The referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution – countdown to polling day

 

Sir, – For those who are undecided as to how they might vote tomorrow, I respectfully suggest that the question could be phrased as follows: should a 14-year-old victim of rape have the opportunity to safely choose not to go through with that pregnancy within this State? – Yours, etc,

ISABEL COGAN,

Rathgar,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Based on the British experience since abortion was legalised on ostensibly narrow grounds in 1967, let us be clear about what is at stake in the imminent referendum. If the Yes vote prevails tomorrow, and the Eighth Amendment is repealed, in the Ireland of the future the lives of unborn human beings will be legally ended if they are unwanted, unplanned, inconvenient, sick, disabled, imperfect, the wrong gender, or the result of crime or violence. That is what happens in Britain in 2018. To prevent this appalling reality spreading to Ireland, I urge my fellow citizens to vote No tomorrow. – Yours, etc,

MICHAEL D’ARCY,

Edgware,

England.

Sir, – I understand that people are disgusted with the Catholic Church and the State because of stories I have read about how, in the past, women facing a crisis pregnancy were shipped off in shame to Magdalene laundries, out of sight and out of mind, and how in some cases mother and child were separated through forced adoptions. And yet now those wanting to repeal the Eighth are suggesting an even more extreme solution for women facing a crisis pregnancy. The solution now being presented is, “Have an abortion”, keeping the pregnancy out of sight and out of mind, thus continuing the shaming of women. “Have an abortion”, an even more extreme method of separating mother and child.

If you are disgusted at the way the Church and State treated women in the past who found themselves in a crisis pregnancy, why continue the shaming by suggesting that abortion is the solution? – Yours, etc,

Fr ANTONY JUKES, OFM

Franciscan Friary,

Killarney,

Co Kerry.

A chara, – It’s been established, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Eighth Amendment does not prevent abortion. The Eighth does only two things, but it does them very well: it gives us a comforting illusion of moral superiority, and it causes immense suffering to thousands of women and girls.

If you’re thinking of voting No on Friday, ask yourself: which of those two are you voting for? – Is mise,

HELEN GUINANE,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – In his letter (May 23rd) commenting on my article (Opinion & Analysis, May 16th), retired High Court judge Bryan McMahon quotes the following passage from the judgment of Chief Justice Clarke in M v Minister for Justice and Equality and Ors : “The only right of the unborn child as the Constitution now stands which attracts the entitlement to protection and vindication is that enshrined by the amendments in Article 40.3.3 namely the right to life, or, in other words, the right to be born . . .”

The words I have emphasised are critical. The court was not dealing in that passage with the Constitution as it existed prior to the enactment of the Eighth Amendment or (at any point) with the Constitution as it would exist after the repeal of the amendment. The court held that there were inconsistencies between the right expressly guaranteed in Article 40.3.3 and that claimed to be implied under Article 40.3.1 which made it clear that the former article had been, since 1983, the only article guaranteeing that right.

In another passage, to which Judge McMahon makes no reference in either of his letters, the Chief Justice said that the position prior to the passage of the Eighth Amendment was uncertain, but that four positions could be canvassed, two of which recognised the right to life of the unborn. That will also be the position if the Eighth Amendment is repealed with one important change: the Oireachtas will now be entitled to regulate the termination of pregnancy.

Judge McMahon seems to be of the view that the Oireachtas in exercising that power will be entitled to introduce any abortion regime, however unrestricted, and that this will be incapable of challenge in the courts. I do not agree. I think that the Oireachtas will be obliged to balance any constitutional right the unborn may have to life against the constitutional rights of the mother, not merely to life, but to health, bodily integrity, privacy and bodily autonomy. If the resultant legislation is challenged, it will be for the courts to remove the uncertainty of which Chief Justice Clarke spoke and determine whether the opinions of eminent judges in the past that there is an implied right to life of the unborn in the Constitution should be adopted and, if they should, whether the Oireachtas has struck the correct balance.

Judge McMahon believes that for the courts so to hold would be to “fly in the face” of what the people have decided. On the contrary, were the courts so to hold, they would be recognising that the right to life of the unborn was not conferred by the Eighth Amendment and that, under well-established constitutional principles, they would be entitled to recognise and protect its existence, although not in the terms of the Eighth Amendment.

I take exception to Judge McMahon’s suggestion – implied if not expressed – that I regarded the Referendum Commission as “misleading the public”. I have the highest regard for the Commission and its distinguished chairperson and their valuable work. I appreciate, however, the constraints under which they operate and which would make it impossible for them to enter into the complex legal and philosophical details which have been a feature of this correspondence. – Yours, etc,

RONAN KEANE,

(Former chief justice),

Dublin 6.

