Pardon the pun, but I could write this entire article about the misconceptions circling the abortion debate in Ireland right now. Tune in to the mainstream media for even the shortest time and you’ll get the impression that every last women in Ireland is begging our politicians to repeal the Eighth Amendment, that Ireland is a dangerous place to be pregnant, and that the removal of this constitutional provision is not a matter of if, but when.
In such a climate, it must be particularly hard to be a student who believes that mothers and babies deserve equal protection under the law and the very best medical care. More than any other group in society, the pro-choice campaign presumes ownership of the entire student body. Much as they claim to speak for every woman who’s ever had an abortion, the recent outrage shown by comments from leading spokespeople in the pro-choice movement over the potential timing of a referendum in 2018 shows that they fully believe that once you hold a student card in Ireland, then you must support repealing the Eighth Amendment.
Of course the reality is considerably different, and it’s somewhat ironic that the current generation of students in Irish colleges are the friends and family members of people who are alive thanks to the Eighth Amendment. In 2016, an independent report commissioned by the Pro Life Campaign confirmed that an estimated 100,000 lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment. Just last week, the Advertising Standards Authority in Northern Ireland upheld an advertisement by the group Both Lives Matter which made a similar point about the pro-life laws there.
So the fact that pro-life laws save lives is beyond dispute. The fact that there is no proof for the claim that repealing the Eighth Amendment would improve the healthcare provided to women in Ireland is also a given. But this doesn’t weigh heavily on the minds of those who want to see our abortion laws liberalised – on the contrary, they are prepared to play fast and loose with the facts as it suits them and to ignore the less palatable truths about how the effect abortion has had worldwide.
We never hear, for instance, that the introduction in the UK of abortion to birth if a baby is diagnosed with a disability has led to a situation where 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome in the womb are aborted. Or that Denmark has set itself a goal of becoming a “Down Syndrome” free society by 2030. Or that Iceland has already reached this dubious goal. These facts are not being debated widely in Ireland. That needs to change because we’re at a stage where the Citizens’ Assembly has recommended to the Government that disability should be a ground for abortion – all without any real consideration of what this would mean for the respect and care we give to people with disabilities in Ireland, or indeed for what they give back to society.
The beginning of the next academic year will coincide with the public hearings of the Oireachtas Committee, set up to consider the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly and report back to the Oireachtas with their own report by the end of December. If this Committee, and its report, are to have any credibility, then the members must first consider how the Citizens’ Assembly were allowed to ignore all of the good things that the Eighth Amendment has contributed to Irish society – why, for instance, none of those families who say that their children are alive because of the Eighth were invited to address the Assembly. We know that there are people alive in Ireland today – walking around, going to school or college, even having children of their own – because of the Eighth and the testimonies of their families would surely have provided an incredible testimony to the life-saving qualities of the Eighth.
The Committee can’t just pay lip-service to these people either. The actions of the members must reflect the reality of the Eighth as it is, not as abortion advocates would like it to be. The Eighth remains a ground-breaking, life-preserving law, something which has meant that Ireland hasn’t gone down the road of countries like the UK, where 1 in every 5 pregnancies ends in abortion.
As a society, we have a lot to thank the Eighth Amendment for. The Citizens’ Assembly didn’t come close to respecting its contribution and judging by the bias from some parts of the national media, the Committee will have its work cut out for it if it’s going to rectify the imbalance. But rectify it, it must because the Eighth has saved mothers and babies from the harmful effects of abortion for over thirty years and it has more than earned its place in the human rights protections provided for in the Constitution.
Cora Sherlock is a pro-life campaigner in the Republic of Ireland. She is deputy chairperson of the Pro-Life Campaign. In 2014, she was included in BBC’s 100 Women series