Belfast Telegraph

Bishop of Derry urges voters in Irish abortion referendum to keep 8th Amendment

By Gareth Cross

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown has urged the electorate in the Republic of Ireland to vote to keep the 8th Amendment.

In a pastoral letter posted online the Bishop said that he supported a recent statement from the Church of Ireland declaring that "unrestricted access to abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage, is not an ethical position we can accept."

Citizens will be asked on May 25 whether they want to repeal the Eighth Amendment of Ireland’s Constitution, a provision that makes abortion illegal in all but exceptional circumstances.

If the public votes to repeal the constitutional provision, the Irish Government intends to table legislation that would permit women to abort within 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In a lengthy statement Bishop McKeown acknowledged that not all pregnancies were viewed as positive.

"Not all expectant mothers experience joy. A pregnancy can be unwelcome, frightening and unplanned. The child may have special needs which will be a challenge for the parents before and after birth. These are very real situations where expectant parents may experience a whole range of feelings," he said.

"Whatever the situation, life in the womb cannot reduced to merely a medical issue or something to do with ‘reproductive rights’.

"The constitution crafted by the Irish people 35 years ago underlines that it is possible to love both mother and child, even in the most difficult of circumstances."

The Belfast-born Bishop said that he supported a recent statement from the Church of Ireland.

"I fully support the statement from the two Church of Ireland archbishops that ‘unrestricted access to abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage, is not an ethical position we can accept. There is, for Christians, a very clear witness in the Scriptures that all human life, including before physical birth, has a sacred dignity in the eyes of God’," he said.

"The electorate are faced with a very stark choice about something which is very personal to many people. When it comes to difficult choices, there is no greater human right than the right to life.

"Ireland has long tradition of cherishing life in its many forms. With the current legal situation it is one of safest countries in the world for both the unborn child and expectant mother. That is something to be very proud of."

Bishop McKeown is a well-known supporter of the Irish language and evoked a few phrases to support his position.

"That love of human life in all its forms has come down to us in some of the phrases which reveal a deep insight and compassion. The baby in the womb is spoken of in Irish as ‘beo gan breith’ – ‘alive without birth’. That reflects a generous regard for the life of the unborn child. Our phrase in Irish for a person with learning disabilities is a ‘duine le Dia’, a ‘person with God’. These are expressions of the traditional Irish value placed on life at its most vulnerable," he said.

"The electorate is being asked to abandon that wisdom and give rights only to the adult.

"All human life is precious, not just when it is judged perfect or convenient. The human right to choose is important. The human right to life is even more important. The 8th Amendment seeks promote equality, not to limit it."

He rejected the argument that many women travel to England for abortions.

"Some public figures argue that they feel obliged to bring in some legislation to make abortion readily available in Ireland. They point out that women are already importing abortifacient pills or travelling to Britain, where almost 200,000 babies are aborted each year," Bishop McKeown said.

"There are many things that Irish people do at home and abroad. That does not mean that the Government should make them legal. It is through the Constitution that the electorate gives core guidelines to politicians. The Irish people are entitled to retain their precious principles, especially in the defence of human life. It is then the duty of politicians to frame laws which reflect those values."

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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