing all

Only when we as a people know that every possible support is in place and every women and child is cherished can we claim to be truly pro-life.

I am appalled that certain spokespeople for Christians have argued that we cannot trust our parliament and legislators to proceed responsibly on the legislation that ought to follow a Yes vote.

Our Republic and our politicians seeking to serve the common good and elected by our citizens deserve our trust and support and we may remove them if they fail us unlike certain unelected religious leaders.

Coming from the democratically organised Methodist Church, I believe that all churches need to learn to practise some democracy before they criticise the people’s democracy.

I and other church leaders and members will be voting “yes”. I am focused on how, both as Christians and citizens, we may value and protect as much as possible both the sacredness of human life and the health and wellbeing of women.

I believe that with the comprehensive approach indicated above, we will mitigate the need for terminations and reduce our rate of abortions.

If repeal of the Eighth Amendment occurs we will all have a major contribution to make to ensure these ends through safe, legal and relatively rare terminations of pregnancy.

Dr Fergus O'Ferrall is lay leader of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a member of The Irish Times Trust