The Irish Referendum

Even in the context of Brexit and a border poll, the referendum on the 25th May is critically important and hugely contested because it is literally a matter of life and death. Though it will have an impact across the island of Ireland, most people in Northern Ireland will not have a vote. As the vote approaches we look at the issues and how to respond.

What is this referendum about?

This referendum is about human rights - removing any constitutional protection for the unborn child. A recent Supreme Court decision has made clear that if the referendum succeeds, there is no other protection in the Irish constitution for the unborn child.

The Irish government have given people a very clear choice. A ‘yes’ vote will give politicians a blank cheque to write whatever laws they wish and they have already indicated wholesale changes. A ‘no’ vote is the only way to secure the rights of the unborn child in law.


Is change necessary?

The simple answer is no. Dr Eamon McGuinness, a former chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said nothing in the law had prevented him from carrying out an abortion where necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. The tragic case of Savita Halappanavar has been used by many to push for a change in the law. She died in October 2011 at University Hospital Galway due to complications of a sceptic miscarriage. A number of inquiries concluded that her case involved misdiagnosis and that she died of a sepsis, a blood infection.


What is proposed?

The referendum is about removing the protection of the unborn child from the constitution. If the constitution is changed, the Irish Parliament will be able to change the laws around abortion whenever they want. The Government have produced the heads of a proposed Bill indicating the law they are likely to pass initially. Repealing the 8th amendment will mean:

-    Abortion for any reason up to 12 weeks.

-    Abortion permitted on the basis of ‘serious harm’ to the mother up to 24 weeks. Two hundred lawyers and judges, including a former chairman of the Referendum Commission have said that Ireland would end up with a similar system to the UK.

-    Abortion would be allowed right unto birth if the unborn child was likely to die before birth or shortly after birth. This move would allow abortion based on the severe disability of the child, separate from the health of the mother.


The Campaign

The ‘yes’ side has received significant political and media support. Google and Facebook recently took steps to limit some campaigning and advertising. Even the Irish Times acknowledged that such bans “raise major questions about corporate policies and national sovereignty.” There has also been a lot of talk about the 2% of hard case relating to rape and life limiting conditions. These are really, really difficult situations. In each case, the starting point that there are two lives and that both deserve help and protection is important. However, the reality in the UK is that 98% of cases are about choice - the deliberate act by healthy women to end the life of a perfectly healthy baby. Logically, this argument only works if the unborn child is something less than human, and it only makes sense until it becomes human - for the ‘yes’ side this is usually birth. If the 8th amendment is repealed, under law a hawk’s egg will have more protection than an unborn child and logically abortion should be allowed up to birth for any reason - why draw a line anywhere else?


What will happen?

Thankfully this issue is not yet in the hands of politicians, but directly in the hands of the Irish people. Despite a concerted international campaign to liberalise abortion laws in Ireland, polling indicates the vote will be close. People are travelling home to Ireland to use their vote. Though many reading this cannot participate directly we can use our voice on behalf of those with no voice to contact friends and family encouraging them to vote. As the vote approaches, I also want to invite you to consider praying and fasting one meal a day on behalf on the most vulnerable in our society.