The Irish government announced Monday that a referendum that could liberalize Ireland’s abortion laws will be set for a vote in late May or early June, sparking a call for respect for human life from the country’s bishops.
“The innate dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death, is a value for the whole of society, rooted in reason as well as in faith,” stated Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland, in a recent pastoral message.
“The Catholic Church, in common with other people of goodwill, teaches that ending the life of an unborn child, like the taking of any other innocent human life, is always evil and can never be justified,” Archbishop Martin continued.
The referendum will decide whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans abortion in Ireland, known as the Eighth Amendment. The amendment was passed by a referendum vote in 1983, when nearly 67 percent of Irish voters approved it.
The amendment reads, in part, “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
Repeal of the amendment could permit abortion for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion is already permitted in Ireland when a women’s health or life is in danger, and some Irish women travel to the United Kingdom for abortions. According to Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, 3,265 Irish woman traveled to the United Kingdom for abortions in 2016.
In a recent pastoral letter, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin said that “the reference to the right to life (of the child and of the mother) would be removed from the Constitution and not replaced with anything else.”
“When it comes to the right to choose, there is a tendency to forget that there is another person involved; a vulnerable person who has no choice and who depends entirely on others for protection,” Bishop Doran said.
“If society accepts that one human being has the right to end the life of another, then it is no longer possible to claim the right to life as a fundamental human right for anybody,” he added.
Archbishop Martin has also argued that a constitutional repeal would have detrimental effects for Ireland’s future.
“To repeal this Article will leave unborn children defenseless, and completely at the mercy of whatever abortion laws are introduced into Ireland — both immediately, as will inevitable be further broadened in future years,” Martin said.
“Abortion ends the human life of an unborn girl or boy. It deceives women — and men — by creating a culture where the decision to end the life of an unborn child is portrayed as simply a matter of individual ‘choice,’” he continued.
However, Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar believes that the public should vote on the country’s abortion laws, saying that he “does not believe the Constitution is the place for making absolute statements about medical, moral and legal issues,” according to CNN.
When he was the country’s Health Minister in 2014, Varadkar took a pro-life stance. However, CNN reported that the prime minister has since changed his views, saying his stance had “evolved over time,” and that he would vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
A poll conducted by Ipsos/MRBI for the Irish Times reported that 56 percent of the country would support the change in constitution, allowing abortion up to 12 weeks. The poll also showed that 29 percent of the population would oppose the change, while 15 percent were still undecided.
However, Pro-Life Campaign spokeswoman Cora Sherlock said that number is likely to change over time when people begin to really think and debate over the topic.
“When this happens, I am confident that the polls will move in a pro-life direction,” Sherlock said, according to the Irish Times.
Bishop Doran encouraged dialogue over the upcoming referendum, saying that pro-life citizens should openly discuss their views “over a cup of tea or a pint.”
“It’s not about debating or being confrontational. At the most basic level, it is just about letting other people see that they are not alone and that it is perfectly reasonable to believe in the right to life,” Doran said.
Both Doran and Martin also encouraged the country to pray that Ireland would “choose life,” and prompted the faithful to write to Irish politicians asking them to defend the unborn. In addition, the bishops said that the church should continue to find ways to support women and families.
“Whatever happens in respect of the Constitution, there will continue to be a need to support women, especially women who face challenging circumstances in pregnancy,” Doran said.
“May God bless you all and give you wisdom and courage to bear witness, with love, to the Gospel of Life.”