In the wake of the repeal of the 8th Amendment, it can feel like a struggle for pro-life advocates to stay encouraged and remain hopeful about the future. Particularly in Ireland, the pro-life movement faces a daunting task. However, there are reasons for hope.
Here are the top four reasons that pro-lifers, in Ireland and around the world, can remain hopeful.
When expansive abortion regimes emerged globally in the 1960s and 1970s, the ‘just a clump of cells’ mantra was an easy claim for pro-choicers to make. However, the developments in science, technology and embryology over the past number of decades have truly obliterated these kinds of arguments. The stunning progress made in ultrasound technology and 3D imaging have provided us in the twenty-first century with a window on the womb that was unimaginable just a few years ago.
As The Atlantic noted in a feature article from 2018, ‘Science Is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost’.
The president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2017 said that believing life begins at conception ‘goes against legal precedent, science, and public opinion’. But when statements like this are viewed in light of the 2018 study which found that 95% of academic biologists understood life to begin at conception, it exposes these particular pro-choice opinions for what they are – outdated and anti-science.
And the increasing ability of neonatologists to perform complex surgeries in utero makes abortion babies with disabilities or life limiting conditions look more redundant as a social practice with each passing year.
With medical practices now enabling more and more pre-term babies to survive outside the womb from as early as 22 weeks gestation, it creates a compelling argument to reduce the time limits on abortion in jurisdictions where viability was originally believed to be at 24 weeks or more.
Finally, we’ve blogged before describing the medical advances detailed in the Journal of Medical Ethics that suggest unborn children can feel pain in utero from as early as 12 weeks.
The immutable, unchanging, biological reality about the beginning of each human life is a major stumbling block to the pro-choice movement, and this is not going to change.
2) Disability rights
In recent years, many countries have begun to come to terms with the fact that legal frameworks which permit widespread abortion have become tools of ableism and discrimination. This is perhaps unsurprising given the origins of the modern abortion industry in the eugenics movement.
However, abortion on the basis of the disability of an unborn child has fast become an area in which the truth of the pro-life message can create alliances with those who do not subscribe wholesale to the anti-abortion position. Two examples spring to mind:
First, when a bill was recently introduced into the Westminster Parliament to prohibit the cruel practice of abortion for minor disabilities such as cleft palate, it received some surprising cross-party support. And in the weeks following the bill’s introduction to the House of Commons, an impressively diverse set of MPs have publicly committed to voting for it. Some of these supporting MPs are the same MPs who voted in favour of imposing an extreme abortion regime upon Northern Ireland a few months previous.
This collaboration was similar to the cross-party, cross-community support that a motion condemning abortion for non-fatal disability up till birth received in the Assembly a few months ago.
Second, people with Down Syndrome, and their parents, have also begun to understand how abortion had been used to systematically eliminate people like them. Leading British actress Sally Phillips, who identifies as pro-choice, brought this issue to international consciousness with her superb documentary, A world without Down Syndrome. Countries like Iceland and Denmark are close to becoming Down Syndrome-free societies. Abortion will never be able to eliminate Down Syndrome itself. But it will be able to eliminate all the people with Down Syndrome.
The ability to obtain an abortion on the basis of disability perpetuates outdated stereotypes, is sheerly ableist and is eugenic. This is a fact which the UN has explicitly recognised. This has led the pro-life movement to discover some new allies in the disability rights movement.
3) Pro-life feminism
Pro-life feminism is another platform for pro-life people to work with unlikely allies to further the cause of justice for the unborn. Groups such as New Wave Feminists and Feminists for Life articulate a vision for a pro-life society that can be achieved even without legal prohibitions on aboriton. In countries like Ireland where the new abortion law looks unlikely to be repealed any time soon, such a vision will be crucial to progressing our movement. Tackling barriers to the inclusion of pregnant and young mothers in society is something that we can all get behind.
Campaigns like this one, to eliminate pregnancy and early motherhood discrimination, already exist. There is no reason why pro-life and pro-choice people can’t work together on this issue – despite what pro-choice groups might suggest, giving women options to continue in the workforce after pregnancy is actually a very pro-life thing to do.
As we highlighted in this blog, a particularly egregious violation of women’s rights as it pertains to abortion is gendercide, or sex-selective abortion. Tragically, this practice is widespread in some parts of the world. Even the UN, which broadly supports access to abortion, has acknowledged that denying a pre-born girl her right to life simply becasue she is female ‘[f]rom a human rights perspective…is a harmful practice’.
Human rights defender and US congressman Chris Smith sums this up exquisitely:
Someday future generations…will look back on us and wonder how and why such a rich and seemingly enlightened society, so blessed and endowed with the capacity to protect and enhance vulnerable human life, could have instead so aggressively promoted death to children and the exploitation of women by abortion both here and overseas.
4) Gen Z
As we’ve acknowledged before, in some respects the demographic trends in Ireland don’t bode well for the pro-life movement. The sheer scale of support for Repeal among young people was overwhelming – close to 90% of under-25s voted to remove the right to life of the unborn. At a surface level, statistics like this don’t give rise to hope. Yet, when we take a deeper dive into the priorities and characteristics of the next generation, a trend with relevance to the pro-life cause emerges.
Gen Z (those born after 1995) have been described as the ‘True Gen’, because largely their motivation in life is ‘all anchored in one element: this generation’s search for truth’. This stands in contrast to Millenials, who have been described as the ‘Me Gen’, prioritising autonomy above all else.
The School Strike for Climate movement demonstrates the truth of this analysis. Greta Thunberg began this global wave of protests, and their core message was essentially, ‘the evidence is clear: let’s collectively restrict our autonomy (by changing our societal behaviour), so that the greater good (both people and the environment) will benefit.’
As we’ve pointed out, this thinking already taken hold in relation to the Covid-19 restrictions. Perhaps Gen Z will lead the way in encouraging our society to modify their behaviour (by restricting their autonomy), in order to protect unborn human life.
This younger generation’s concern for collective responsibility is something that the pro-life movement needs to engage with.
There is hope
The political and cultural narrative tells us that the ‘abortion issue’ has been settled in Ireland. Despite the tough road ahead for the pro-life movement, science, disability rights, pro-life feminism, and insights into Gen Z give us plenty of reasons to be confident that the future will, ultimately, be pro-life.
Check out Gavin’s other posts about five challenges facing the pro-life movement in Ireland, and five opportunities it has to make things better.