Sir, – The Referendum Commission booklet says: “Your vote means everything”.

Well yes, it probably does.

If the Government wins, though, it will be your last vote on the most crucial issue of all, the deliberate taking of unborn human life.

Is that what you really want?

If not, vote No. – Yours, etc,

DONAL O’DRISCOLL,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – It’s easy to have an opinion on how others should live their lives, but none of us really know what we would do until faced with the reality of making a difficult decision, a decision that may challenge long-held beliefs.

I’m in the fortunate position of having never faced a pregnancy as the result of rape, I’ve never received the devastating diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality, I don’t suffer from bad health, physical or mental, I am financially comfortable, have a loving husband, a supportive family and fantastic friends. I’m lucky and I know it, but I also know that others haven’t had my good fortune.

I can be aware that people have different life experiences, some better but many worse than my own, but how can I, from my position of privilege, honestly claim that I know what I would do if I were faced with their difficult choices? The simple answer is that I can’t and I shouldn’t assume that I can, that’s why I’ll be voting Yes on May 25th. – Yours, etc,

E O’CALLAGHAN

Rathmore, Co Kerry.

Sir, – I note that the Taoiseach has rejected suggestions that new laws to allow for abortion in “hard cases” of rape and fatal foetal abnormalities could be brought forward if the referendum is defeated tomorrow.

The Government could already have brought in legislation or an amendment to allow for abortion in these exceptional cases, but it chose not to.

Instead, pro-repeal campaigners have exploited hard cases such as fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancy arising from rape as a Trojan horse to trick the Irish people into voting to legalise widespread British-style abortion in hospitals and GP practices throughout Ireland.

I hope the Irish people see the reality that these proposals are too extreme, and vote No tomorrow to abortion on demand. – Yours, etc,

K WALSH,

Knocknacarra, Galway.

Sir, – David Begg has advocated publicly for a No vote in the referendum as he has stated he cannot in conscience vote to repeal the Eighth (News, May 21st). But he is also saying he is not against abortion itself.

Mr Begg advocates that for rape victims “would it not be effective to have recourse, immediately after the rape, to the ‘morning after’ pill or to other procedures that ensure pregnancy will not occur?” This seems to be a euphemism for, at least, early abortion.

In this ideal world, with the help of modern science, no one who does not want to be pregnant, is pregnant.

In the real world, rape victims may not be in a position to take the morning-after pill due to the crime and the circumstances of the crime. They may be controlled, traumatised and in denial.

For some, the moral question is about the control of abortion and not the fact of it. And the great irony is that the control of abortion is precisely what we cannot do under the Eighth Amendment. That is why we must repeal. – Is mise,

Dr CLÍONA SAIDLÉAR,

Executive Director,

Rape Crisis

Network Ireland,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – In her Opinion article of May 21st, Una Mullally recalls a time in Ireland when unwanted children were denied their human rights: “What did we do with those babies before? Put them in homes. Sell them to Americans. Abuse them. Bury them in unmarked graves.” She goes on to argue that a society and country should be judged on “how it treats its most vulnerable people.”

If your columnist has her wish, we can look forward to our country once again treating unwanted children as devoid of human rights; we will just do it at an earlier stage in their lives. Yet again, our country would fail to protect its most vulnerable people. We can surely do better. – Yours, etc,

MARTHA QUIRKE

Greenmount,

Cork.

Sir, – Dr Vittorio Bufacchi’s admonishment that the referendum on the Eighth Amendment “is not about human rights” is baffling (Opinion & Analysis, May 22nd). So too is his claim that those who invoke human rights in this referendum do so “for dramatic effect”. I assume he includes Amnesty International in this bizarre assertion.

So, for the record, the Eighth Amendment is a serious human rights issue. Women’s and girls’ human rights are gravely violated by the almost total abortion ban imposed by the Eighth Amendment. Dr Buffachi might read Amnesty International’s 2015 global report, She Is Not a Criminal, which documents the many human rights violated by Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, including women’s rights to health, equality and non-discrimination, information, privacy, and freedom from torture or other ill-treatment.

It is also beyond question that women and girls have a human right to access safe and legal abortion services should they need them. The UN human rights bodies (that Ireland helped create and elect) have repeatedly instructed Ireland to fulfil this obligation.

