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[Reposted from my other blog]

While both the pro-choice and pro-life campaigners clearly frame the abortion issue in entirely different terms, the salient question, though the debate leading up to the referendum was deflected from this, was whether the freedom of the individual outweighs the unborns’ right to life. More specifically, on what basis could we argue objectively that both have an equal right to life, as the 8th Amendment of Ireland’s Constitution asserts?

I don’t think many of us are opposed to abortion because of religious dogma, though we could argue that any constitution that appeals to the sanctity of life must invoke something transcendent and absolute, a ‘necessary being‘, to put it in Catholic terminology, to place it above the consensus of lawmakers and politicians, and above utilitarian thinking. We claim that man is created in the image of God, and it’s upon that concept that the sanctity and dignity of human life are predicated, and in turn human rights and social justice. Therefore, one person’s freedom is secondary to another person’s right to life. The more society devalues human life to justify a societal demand, and the lives of the unborn sacrificed to consumerism and individualism, the more our convictions about human rights and social justice become subject to question.
The effects of this are already maniftested in our politics. Society today seems bitterly divided between conservative populism and the pseudo-liberal manipulations of George Soros billionaire lobbyists. Both exploit prevalent individualism and our base instincts, while the lobbyists’ demands for society are marketed as ‘progressive’ causes – I think that’s descriptive of the recent pro-choice campaign.

So, yes, I am firmly and unapologetically pro-life, though I still wonder if the 8th Amendment should have existed in the first place. A constitution should generally prohibit the state from violating its citizens’ fundamental rights, and the unborns’ right to life is already implicit in the wording and spirit of Ireland’s Constitutition. The 8th Amendment, conversely, seems intended to pre-empt conscience, reason, judgement and case law, which is just about the worst way of approaching situations that aren’t black and white. Secondly, one only needs to look up the Pro-Life Amendment Campaign’s background on Wikipedia to see the campaign for that was established by a number of overtly religious organisations with a decidedly exclusive membership. Effectively it was lobbying by a minority to enforce religious beliefs on a society, regardless of whether the public opted for that.

The execution and outcome of last week’s referendum saddens me for another reason. There was a time when it was deemed progressive to campaign for the right to life and human dignity, while speaking truth to power. We had a political left that campaigned on things that really mattered – the arms trade, homelessness, oppressive regimes, animal cruelty, etc. We wanted the social justice that Martin Luther King dreamed of, not the vicious identity politics and race baiting that today passes for ‘left-wing’ opinion, or peurile campaigns to affirm our base mentality. For a while it seemed humanity could aspire to a world in which everyone had a decent quality of life, that collectively we could do something (though I wasn’t sure exactly what) about the scenes of war, famine and poverty that were shown on our televisions.

Reasons for Optimism

What next? The referendum heralded the decline of the Church’s authority in Ireland, and a change in the society’s values. Roughly 60% of the voters opted for the repeal, and ~30% voted against it despite a strong campaign to preserve the Amendment. This ~30% is roughly the same percentage of the population who attend Mass regularly, and it has been in decline since the 1970s. Despite this, I really think some good will come of this situation.

History is replete with examples of what happens when the separation between Church and state is violated, when religious authorities think they’re above the law and when state authorities attempt to override individual conscience. Among these, we know, is the institutional cover-up of child abuse within the Church hierarchy, which I reckon was enabled by the power and the lack of accountability that priesthood offered. We can also look at churches that became irrelevant by trying to become acceptable to the secular world.

The Church has gone from being part of the establishment to being counter-cultural. No longer is Catholicism a tradition that people blindly conform to, but an engaging faith that must survive by changing hearts and minds. It’s up to the saintly to rebuild the Church for this age. The first Christians managed this in a world that was entirely at odds with their faith.

The pro-life campaign is far from over. Abortion would still be illegal in Ireland until legislation is passed to actually legalise it, and there’ll very likely be debates and campaigns during that timeframe. The issue will be framed somewhat differently then.