Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Irish people should be proud of innovative human rights provision of 8th amendment

Ireland, south and north, is in the forefront of the struggle to protect the life of the unborn, says Alban Maginness

Last week on RTE's Clare Byrne Live programme, there was an incredibly absorbing debate on the referendum to amend the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution and the introduction of abortion to the Irish Republic. It was clear in the independent analysis after the programme that the pro-life side of the debate were the winners.

The reason that they were so convincing was that they intelligently and scientifically established that abortion meant the ending of the life of an unborn, living human being, not a clump of cells, nor some neutrally defined entity called a foetus.

Once that reality is clearly established, there can be no serious rational argument in favour of abortion and the repeal of the 8th amendment. This will give a boost to the No side in a tight contest.

Eamonn de Valera, wisely gave the Irish people a wonderful legacy in the shape of the 1937 Irish constitution. It was one of the first modern and truly democratic constitutions in a world torn apart by the competing ideologies of fascism and communism that tragically ended up in the catastrophe of the Second World War.

What, in particular, he did was to establish basic laws and inalienable rights that were fixed in the constitution and could not be interfered with by government, or the Dail, except by the will of the people through a referendum.

Perhaps because he was a consummate politician himself, he believed that politicians should not be trusted in all circumstances and that certain things should remain beyond their political reach and safeguarded by referendum.

The current government has proposed that, if the 8th amendment is repealed, they will introduce legislation that will provide for abortion up to 12 weeks without restriction. This is wider than the law in Britain.

But not only will abortion be available up to 12 weeks, it will also be available beyond that, to 24 weeks, on the grounds of risk to the health of a pregnant woman.

There is no distinction made between physical or mental health in this regard. And the law would also allow abortion for so-called fatal foetal abnormality, without any gestational limit. All of this amounts to de facto abortion on demand.

So, this is not just the removal of the 8th amendment in order to be compassionate in hard cases, such as rape, incest, or life-threatening situations. This goes well beyond such cases.

Pro-life advocate Lord David Alton has written that the current Irish government proposals "would create a law, not just as permissive and inhumane as Britain's, but even more so".

Given the present government's alarming proposals, how foolish it would be for the Irish people to allow government and the Dail to have absolute freedom to make the law on abortion.

The 8th amendment, constitutionally, is unique in that it protects the right to life of the unborn child. It was approved by referendum in 1983 and still is an innovative, life-affirming, progressive human rights provision.

Irish people should be rightly proud of this human rights protection. It is the rest of the world that should be copying Ireland and putting such progressive human rights protections into their constitutions and law.

As the Baptist Church leaders said in their public statement on the referendum: "The 8th amendment to the Irish constitution recognises the worth of both women and the unborn. It is a progressive measure that enshrines the equal right to life for all and helps make our society more meaningful, more compassionate and a model for other nations."

It is truly puzzling how civilised people in the advanced Western democracies (dedicated, as they are, to upholding human rights), see abortion as either liberal or progressive when it involves the ending of the life of a defenceless, unborn child.

The right to life of the unborn child is the greatest human rights challenge in the world today.

This is a universal struggle. Ireland, south and north, is in the forefront of this struggle to preserve and protect for future generations the human right to life of the unborn, as provided for by the people of Ireland in the constitution.

This human right should not be arbitrarily extinguished by political fashion, or political correctness.

If the repeal side wins in the south, there will be pressure to do the same in Northern Ireland. It is difficult, presently, in the north to sustain opposition to abortion, given all the pressure from Westminster MPs, like Labour's Stella Creasy, and the pro-abortion lobby here.

The present pro-life movement in Northern Ireland is strong, intelligent and led by young women. It is also encouragingly cross-community, religiously and politically, and has done much to counter the incessant media campaign to bring in abortion, and their work should be fully supported.

Therefore, let's hope that the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment in the south is defeated.

Belfast Telegraph

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