Abortion referendum in Ireland: is Ireland finally entering the 21st century?

On the 26th of May Ireland overwhelmingly voted to repeal the 8th amendment, allowing abortion for pregnancies within the first three months following conception. The result was an undisputedly resounding victory for the “Yes” campaign, achieved with record turnout, hence confirming the will of the Irish people. While the new law does not take effect immediately, Prime minister Leo Vardaker hopes to have the new legislation enacted before the end of the year. The law will also enable provision for specific cases between 12 and 24 weeks after conception. The law states that terminations in the 12-24 weeks time frame are eligible where serious conditions such as “fatal foetal” abnormalities are present or where there are other substantive health threats to the mother.


But this extra provision from 12-24 weeks is what puts the whole referendum in a somewhat callous light. This is not to say that for the majority these previsions allowed for serious health risks to the mother are not welcomed. On the contrary most would agree they are perfectly reasonable. It is more the fact that the law in Ireland concedes that special provisions can be made under certain circumstances in order to terminate a pregnancy. Then it is this acknowledgment therefore that undermines the whole moral basis on which the yes camp campaigned, but also suggests the referendum should have allowed for a third alternative in which special provision should have been made for rare cases involving rape and incest, while abortion for simple carelessness or lifestyle choices would have remained illegal. In general acknowledgment of an entitlement to special provision under certain circumstances effectively deprives the yes campaign in real terms of any ethical argument. I will try to explain in the following paragraphs.


Undoubtedly abortion can be an extremely complex issue, precisely where the two above factors (rape and incest) are present. However, it is also clear that these cases represent the “fringe” scenario. Certainly pregnancy due to rape is incredibly rare, even if we can objectively confirm that it is possible, unlike some anti abortionist movements of the past. It is also clear, by the same variable, that the pro campaign in order to create any moral argument at all must bring the worst case scenario to the table. This tactic is naturally highly emotionally charged, but in real terms the worst case scenario is not proportionate to the overall debate and yet precisely this has come to dominate and misrepresent reality. Needless to say, the majority of abortions in Ireland will now take place in general due to a lack of responsibility on the part of the adults involved. That’s why nobody in the pro abortion campaign is willing to accept provision for the worst case scenarios alone. Of course it goes without saying that this is an issue that effects the rights of multiple beings and, hence again, I seek to reiterate the complex nature of the debate.


And yet this realisation undermines the yes campaigns cause once more, since they focus only on the woman’s right, that this is a sign of equality and that a woman can do with her body as she pleases. They make no provision for either the foetus or the man who participated in the pregnancy. The man who has contributed to the development of the baby can to all intents and purposes be excluded, it appears, but this again is not the crux of the debate, simply it informs the fallacy of the equal rights debate in which the foetus similarly is awarded none. Again these claims to “equality” and “rights” are emotionally charged arguments, but their basis is not founded in reality: the foetus is not part of the female body even if it is attached. It is a living entity. It is alive in its own right even if dependent on the female body.

But the idea that the man can be excluded in a debate about rights is highly troublesome. In general such arguments are weak, if we seek objectivity then we are all aware that the foetus cannot be claimed to be part of the woman’s body, that it happens to be living there is natures design and, except for the worst case scenarios, it is present because of her actions, actions which cannot justify termination. As many would attest to abortion is the mere epitome of a throwaway society, this sense that “It’s my body I can do what I like with it”, is simply indicative of this contrived individualistic spirit that has come to dominate our planet and to which all so called adherents of “progressive” movements are actually subjugated to. Not that the general public are aware that such fostering of individualism is omnipresent. In juxtaposition, man throughout the ages has known all too well that decisions and actions have consequences and that you have to live with these consequences, it’s called taking responsibilities for one’s actions, the world today is different.


This is not to say that the vote in itself does not carry a moral weight, in fact it even transfers it into another ethical realm, one comprised of notions of democracy and rights to determination, even if we acknowledge that the human victim here generally has no say in the debate. Here it is not the aim to undermine such processes, but rather to focus on the moral issues strictly relating to abortion and the way by which the campaign and the jubilant celebration that followed it have come to frame this subject. The jubilant scenes again mirror the naivety of those voting yes, then one clear element in this debate and one that has been tremendously underplayed is the great hurt that an incredible amount of women suffer having carried out the procedure. For many women mislead by blind idealism their abortion will come to represent a lifetime of pain. This is not a goal to be celebrated as if winning a cup final. The pain many women will suffer, will never feel like emancipation, don’t let naïve enthusiasm mislead the innocent!

The view I subscribe to will be dismissed, considered outdated. For many the vote after all has been equated with modernity, they see this as Ireland finally arriving in the 21st century, that the destruction of a living being is equitable with modernity, is perhaps realistic when we look at a world in which 18 million people die of hunger every year and one in which war ravages several corners of the globe. I guess it depends on your vision or by the standards through which you view progress. The idea, however, that modernity can be defined by ethical and moral issues in one way or another is inherently troublesome, then different people , different societies and different countries see the future in exceedingly different terms: there is not only one ideological claimant who is positioning himself at the altar of modernity, therefore such a claim among the victorious campaigners is indicative of the monoculturalist view through which yes voters view the world.

History confirms that ethics like language are quasi-living and ever transforming constructs. The question should not be reduced to what we consider to be modern, but more simplistically should be brought to attention on the debates most rudimentary aspect, that is: can the destruction of a living being really be considered modern? The idea that the result is a reflection of social progress is equally conditioned by concepts of God. God clearly has not be proven to exist or vice versa and this therefore seems rather to suspend any notion of morality on the subject matter in theological terms, but that’s precisely why we need to practice caution, the theological aspect alone must guard against absolute conviction. The realisation that certain facts, not to mention ethical questions, are still outstanding should have afforded the people of Ireland some pragmatism, instead we simply witnessed pervasive, reductionist arguments, sold as progression to people who, despite their claims, have a very limited capacity for viewing the world, this does not automatically confer that the no vote was able to present in this regard anything of greater depth.


Certainly from a Durkheiminan view, the referendum result smacks of the kind of nihilism present in organic societies, a sign of the time in which the church, not to mention the bonds of society, are withered away to the bones by economic processes that promote individualism at the expense of communal visions of life. Therefore it is perhaps unsurprising that so many can easily vote for abortion when someone else has to carry out the deed, once more the denial of responsibility is present, it says “It’s ok someone else can take care of that”. States of mind are conditioned by many social factors, a collapse of our system in general would bring with it new laws, new understanding and new forms of morality. Decisions invariably just as the Irish abortion referendum in the early 1980’s today are vanquished, so too must be the idea of transposing a contemporary yes to an eternal future. Nihilism today carries a backlash tomorrow, history is cyclical after all and ranges between fluxes of liberalisation and conservatism, humans themselves feel restless tied to any dogma, change is always inevitable.

I fully accept the democratic vote of the Irish, It’s certainly not my right to call for it to be changed, but the morality is base. It is a travesty that death will be tolerated in a whimsical manner, from those who sit miles away unaware. There is more than a chasm that separates the worst case scenario from what will become the day to day. Here the emphasis rests on one point alone, that abortion in anything but the worst case scenarios has any moral grounding whatsoever. That the illusory “rights” of a woman come before all else and allow for the killing of a living being in which its natural rights to human fulfillment are deprived is immoral. The death of any living being because of miscalculation can under no circumstances be justified.

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