This is a moment unprecedented in Irish political life, and almost certainly also in the political life of the West, for what we contemplate is the possibility that we may vote down the most fundamental right of all, the right-to-life, of a category of human beings in Ireland, destroying the constitutional protections that safeguard the most innocent, the most defenceless, the most voiceless among us.
Under attack is Article 40.3.3, otherwise known as the Eighth Amendment, which “acknowledges” the right to life of the unborn child.
It needs to be stated very clearly that the Irish people, when they inserted the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution in 1983, did not in doing so raise, confer, extend, sanction, enact, or otherwise legally generate the right to life of the unborn child. This right already existed and was acknowledged as an unenumerated right of the Constitution by various judgements of the Supreme Court down the years. What happened with the addition of Article 40.3.3 to Bunreacht na hÉireann (the Irish Constitution) is that this right, existing as of nature or divine ordinance, was “made visible” in the Constitution, lest there be any attempt to bring abortion into Ireland on the basis that the unborn child was not expressly mention in the Constitution.
Article 40.3.3 begins: “The states acknowledges the right to life of the unborn ….”
With the use of the word “acknowledges,” the Constitution makes clear that the rights at issue are fundamental – antecedent, inalienable, imprescriptible, anterior. They do not exist by concession of the state, or at the gift of the electorate. There is not – and could not be – any legal, constitutional or moral basis for asking the Irish people whether or not they might dispense with these rights.
Because this right it is not conferred by Article 40.3.3, it cannot be demolished by the removal of that article from the Constitution. Yet the procedural logic of the referendum implies that, by deleting or amending the article, the people will, as though magically, have acquired a right to void or curtail the right it acknowledges. This is not merely illegal but manifestly wicked. That it can be considered at all is owing to the attrition effected by decades of propaganda, in which the child in the womb has been rendered abstract and pre-human.
As the people of Ireland contemplate their vote, it will be instructive to look at what happened in England under the Abortion Act 1967. When the Abortion Act was passed it was anticipated that there would be about 5,000 abortions a year. Since then, the actual figure has been eight million abortions – or 31-times more than predicted. And Britain is a well-ordered society. In the UK and around the world, little girls have been aborted because they are the wrong sex – violating not only human rights but equal rights between the sexes. There is no reason to expect that this will not happen in Ireland.
Death be not proud
Life and death are not easy subjects in any family, including the national family, and can be painful in the extreme. This was the case in my own family. My wife and I lost our first child, Emma, from gastroenteritis in infancy; the pain of it, the loss of trust in the security of life, that was thus taken away, has lasted us all our lives. Had Emma survived she would now be approaching 60, no doubt with children and grandchildren of her own. With the passage of time, her presence is still a constant.