Ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum on Friday, pro-life and pro-abortion rights debaters have squared off in a country where voters will be asked to remove constitutional protections for the unborn, known as the Eighth Amendment.
“What the government has proposed is an extreme law, stripping every right in the constitution for the unborn... taking away the right to life for the right to kill,” said Maria Steen, a speaker with the Iona Institute. “What the government is asking us to do is to become judge and jury over the lives of babies in the womb.”
The May 23 debate on Ireland TV3’s The Pat Kenney Show comes ahead of a May 25 referendum on whether to repeal the pro-life language in the Republic of Ireland’s constitution, which recognizes the equal right to life of mother and unborn child. The language dates back to a 1983 referendum passed with the support of 67 percent of Irish voters.
In the four-person debate, Ireland’s Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty of the Fine Gael party claimed that abortion opponents failed to provide abortion alternatives and “haven’t been willing to look or support anything in 35 years.”
Doherty, who describes herself as "pro-life" despite her support for the repeal, charged that keeping the amendment means ignoring women in crisis, reported the Irish news site BreakingNews.ie.
A “yes” vote would remove the constitution’s pro-life language, while a “no” vote would preserve it.
In a March 2018 case that some have compared to the Irish Roe v. Wade, the country’s Supreme Court ruled unanimously that unborn children have no other rights except those guaranteed by the Eighth Amendment.
If the repeal vote is successful, Irish lawmakers are expected to propose legislation allowing unlimited abortion up to three months into pregnancy, and up to six months into pregnancy in cases where there might be risk to a mother’s physical or mental health.
About 3,000 Irish women travel to the U.K. for abortions each year. The procedure is largely illegal in Northern Ireland as well.
At one point in the TV3 debate, Independent Senator Ronan Mullen rejected the claim that there is evidence that mental health is valid grounds for abortion. He also cited a woman who was considering traveling to the U.K. for abortion, but then reconsidered.
“This woman told me ‘the time it took me to arrange an abortion in England is the time it took for me to change my mind’,” he said.
Doherty contended that the 72-hour waiting period in the draft legislation provides a period for women to reconsider an abortion.
Another debater, Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty Ireland, said “the Eighth Amendment has not stopped abortion. It has stopped some abortions, but it has forced others to continue pregnancies.”
Steen summed up her argument against repeal: “Women who need their health looked after deserve better than an abortion. We think this is a step too far. We all think taking the rights of all unborn children is fundamentally unjust.”
A Tuesday night debate on the show RTÉ Prime Time was a two-person debate between Minister for Health Simon Harris of the Fine Gael party and Sinn Féin Member of Parliament Peadar Tóibín.
“Wanted, unwanted. There are not two classes of people--we are all one. The child is the weakest individual. She has no voice.” Tóibín said, according to BreakingNews.ie.
Harris charged that opponents of the referendum sought to force rape victims to carry their pregnancies to term.
For his part, Tóibín cited his experience working with rape victims in County Meath.
“Meath will have legalized abortion in Meath before it has a rape crisis center,” he said.
Tóibín charged that repeal would allow a general practitioner with only six months of psychiatric training to decide whether a woman may have abortion on mental health grounds. He charged that repeal would mean abortion on demand.
The repeal effort is backed by Ireland’s major political parties.
Overseas involvement has also been a matter of controversy.
Financier and philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and its pro-abortion rights grantees Amnesty Ireland, Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland, and the Irish Family Planning Association have run afoul of Irish political finance rules barring foreign funding of political campaigns.
Ireland is part of the foundations’ broader strategy against pro-life Catholic countries, according to a document reportedly hacked from the foundations and posted to the site DCLeaks.com.
“With one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, a win there could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places,” said the foundations’ proposed 2016-2019 strategy for its Women’s Rights Program.
The internet giant Facebook has banned foreign-backed ads related to the Irish referendum, including small ad purchases from Irish-American pro-life advocates. Google has banned both foreign and domestic ads.
The latter move was seen as a blow to the Irish pro-life cause. The Save the 8th campaign's strategy relied on intensifying its internet ad campaign in its final weeks, Pat Leahy, politics editor of the Irish Times, said in a May 10 analysis.
The Irish Times suggested that companies have become afraid that if voters reject the referendum, they will face blame and further scrutiny for allegedly influencing elections.