On the Eighth Amendment Referendum

When I was walking to lunch yesterday I saw that there was some sort of demonstration on the road (the R148) that divides the North and South Campuses at Maynooth University:

It was all a bit confusing as it seemed to be a protest and a counter-protest all in the same place. It turned out after asking a few people that the original demonstration was by a group calling itself the Irish Centre for Bioethical Reform (ICBR), which is  a fringe anti-abortion group that specialises in putting up gory images to make their point. They have been pulling a series of stunts in the area ahead of the forthcoming Referendum on the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which will take place on 25th May 2018.

The Eighth Amendment introduced Article 40.3.3 into the constitution. This was subsequently amended twice (following referendums) and now reads:

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.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state.

This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.

The counter-demonstration (which seemed to involve more people) deployed the simple device of standing in front of the the ICBR demonstration so their lurid images were hard to see. This is why I couldn’t quite see what was going on as I walked past.

Anyway, for the record, I’ll state that I support the campaign to repeal the Eight Amendment, which effectively prohibits abortion in Ireland. I realise that abortion is an emotive ethical issue for many people, but it strikes me as a new arrival in Ireland that the fundamental thing is that Eight Amendment is basically a muddle, and that it really does not belong in the Constitution anyway. In my opinion it is regrettable that it was ever passed (which it was, after another referendum campaign, in 1983). If the repeal side wins the referendum then the existing Eight Amendment (which is Article 40.3.3) will be replaced with

Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.

(Incidentally, that would be the 36th Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland. It is in the drafting and amending of any such provisions that emerge when the ethical issues should be debated. The matter for the referendum is (or should be) simpler than this: it’s just about whether the existing Article should be scrapped.

Incidentally, a number of people have asked me if UK citizens resident in Ireland can vote in this referendum, as Irish citizens resident in the UK could in the Brexit referendum in 2016. The answer to that question is `no’: British citizens in Ireland can vote in local elections, elections to the Dáil, and European Elections (although presumably that will change if the UK leaves the European Union); they cannot vote in any referendum or in the election of the President (which will take place later this year). Irish citizens can vote in every election and referendum.

9 Responses to “On the Eighth Amendment Referendum”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Why should the counter-demonstrators not want the images to be seen?

    • telescoper Says:

      You’d have to ask them!

    • I think that the answer is obvious. However, it is often the case that images of very rare late-term abortions (in many cases allowed only if the child is severely ill and will die soon after birth anyway) are shown with the intention of viewers thinking them to be representative of all abortions.

      Also, consider that even very religious hard-core anti-abortionists don’t have a funeral when a woman gets her period three or four weeks too late. In many cases, this is due to a spontaneous abortion.

      • telescoper Says:

        The image that I could see clearly was actually of the bloody hand of the crucified Christ, but there were others probably of the nature you describe.

        I think part of the reason for the counter-protest is the particular behaviour of the organisation, which has a reputation for rather aggressive campaigning.

        Indeed I noticed that the ICBR Facebook page has quite a few comments complaining that they are damaging the ‘pro Life’ cause.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Indeed Phillip; this debate can be conducted on secular or religious grounds or both – although it is necessary to specify the religion, and three that are anti-abortion base it on man being in the ‘image of [a unique Creator] God’ (a view inherited by Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and therefore irreducibly different from animals.

        One secular argument against abortion is what I hope would be a reductio ad absurdum: there is no difference between the baby 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after birth, so if abortion is OK in the former case then killing the newborn aka murder is OK.

        Your point about the funeral is well made, and one that I have made to Catholics. They draw the line at any attempt to do mortal harm to a fertilised ovum, or even in a situation where an ovum might have been fertilised. This view is based on what I believe is a mistaken theological-philosophical view, that a ‘fully human’ (ie, adult?) soul or spirit is slipped into a developing body at a definite but unknown moment. I dispute that – it is nowhere in the Bible – and believe that our spiritual capacities grow with our bodies in utero (even if these capacities carry on after our deaths).

      • Yes, the five minutes before vs. five minutes after does make a good case against late-term abortions, especially if the child would live (though perhaps handicapped) a more or less normal life. I do know of one hard-core “pro-choice“ advocate who actually argues that there is no difference, hence infanticide can be justified in cases where abortion can.

      • Old joke: a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister are arguing about when life begins, the former advocating the moment of conception and the latter a later time, perhaps even at birth. A rabbi overhearing the conversation says “When does life begin? When the children leave home!“

  2. What bothers me in such debates are the labels. “Pro-choice“ implies that the others are anti-choice, and “pro-life” implying that the others are anti-life, whereby, except for a few radical exceptions, neither is the case. The point of dispute is where life begins, which is not clearly defined (which doesn’t mean tha a line can’t and shouldn’t be drawn somewhere). Any rational debate has to concentrate on this point, and not caricature the position of the other side.

    I am also taken aback at “pro-choice” advocates who decry certain “pro-life” advocates as particularly bad if they don’t allow exceptions in the case of incest or rape. Though there are some exceptions (the tail of the part of the pro-life distribution whose main, if unarticulated, reason for their position is that fear of an unwanted child should decrease the amount of sex people have (such people are also opposed to birth control)), most such people simply take their own position seriously.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      What I object to about “pro-choice” is that it is choice for the mother but not for the unborn.

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