Zealots on both sides prepare for battle over Eighth Amendment

Anti-abortion and pro-choice activists will create a bear pit ahead of referendum

“Another year over. And a new one just begun.”

With yet another abortion referendum waiting in the long grass.

"The words 'secular' and 'religious' in Ireland have settled into an effective trench warfare and verbal stand-off that does little to disclose or enhance the common good of those who believe in God and those who do not believe in God."

So said Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson in his Christmas Day sermon at Christ Church Cathedral. It seemed important "the secular reaction to religion engage with its presuppositions while at the same time, in all likelihood, disagreeing with them; and furthermore it seems equally important that religious people take the scruples and the principles of secular people seriously and attentively," he said.

Such worthy, civilised sentiment is likely to be blown away later this year as a referendum on the Eighth Amendment takes place. Where anti-abortion and pro-choice people are concerned this trench warfare has been going on for 35 years, since the Amendment was inserted into the Constitution following a referendum in 1983.

Mother of all battles

As we enter 2018 loins have already been girded by zealots on both sides for the mother of all battles to repeal/retain the Eighth next May.

Anti-abortion activists will accuse pro-choice people of being “murderers” in all but name, while pro-choice people will accuse anti-abortion people of being anti-the-mother and/or misogynistic (whichever you’re having yourself).

That great swathe in the middle will include the vast majority of voters who, weary of the catchcries, will try to avoid both extremes in the bear pits that will be television and radio current affairs programmes, as well as coverage in newspapers, which provide platforms for both sides to vent, equally, at each other.

So much sound and fury, and as ordained by a convincing example of the law as an ass. Of course, none of this applies to Twitter, coarse Twitter, where both sides are already disporting themselves with a vile vengeance that is shocking in the depth of its atrocious hatred.

Alongside voters in the middle will be the churches and other faith groupings who, despite their differing positions on abortion, will refuse to get down and dirty with either side, though sharing views with both while expressing them very differently.

As was the case with the debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, they will articulate their positions devoid of rage and with an understanding that other people of goodwill in their own church, in other churches and faith groupings do, in conscience, disagree.

People of faith should leave the outcome to the electorate and the mercy of God

All abhor abortion, but only the Catholic Church is as absolute in its opposition. That too is deserving of respect and understanding. It would be intolerable to expect someone who sincerely believes a human person is present from conception to agree with abortion at any time.

This may require a stretch of empathetic imagination on the part of those who do not hold such a belief, but it is proper that it be attempted. It applies otherwise, also. Such imagination should be extended to those who have genuine difficulty in accepting that a human person exists from conception or for much of a pregnancy.

Both sets of believers should be open to the friendly arguments of the other in an attempt to understand the opposite view, and without wanting to just beat it down.

Irreconcilable differences

Where differences are irreconcilable they should be accepted with the holders moving on, each respecting the integrity of the other. Because it is possible for both positions to be held with integrity, whatever the furious may claim.

People of faith, who can be either anti-abortion or pro-choice, should leave the outcome to the electorate and the mercy of God. Non-believers should accept that honestly-held differences may be irreconcilable and leave the outcome to the electorate.

As Archbishop Jackson put it in his Christmas Day sermon: "In all things, it is important in a democracy that respectful discourse continue to be developed and enriched; it takes all parties to do this intentionally in a world of increasingly self-generated communications."

It was important, he said, “that individuals be furnished with sufficient objective information to make decisions and that, while lobbyists inevitably will seek to influence the thought pattern of voters, the voters themselves create and sustain the freedom to decide without undue influence.”

Amid all the unpleasant hue and cry over coming months let us not forget that it is in the silence of the polling booth voters will decide. So be it.

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent