Darkness Masquerading as Light

Ireland is a country renowned for its hospitality and generosity - its céad míle fáilte or one hundred thousand welcomes. The eighth amendment saved 100,000 lives in a little under twenty-five years. It recognised both lives and was a pioneering piece of legislation on human dignity. The people of Ireland have now voted to remove it.

I wept on Saturday night as the magnitude of the result hit me. I was overwhelmed with deep sadness at a generation wiped out. The cheering at Dublin Castle haunted me. What sort of world cheers such a tragic moment regardless of your views on abortion?

As Ghandi is reputed to have said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” 

Sacrificing the human dignity of the most vulnerable is too high a price for radical individualism and personal freedom. We are relational beings made to live in community. Every day we choose to limit ourselves for others – our children, our parents, our neighbours, our friends.

My 8 year old asked my wife and I about the vote. We tried to explain why some people might want to vote in favour of abortion. “But everyone of those people was carried by their mummy who made a sacrifice so that they could be alive” she said with the simplicity and clarity that a child often brings.

Ireland has witnessed a brutal demonstration of power. The political establishment and the media conspired to repeal the most basic of human rights. The power of being alive was used to deny the right to life for the most vulnerable. Scientific facts were set aside in favour of a fiction - that choice is the new god. A foetus only becomes a baby if it is wanted - a victory for consumerism, not science. And as John Stuart Mill warned, the tyranny of opinion hounded those who refused to bend the knee to the new orthodoxy.

Ireland will now have one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world. There will be unintended consequences. There will be implications right across this island. A GP friend reminded me of the woman he sees who are dealing with issues of regret many years later. Both lives pay the price for abortion.

Many of those who favour abortion say they want it to be free, safe, legal and rare. That is exactly what the law in Northern Ireland allows. Abortion is permitted when there is a serious and permanent threat to life and health of the mother. Such abortions are free on the NHS, they are safe and thankfully they are rare.

When it comes to the human dignity of the unborn, we remain a beacon of hope in Northern Ireland and as the world around grows darker, that beacon will grow brighter. 

Our starting point is that both lives matter. Abortion is not the answer and so we look for better solutions. We offer relationships education. We journey with those who have a crisis pregnancy. We want to provide the best perinatal hospice care available. And yes, we can do better.

No doubt we will now see childish stunts and naive politicians calling for change in Northern Ireland. We need Stormont up and running for a whole host of reasons - but it is important that devolution is respected and democracy is allowed to run its course.

When there is a school shooting in America there are two responses – those who want to ban guns and those who want to arm everyone. Most here are appalled at the idea that more guns is the solution to gun violence. The idea that easier abortion is the solution to crisis pregnancy is just as jarring. Politicians must address the structural and systemic inequalities which lead women to believe that abortion is their only choice. 

We know for a fact that 100,000 people are alive in Northern Ireland today who would not be if we had introduced the 1967 Abortion Act. This fact is a fly in the ointment to the abortion lobby so they challenged it. The Advertising Standards Authority found that on balance “the evidence indicated there was a reasonable probability that around 100,000 people were alive in Northern Ireland today who would otherwise have been aborted had been legal to do so.”

One church leader highlighted the words of the prophet Isaiah as the results became clear.

“Woe to you who call evil good and good evil,

Who put darkness of right and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes

and clever in their own sight. . . 

but deny justice to the innocent.”

Isaiah 5: 20-23

Ireland’s vote is not progress - it is darkness masquerading as light. Northern Ireland has suffered too much unnecessary violence - I pray we won’t now inflict it on the unborn. We have partnered with CARE and others in Both Lives Matter to reframe the abortion debate in Northern Ireland and beyond, creating a culture that values every woman and her unborn child.

A version of this article first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph.