We submitted a brief to the Citizens’ Assembly on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. At the time of writing this, it hasn’t been posted on the website—over 13,000 submissions were received overall by the Assembly, so a delay is forgivable!—but here’s a sneak preview.
‘We are a diverse group of students in Trinity College, Dublin, who believe in the equal right to life of mother and unborn child at all stages of pregnancy, and support the protection and vindication of this right through the maintenance of Article 40.3.3º of the Irish Constitution. We are opposed to efforts to remove this protection from the Constitution, and believe that the protection afforded by Article 40.3.3º is best for women, children and Irish society as a whole.
Best for Women
We want to create a world where women are treated equally to men, whether they are pregnant or not. In 2005, a Guttmacher Institute study found that the most frequently cited reasons for having an abortion in the US were that “having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%)” (1). A truly humane society does not make a woman choose between her education, career, or ability to care for others and the life of her child, nor should a humane society wash their hands of its duty to solve this problem and call the burden of that choice a right. Irish society has a long way to go before it treats all of its members humanely, but repealing Article 40.3.3º will not make us more humane, but less so.
We can see what the consequences of removing Article 40.3.3º would be by looking at the current situation in the UK, where Department of Health statistics (2015)(2) show that abortion is not a rare event, but an everyday occurrence, with 185,824 abortions performed last year in England and Wales alone—only slightly less than the population of Cork city (3). Figures suggest that, worldwide, as many as one in four pregnancies end in abortion (4). This banalisation of the ending of unborn life is a cause for concern for us. We believe that in each one of these cases, society failed both a woman and a child, and that the portrayal of abortion as an inconsequential medical procedure is deeply flawed.
We further believe that the emphasis on the repeal movement in Irish society distracts from the real problems faced by Irish women, namely a lack of societal and State support for women. The introduction of abortion in Ireland will not create a more equal society; rather, it will mask the true need to support women facing difficult or unplanned pregnancies, or whose circumstances – financial, personal, or otherwise – make it challenging to continue to carry their unborn child. Irish society should focus, instead, on the provision of holistic and comprehensive pregnancy support services for all women, the subsidisation of childcare, improved parental leave for working parents, a streamlined and sympathetic adoption service, and a society that cherishes and promotes inclusivity and differences. The pro-abortion argument places the burden of improving gender equality squarely on individual citizens, thus absolving the State of its responsibility to help create a society that cherishes all the children of the nation equally. An abortion regime is an abdication by the government of its duty to women, and, on this basis, we strongly oppose the introduction of such a regime into Ireland.
Best for Children
In 2015, 3,213 abortions in England and Wales were carried out on the basis of risk that the child ‘would be born seriously handicapped’ (5). We believe in the equality of every human being at all stages of life, and reject inherently ableist arguments that value an individual only insofar as he or she is ‘normal’, ‘productive’, or ‘useful’ to society. The focus of scientific and medical developments should be on empowering, enabling and improving the quality of life for everyone, rather than on decrying certain lives as not worth protecting based on society’s perceptions.
The question of children with life-limiting conditions is one that, for many, represents a stumbling block in the pro-life argument. We are very sympathetic to all those who find themselves in the extraordinarily difficult situation of carrying an unborn child with a high likelihood of being born with a condition that may shorten, sometimes, hugely, their life expectancy. However, we emphasise once again that the role of the state should be to support these people and their children: unborn children with severe disabilities need, and deserve, medical care and support, not abortion, and it is not our place to judge the worth of someone’s life based on our perception of its quality or our expectations about the amount of time they have left before they die. The provision of perinatal palliative care, such as that advocated for by the groups Every Life Counts and One Day More (6), of care and support services for parents and family members, and of free and easily accessible medical care, should be priorities for the Irish State.
Best for Society
Our goal should be to extend rights to as many people as possible, not remove them. Repealing Article 40.3.3º from our Constitution would involve stripping the most vulnerable category of persons in our society of the most fundamental right of all—the right to life.
Article 40.3.3º protects the fundamental dignity, humanity and right to life of all persons. We believe that, instead of removing this protection from the Irish Constitution, focus should shift to the true potential the Article creates, namely a society that cherishes individuality, strives for equality, protects the vulnerable, and celebrates life, in all its stages. As young people embarking upon the next stages of our lives, we seek to promote the vision of a nation, and indeed a world, that has these values at its core’.
(1) Guttmacher Institute, ‘Reasons US Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives’ (2005) 37(3) Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 110.
(2) Department of Health, ‘Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2015’.
(3) 198,582 in 2011: ‘Settlement Cork City and Suburbs’ (Central Statistics Office 2011).
(4) Gilda Sedgh and others, ‘Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: global, regional, and subregional levels and trends’ (2016) 388 (10041) The Lancet 258.
(5) Department of Health (2015) (n 2) 5.
(6) Anecdotal evidence shows that the support of perinatal palliative care and support networks has a profoundly positive impact on the experience of those caring for children with life-limiting conditions: see, e.g. Tracy Harkin, ‘Abortion not the only answer to life-limiting conditions’ The Irish Times (Dublin, 14 July 2016); ‘Our daughter would have been diagnosed as having fatal foetal abnormality, yet this special soul has made us far better parents and people’ Belfast Telegraph (Belfast, 25 October 2016); ‘No longer will Ireland ignore the silent pain of parents who suffer loss of pregnancy or perinatal death’ Irish Independent (Dublin, 10 August 2016).