Self-assessments can be painful, but they can also be huge catalysts for growth and success. With this in mind, some reflection on where we are as a pro-life movement in Ireland might be timely.
In this first blog I’ll outline what I perceive to be the challenges of our Irish context, and will follow this in part 2 by highlighting some of the opportunities of this post-repeal reality. In part 3, there will be some reflections on where the pro-life movement might need to go in the future.
We know that 66% of the electorate voted to remove the 8th Amendment from our Constitution. While young people are a visible and central part of the pro-life movement in Ireland, the exit poll conducted on the day of the 2018 referendum revealed that 87.6% of 18-24 year olds who voted supported repeal. This is in comparison to only 41.3% of voters over 65 who voted yes. Thus most people who opposed repeal are part of an older generation. We can be incredibly thankful to them for carrying the flag for us, while at the same time accepting that for the foreseeable future we are a minority and must creatively make progress. Engaging with and winning over young people to the pro-life cause will be a vital aspect of how we future-proof the pro-life movement.
There are many reasons to be pro-life. And no matter what your religious, philosophical and or political beliefs, it is possible for a pro-life ethic to fit with many worldviews (check out our #ShoutOutSaturday social media posts on the diversity of the prolife movement). But it is helpful to acknowledge that the backbone of our movement in Ireland is made up of people with religious convictions which encourage them to be pro-life i.e. predominantly Catholics, with other Christians in recent years. We need to discern how this large proportion of the pro-life base can best advocate for their views in a pluralistic and secular Ireland that is generally sceptical or even hostile to views which are seen as religiously inspired being part of public life or playing a role in public debates. We also need to learn how to give more of a voice to non-religious and secular pro life people. Perhaps this requires the pro-life movement to become both more secular and more religious? (More on this in part 2…)
In previous generations, the pro-life movement in Ireland had a vision for what it wanted to achieve. In the 1980s campaigners, public intellectuals, and religious groups inspired a clear majority of the country to vote for the 8th Amendment of our Constitution. They firmly placed human dignity and the inherent value of all human beings on the public agenda. And prior to that, that coalition even managed to persuade politicians that a referendum to enshrine those values into our constitution should take place. Admittedly, advocating explicitly pro-life views in the public square doesn’t make you ‘flavour of the month’ in our current climate. But what is lacking at the moment is a new cohort of ‘influencers’ who are willing to build up and use their social capital to lay out the case for what is means to be an Irish pro-life person in the twenty-first century. Solely focusing on attempting to make abortion illegal is insufficient. Certainly we at the Minimise Project believe that having better conversations about abortion will be part of that vision (see our post about the Equal Rights Argument here).
iv) Battles lost
The pro-life movement has lost a number of significant battles in recent years. Over a short period of time we lost the abortion debate in the public square, and thus the 8th Amendment. Following the 2018 referendum, the passing of the Health (Regulation of the Termination of Pregnancy) Act with not a single pro-life amendment even close to being enacted was a big disappointment. Even the amendment requiring pain relief to be administered to the foetus during an abortion did not garner majority support. In 2013 we lost another major political battle with the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. Even back in a 2002 referendum, the pro-life movement failed to overturn the result of the contrversial ‘X case’, which legalised abortion as a treatment for suicidal ideation in expectant mothers. Numerous generally negative national and international court cases have not helped either.
Gaining some momentum by achieving small wins are what we need to do at the minute. (For some ideas be sure to check out part 2 of this post)
v) Our past
Uncharitable tactics such as protesting outside the private homes of politicians were used in some pro-life campaigning in the 1990s and early 2000s, and some fringe elements demonstrated a severe lack of sensitivity by holding massive posters of aborted foetuses outside maternity hospitals before the 2018 referendum. Previous fringe figures in the pro-life movement had clear links to far-right groups across Europe, and ultimately went on to embrace the ugliness of xenophobia and racist nationalist politics. Acknowledging past wrongdoings made in the name of the pro-life movement for what they are is something that we should be able to do openly and clearly.
Keep an eye out for part 2 of this series where we’ll look at some opportunities the pro-life movement has in Ireland right now to make an impact.