The Eighth Amendment


Sir, – Prof Fiona de Londras argues that someone who believes abortion is wrong should still vote for repeal, because the “moral status” of the foetus is contested (March 3rd).

That simply doesn’t follow. A contested right is not automatically denied. If you believe the foetus has human rights, and in particular the right to life, then it is inconsistent to vote against this right being protected because other people disagree with you.

The pro-life position is that the foetus has the right to life: it is hard to see an ethical, pro-life basis for modifying this to the view that some foetuses have the right to life and other foetuses don’t.

Prof de Londras also contends that the argument should start with the pregnant person, not the foetus. Arguably both sides start with the foetus. Pro-life arguments explicitly advance the rights of the foetus as the reason why a choice to kill it should be denied. Many pro-choice arguments start with the foetus too, as they rely on the implicit assumption that terminating the foetus is not to kill a human being in the full sense of the word. Only after this is established (or taken as read) can it be argued that the choice to have an abortion should be based primarily, or only, on the circumstances, wishes and needs of the pregnant person. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6W.

Sir, –Prof Fiona de Londras goes to the heart of the issue of abortion – the nature of the being in the human womb. Her argument begins with reference to the existence of different convictions among people concerning the nature of prenatal human life. Her conclusions rest on distinguishing between the rights of human beings at two different stages of life.

In reaching her conclusion she discriminates, ignoring growing scientific awareness regarding the characteristics of prenatal life. These include emerging evidence of pain sensitivity at eight weeks gestation, the transfer of cells from the prenatal being in the womb to the mother during pregnancy and during miscarriage and abortion.

She offers those who support the Eighth Amendment, namely, “people for whom abortion is a morally and ethically difficult matter”, a new criterion for decision making – “the question for the referendum surely is not whether abortion is wrong per se, but whether law should support pregnant people in making ethical decisions about maintaining foetal life”.

This is a false polarity. Those who believe “abortion is wrong per se” also believe that the “law should support pregnant people”, not just “in making ethical decisions” but in many other ways as well, particularly women in difficult situations. All this in the context of a culture of life which explores solutions in the context of the life rather than on the death of another, and emphasises the long-term interests and wellbeing of the mother.

Prof de Londras’s appeal that we “recognise pregnant women as moral agents” is indeed proper, but her own profession exists because individual moral agency per se is inadequate for the practice of justice, especially as it pertains to the granting of power over the life and death of others. Law is necessary for ethical decision-making. – Yours, etc,



Co Limerick.

Sir, – When I cast my ballot on the proposed removal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, it will not be the sayings of Heraclitus or Aristotle which will influence me (Fr John Joyce, Rite & Reason”, February 27th). I am more likely to think of the lived experience of family members and friends and the future of my granddaughters. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.