Tuesday 20 August 2019

A pro-life Enda would declare support for the Eighth Amendment

Enda Kenny has said we ought to have a constitutional convention on the issue of abortion. That will certainly come back and recommend either deleting or replacing our pro-life constitutional amendment
Enda Kenny has said we ought to have a constitutional convention on the issue of abortion. That will certainly come back and recommend either deleting or replacing our pro-life constitutional amendment

David Quinn

Since 1983 this country has had three referendums on the nature of marriage and three on abortion and the right to life. It now seems very likely that we will have a fourth referendum on abortion within the next three years or so.

Coincidentally, this week saw the 20th anniversary of the divorce referendum of 1995 which split the country right down the middle.

To mark the occasion, some commentators have been loudly proclaiming that the prediction by anti-divorce campaigners that we would soon have very high American and British-style divorce rates has proven to be completely untrue.

On the contrary, Ireland has the lowest divorce rate in Europe.

In point of fact, few of the leading anti-divorce campaigners predicted that the "floodgates" would open.

That said, to simply state that our divorce rate is the lowest in Europe is misleading because many people in Ireland separate without divorcing.

If you add the number of separations to the number of divorces, our marital breakdown rate roughly doubles.

To put it in absolute black and white, Census 1996 showed that 94,000 of us had suffered a broken marriage. Census 2011 showed this figure had jumped to almost 250,000.

This number is being added to at a rate of roughly 10,000 people per year, so by now the number of divorced and separated people in Ireland must be approaching 300,000. That is a big total.

Pro-divorce campaigners for their part made predictions of their own that have proven to be wrong. For example, they predicted that rates of cohabitation would fall because separated people living together would be able to marry instead.

In fact, the number of cohabiting couples almost quadrupled between 1995 and 2011.

It is relevant to point all of this out because in any forthcoming abortion referendum we will be told loudly and often that social conservatives have been wrong in their predictions before and will be wrong again. This is misleading, as the above ought to show.

In any event, pressure to hold another abortion referendum aimed at repealing the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution - that is, the pro-life clause - is building.

It has now got to the point where Enda Kenny felt obliged to make his move on the issue at a meeting of Fine Gael on Wednesday night.

Mr Kenny has said he favours holding another constitutional convention to debate the issue. It can discuss whether or not to recommend holding a referendum on the matter.

Whatever government we elect next time will then have to consider the recommendations of the convention.

We can already predict with absolute certainty that the convention will recommend an abortion referendum. We will be told that the convention will be representative of the general public. But it will be no more representative than the last constitutional convention. That convention was heavily skewed in a liberal direction.

For example, it voted much more heavily in favour of same-sex marriage than the general public did.

We know that when it meets there will be a media din in favour of repealing the pro-life amendment. The politicians present are also likely to be more pro-choice than pro-life.

The only thing in doubt is whether or not the convention will call for the deletion from the Constitution of anything to do with abortion, or whether it will favour replacing the Eighth Amendment with something that prevents our legislature adopting a very permissive abortion regime, such as is backed by the Labour Party.

The fact that Mr Kenny has felt compelled to make this move says a lot about the nature of debate here.

Pressure to have another abortion referendum has not come from the general public. The reason it is on the agenda is because of constant questioning from journalists on the topic, questioning that implicitly supports the holding of a referendum, and also because of campaigning from pro-abortion lobby groups.

Another reason it is on the agenda is because current affairs and talk shows are far more likely to interview a woman who had an abortion following a diagnosis that her baby would die soon after birth, instead of women who received a similar diagnosis but carried the baby to term.

In Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron only gave his backing to the holding of a referendum on British membership of the European Union because of the high number of his own MPs who are radical euro-sceptics, because of the rise of UKIP and because of the existence of a strong euro-sceptic element in the British media.

Here, Mr Kenny knows that the whole of the Irish media wants to see the back of the Eighth Amendment and not just elements of our media. So does an influential section of his own party that includes Frances Fitzgerald, Leo Varadkar, James Reilly and Alan Shatter.

On the other hand, he knows there are members of his party that don't want to see the repeal of the pro-life amendment. He lost seven members of his parliamentary party thanks to the abortion bill of 2013. He knows he would lose still more if he forced them to vote in favour of a law that would widen the grounds for abortion still further.

This is why he has offered his TDs and senators a very rare free vote on the matter.

Another factor that has created the political conditions that led him to call for a constitutional convention on abortion is the lack of any firm and unambiguous support for the Eighth Amendment from any of the other main parties.

Micheál Martin could come out and say that he personally supports the Eighth Amendment and that this is the official position of the Fianna Fáil party. But he won't do so, despite the fact that a lot of his party members favour keeping the Eighth.

Lucinda Creighton wants to retain the Eighth, but that is not the official position of Renua.

While Mr Cameron has agreed to hold a referendum on British membership of the EU, he himself is going to campaign in favour of staying in the EU, so long as the EU agrees to give Britain certain concessions.

Mr Kenny has now gone a very long way towards committing the country to another referendum. However, he ought to declare himself in favour of retaining the Eighth and personally campaign for its retention. Alas, that is probably a pipe dream.

Irish Independent

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