The Government has effectively agreed that the Eighth Amendment violates women’s rights. In 2016, it agreed to provide Amanda Mellet with redress after she successfully took a case against Ireland to the UN Human Rights Committee. That committee had found that Ireland’s abortion ban subjected her to “intense physical and mental suffering” amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The Eighth Amendment harms women, and strips them of their dignity. Until women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies, health and lives, they will never be equal. – Yours, etc,

SORCHA TUNNEY,

Campaign Coordinator,

Amnesty International

Ireland,

Seán MacBride House,

Fleet Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – The Yes side accuses the No side of not listening to the reality of women’s experiences but that accusation can well and truly be levelled at the Yes side. It continues to ignore the reality of deep regret and suffering that so many women suffer after an abortion. The National Women’s Council will not even accept these women into their organisation.

The Yes side seems totally deaf to the deep distress of many women faced by a diagnosis of life-limiting conditions when all their obstetrician offered them was abortion and that this was often repeatedly suggested to them in a way that added to the great distress they were already feeling. They are deaf too to the many parents who have come forward saying they were given a wrong diagnosis or a much more pessimistic diagnosis than what it was in reality.

The Yes side seems totally deaf to the concerns of parents of children with Down syndrome and those with disabilities who see how other countries systematically denigrate their children by making the condition a reason for abortion.

Most of all though, the Yes side has been both deaf and blind to the reality of the humanity of the unborn child. – Yours, etc,

CAROLINE DONOHUE,

Tynagh, Co Galway.

Sir, – We know that a legacy of inequality, segregation and institutionalisation has created a deep inequality for disabled people in Ireland and that disabled women are impacted more significantly than other women by the lack of abortion care in Ireland.

The taboo which surrounds sexuality and disability has led to insufficient access to sexual education, the health inequalities experienced by disabled people in many aspects of their life has impacted upon maternity services and access to contraception and a lack of recognition of a right to consent to medical treatment persists in all areas of health, including maternity care.

In this context, the requirement to travel to access abortion care can simply be an insurmountable barrier for women with disabilities. A lack of accessible information, inaccessible transport, lack of Irish sign-language interpreters and poverty make travelling for care especially cruel and undignified.

Much was made of the fact that Ireland recently became the last country in the European Union to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This international agreement asserts a right for disabled people to decide freely on the number and spacing of children. Access to abortion services is a key enabler of this right.

The Eighth Amendment hurts all women and it has the potential to hurt disabled women all the more. A vote for Yes on Friday would mean that women could access the full range of reproductive services at home, with a trusted doctor, and for women with a disability this will represent a step towards equality in reproductive health. – Yours, etc,

PADDY CONNOLLY,

CEO,

Inclusion Ireland;

SUZY BYRNE,

Disability Rights Activist;

PAT CLARKE,

Former CEO,

Down Syndrome Ireland;

Senator COLETTE

KELLEHER;

FRANK CONATY,

National University

of Ireland, Galway;

EILIONÓIR FLYNN,

Director,

Centre for Disability Law

& Policy, NUIG;

LIAM HERRICK,

Executive Director,

Irish Council

for Civil Liberties;

KATHLEEN LYNCH,

Former minister of state

for disability;

EVIE NEVIN,

Disabled Persons

Together for Yes;

COLM O’GORMAN,

Executive Director,

Amnesty Ireland.

Sir, – I will be voting Yes tomorrow, not because of the arguments put forward on these pages by either side, or the musings of clergy, legal experts, and on Wednesday, even a British peer, but because I know of no other modern nation that has taken the trouble to insert, in its Constitution, an amendment equating the rights of a woman with a fertilised egg.

During my 50 years in Ireland as an anthropologist, the one thing that still evades my understanding is the mistrust of the Irish woman, and therefore the dismissal, in law, religion and medicine, of her rights. The most recent is the HSE’s failure to inform women of their cervical scan results because of potential PR damage to its image. When a woman leaves Ireland, her education, spirit, energy and good sense are recognised and welcomed. At home, she deserves the same. – Yours, etc,

EILEEN KANE,

Kilcolgan,

Galway.

Sir, – The Government should stop cutting social services, payments and supports and focus on helping women with life-affirming options.

Hold the Government to account by protecting the Eighth Amendment and voting No to keep the continued welfare of all enshrined in our Constitution. – Yours, etc,

KATHLEEN FINNAN,

Clondalkin,

Dublin 22.

Please note that on polling day tomorrow (May 25th) we will be observing a moratorium on letters relating to the referendum. We thank the many readers who took the time to share their views.