Martin O'Brien: No majority, however great, can make abortion right or wholesome

Yes campaigners celebrate as the results are announced in the referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution which prohibits abortions unless a mother's life is in danger
Yes campaigners celebrate as the results are announced in the referendum on the 8th Amendment of the Irish Constitution which prohibits abortions unless a mother's life is in danger

THE sad decision of voters in the Republic to remove any constitutional protection for the baby in the womb and allow legislators to write a blank cheque in changing abortion law naturally focusses attention on the situation in the north.

The vote means that TDs and senators are now empowered to pass laws to extinguish the natural right to life of innocent, unprotected pre-born human beings, thus introducing an extreme abortion regime that would have seemed unimaginable not long ago.

Abortion is no less wrong now than it was in 2012 when Simon Harris TD told thejournal.ie that he was opposed to introducing abortion in Ireland.

At the time Harris was the youngest TD. Shortly, as health minister, he will be piloting Ireland’s new abortion legislation through the Dáil.

However we may respect those who voted Yes for whatever reason, be it out of empathy or the ideology of bodily autonomy, however we may accept that lawmakers will respond to the will of the people, no majority however great in any referendum, or in any parliament, can ever make abortion right or wholesome, given what it means and what it entails for the mother and her unborn baby.

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Any more than such a vote could make euthanasia or capital punishment right anywhere in the world, given that all human life is sacred.

Clearly, the result emboldens those who want to see Northern Ireland abortion law changed along the lines proposed by Harris.

But the pro-life organisations and numerous others will be ever more determined to press their case that “both lives matter”.

They will be mindful that abortion is a devolved matter, most certainly not one for Westminster diktat, and that every day a return to a fully-functioning assembly and executive is delayed, delays the opportunity to build up a first class system of perinatal care that would give the fullest possible support to women and unborn babies in crisis pregnancies.

As things stand the DUP appears to be the bulwark against a permissive abortion regime in Northern Ireland.

For obvious reasons, readers of The Irish News will be particularly interested in the attitude of Sinn Féin and the SDLP.

We know where Sinn Féin stand under Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill. The unborn child has no right to life and they deny their public representatives a conscience vote, so the brave Peadar Tóibín TD and others could face expulsion.

The SDLP appear to have ditched their pro-life policy – not one of the motions at their special conference last weekend self-described the party as pro-life - and they voted to give members and elected representatives a sort of free-for-all, to have no policy at all, an ignoble, cowardly démarche for a once great party.

Their leader Colum Eastwood could hardly wait to curry favour with the Dublin political establishment by supporting a Yes vote, I’m told to the anger of many SDLP supporters.

Eastwood may feel vindicated by the result of the referendum, but his party needs to develop a coherent credible policy on human life consistent with the SDLP’s verities.

A good starting point would be the SDLP’s 2015 submission to the Department of Justice consultation on “The Criminal Law on Abortion: Lethal Foetal Abnormality and Sexual Crime” which stated the party’s total opposition to abortion, while dealing with the complexities of this matter in an intelligent and compassionate way.

It is being said by some that the size of the referendum majority means that Irish voters signalled their support for unrestricted abortion laws and the cheerleaders for abortion in the north will seize on that.

However, the Irish government must not let the result go to its head and should proceed with great caution.

What was particularly striking about the RTE exit poll was the compassion of voters who were touched by the personal stories of women and the slender majority (52 per cent) in support for abortion on request up to 12 weeks.

While there can be no denying that the result is a landmark one and that the south has changed utterly since 1983 when the Eighth Amendment was passed, many Yes voters (not to mention those who voted No) will have found the carnival atmosphere and the cheering at Dublin Castle distasteful.

As the Presbyterian Church said on Saturday: “Today is not a day for celebration... there should be no place for unrestricted abortion in a society that claims to cherish human life.”

That applies as much to the north as to the south.