Usually referendums add protection to human rights. Pro-choice campaigners, however, want a referendum to take one away – the 8th amendment, the Constitution’s only remaining protection for the unborn child.
Abortion proponents know that theirs is a minority position and that the vast majority of Irish people think that abortion on demand is abhorrent. So in order to get what they want they must chip away at the legal protection for the unborn by building a campaign around calls for abortion in situations, for example, where an unborn child has a potentially life-limiting condition.
Once a little bit of abortion is permitted it is easier to justify a little more, and so on. The public becomes blind to the horror of abortion and deaf to calls to protect the rights of unborn babies.
Abortion campaigners, allied to the political left and heavily funded by international abortion organisations, have used the same strategy across the world. Every abortion on demand regime began as “restrictive” but once the door to legalised abortion was unlocked the rest was just a matter of ridiculing the restrictions until more ground was conceded.
It’s undeniable that in the high-profile cases used to push for abortion, the unborn child is airbrushed out of the picture. Abortion is just a procedure. The fact that it is the deliberate destruction of the life of an unborn child is tactically suppressed. We are supposed to pretend that somehow it doesn’t matter.
And that’s not all we’re being asked to pretend. The settled pro-choice line at present is to blame the 8th amendment for everything whenever abortion is in the news.
It’s easy to accuse pro-life people of burying their heads in the sand for not accepting abortion while wilfully refusing to discuss what legalised abortion actually involves.
In pro-life circles, there are numerous stories of mothers and parents who contemplated abortion only to change their minds at the last minute. Many of them say it's thanks to the 8th amendment that their children are alive. Having to travel to England meant a few extra days planning and gave them time to think things through a bit more.
Where is the space in the present debate for these testimonies? Where is the acknowledgement of the reality that there are most likely tens of thousands of Irish citizens alive today thanks, in one way or another, to the protection the 8th amendment offered them while they were in the womb?
It’s much easier to accuse supporters of the 8th amendment of being “sectarian”, “misogynistic” and “fundamentalist”, as some commentators did recently, than to engage in meaningful debate.
Some might like to believe that repeal or dilution of the 8th Amendment would bring “an end to the debate” – that we would have dealt with the abortion question “once and for all”. This is totally naïve. Removing constitutional protection from unborn babies would result in massive and ongoing pressure being put on the Oireachtas to pass wider and wider abortion legislation. Only when unborn children have less legal protection than listed buildings or domestic pets would some abortion campaigners be satisfied.
But maybe women’s lives would be saved if the 8th amendment was dismantled? This is a nonsense claim. The repeal of the unborn child’s right to life has nothing to do with saving women’s lives. Ireland, without abortion, was one of the safest countries in the world in which to give birth. Official reports into the Savita tragedy confirm that her death was due to medical mismanagement and not the illegality of abortion. Whatever new abortion laws are proposed would be based squarely on which category of child it is permissible to abort.
That's why it's so disappointing to see certain UN committees and groups like Amnesty International join in the clamour for more abortion here. They never seem to tire of finger-wagging at Ireland's abortion laws, but cannot muster the moral courage to highlight or condemn the ghastly abuses of human rights in the abortion industry – whether it be the death of a woman from Ireland following a botched abortion in London, or the leaving of babies born alive after failed abortions to die alone in hospital corners instead of being given proper medical care – the list goes on and on.
Our current abortion law, which ignores medical evidence and depicts abortion as a treatment for suicidal ideation, is unjust enough. The very foundation of democracy is equality before the law. The 8th amendment is the Life Equality Amendment and deserves to be vigorously protected.
Cora Sherlock is a solicitor and deputy chairperson of the Pro Life Campaign