In a decision that some critics are comparing to Roe v. Wade, the Irish Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that unborn children have no other rights except those guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment — which is targeted for repeal this year by pro-abortion rights groups.
“It has demonstrated with absolute clarity that the Eighth Amendment is now the only defense that the unborn child has against the arbitrary decisions of politicians to extent the grounds upon which an abortion may be obtained,” Independent Member of Parliament Mattie McGrath said, according to the Herald Scotland.
“While I do not believe that the Eighth Amendment will be repealed regardless of today’s decision, I do think that if the government’s hostile, manipulative and aggressively pro-choice agenda is successfully perpetrated upon the people, then today may one be seen as the Irish equivalent of Roe v. Wade.”
The Eighth Amendment to the Republic of Ireland’s constitution, passed by voters in 1983, recognizes the right to life of mother and unborn child equally.
The High Court, which is below the Supreme Court in authority, sided with a Nigerian man’s arguments in an immigration case. Among his claims the court favored: he should not be deported because his unborn child had multiple rights, including the right to the company of his or her father.
The High Court said the unborn baby had personal rights guaranteed in other parts of the constitution as well as guarantees in the 2012 Children’s Referendum which requires the state to protect “all children.”
The Supreme Court dismissed the man’s appeal, but disagreed with the ruling that the unborn child had other rights. It said the decision should have instead considered rights that were conferred on the child once he or she was born, the Irish Times reports. It said the “most plausible” interpretation of Irish law before the 1983 pro-life amendment was that there was uncertainty about the constitutional place of the unborn that the Eighth Amendment was intended to remove.
The court claimed its decision does not mean the unborn child is “either constitutionally or legally invisible,” and said the state was entitled to take into account respect for human life “as an aspect of the common good.”
The case was holding up efforts to repeal the Eighth Amendment. Had the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, it could have delayed the repeal vote.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Irish government released final language for an amendment that would say: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, said the language change is “about trusting women to decide, in the early weeks of their pregnancy, what’s right for them and their families,” saying it is also about trusting doctors to decide when a pregnancy is a risk to a woman’s life or health.
“Above all it’s about trusting Irish people to consider this matter in depth, with compassion and empathy, as I know they will,” he said, the U.K. site Metro News reports.
Varadkar has promised to propose legislation to allow unrestricted abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, the Irish newspaper The Independent reports.
Iona Institute spokeswoman Maria Steen criticized the government’s decision to appeal the High Court’s opinion that the unborn child has multiple rights.
“It shows the overt hostility of the Government towards the unborn child,” she said. “It wants these children to have no constitutional rights whatsoever.”
Steen said the decision highlights the need to protect the Eighth Amendment.
“The Irish people have now become, in effect, the last line of defense in Ireland for the unborn child,” she said March 7. “It is now exclusively in our hands to decide whether to protect the fundamental right to life of the child in the womb, or to take it away. The decision could not be more important.”
“Will we decide a group of fellow human beings, those in the womb, are deserving of less protection than we are, or will we see them, correctly, as one of us, and continue to protect them?” she asked.
Steen voiced confidence that the Irish people will vote to retain the Eighth Amendment when they realize what is at stake and “not put the fate of vulnerable babies in the womb entirely into the hands of this and all future Governments.”
On March 9 the Irish bishops released a pastoral message on the right to life titled “Two Lives, One Love.”
They warned that changing the Irish Constitution would serve no purpose other than to withdraw the right to life from some categories of unborn children.
“To do so would radically change the principle, for all unborn children and indeed for all of us, that the right to life is a fundamental human right,” they said.