Listen to both sides


The new news and opinion website, Front Page  has just published an op.ed feature by a venerable Irish journalist, Bruce Arnold. It seems that some restrictions have been placed on Front Page by social media providers. Links to it on Twitter are being responded to with a 404 error message saying that the page does not exist.

Pending getting to the bottom of whatever glitch – or conspiracy, if that is the case – is behind this, this important and urgent analysis by Arnold is being published here on Garvan Hill in full.

It has been said that abortion pits a mother against her own child. If that is so, the law must act as a referee between them. In the vote on Friday next, we are that referee, because we will have to set the terms of our basic law. We are asked just one essential question. The unborn child is currently entitled to be recognised as a human life and protected as such by the law. Should we remove that constitutional protection, yes or no?

How should we decide? The first requirement of a referee or lawmaker is that she or he be fair. The referee must listen to both sides and judge impartially between them.

The basic case made on behalf of the Yes side, for removing constitutional protection from the unborn child, is that a mother wishing to abort her child has personal rights which must be always respected, whereas her child (at least up to 12 weeks gestation) can have no important rights at all. Even if a child could have some nebulous statutory right to life after 12 weeks, it must always yield to the right of the mother to protect her mental or physical health.

The case made on behalf of unborn children is that they also have real human lives, already fully formed at 12 weeks, and that their lives are as much entitled to protection and respect before the moment of birth as afterward. Their right to life is already compromised by the established right of a mother to abort her child in cases of serious risk to the mother’s life, including a risk of suicide. The proposed amendment would remove all remaining elements of the right to life of the unborn child.

The act of ending, prematurely, a born human life is very widely considered to be an unjust act, although assisted suicide and euthanasia increasingly challenge this universal norm. In the case of the unborn child, however, ending its life will be seen differently by those convinced that it is inferior to a human being until birth, and by those convinced that its right to life must be considered as essentially equal to that of a born person.

The proponents of the 36th amendment argue that, in cases of rape or incest, some women “need” to end a pregnancy and that it is impossible to decide quickly, or in a short space of time, on the validity of these claims. This cannot happen at present because of the 8th Amendment. They propose, therefore, not just that every claim of rape or incest should be accepted without proof, but that any and every woman should be entitled to end her pregnancy, at least up to 12 weeks.

How are we to evaluate this proposition? If the concern is about incest or statutory rape, the proposed law could have restricted access to abortion on that ground to young women under the age of, say, eighteen. It does not. If it is about the rape of an adult woman, why wait until 12 weeks? And why not require the woman seeking an abortion to identify the perpetrator, as a pre-condition, and have the law pursue him afterward? If the General Scheme of the proposed legislation were serious about providing for “hard cases,” it could have specified various ways of reducing or eliminating the number of abortions which have nothing to do with these special circumstances.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that these “hard cases” are being used once again as a wedge to try to force open the door to a widespread availability of elective abortion in Ireland. The rational and scientific difficulty for the Yes side, in arguing that unborn human lives only become entitled to legal protection after they have successfully survived an unprotected life in the womb, is manifest.

An emerging position among pro-choice advocates, therefore, is to acknowledge that abortion does indeed involve the deliberate ending of a real human life, which is horrific in itself, but that this “reality” will happen anyway and that what is proposed is just a way of ameliorating the risks to women associated with unregulated or foreign abortions. It is even argued that legalising abortion in this way will lead eventually to a reduction in the total numbers of abortions.

Is this a morally acceptable approach to a fundamental law of the State? It has been tried and found wanting in Britain and elsewhere. Almost nine million deaths later, the 1967 abortion law in the UK has been shown to be an unmitigated disaster. Even the recent fall in the total numbers of abortions is due to the falling birth rate, not to any improvement in social attitudes.

It is not just wrong in practice, however, it is profoundly wrong in principle. Once we admit the reality of the human life of the unborn child, we begin to see the full horror of the choice being presented to us. Hard cases aside, we are asked to allow the willful ending of very many young lives (without so much as a nominal excuse) simply because their continued existence is regarded as burdensome to those responsible for bringing them into existence.

The stage of development of the unborn child does not mitigate the horror. Each of us is changing all the time. The question is, who or what is developing? That it is a “somebody” and not a “something” is a matter of scientific fact, confirmed by a natural moral sense and by virtually all moral authority.

No Christian can ignore the Word of God on this. It is perfectly clear in Scripture that a person is in relation with God from the first moment of his or her existence. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). The encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is first and foremost an encounter between John the Baptist (who ‘leapt in the womb’ at 6 months) and Jesus (at 2 weeks gestation in the womb of his mother). On the basis of rational scientific evidence confirmed by the authority of divine revelation, the matter is settled beyond dispute for a Christian.

At a time when slavery was acceptable, many believed that a slave was sub-human and could be maltreated or even killed by the person who owned him or her. Christians, voting on a law prohibiting the abuse or killing of slaves, could never accept the argument that, because others do not agree that the slave is a ‘person,’ they should refrain from ‘imposing their views’ on society. It would be profoundly immoral for a Christian to vote to permit such abuse, knowing as he or she does that a slave is indeed a human person.

It follows that a Christian cannot vote to exclude the unborn child from the protection of the law, even if the person proposing to kill the child does not accept that the child is a person. To deny the authority of reason and of faith on such an important matter would be to renounce one’s claim to be a Christian.

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