How to find an alternative to 'unethical and inhumane' abortion on demand
I believe it is time for a historical compromise to bring both sides together in the divisive abortion debate
I find it hard to believe the majority of those who support the deletion of the Eighth Amendment want to see abortion available on demand in Ireland. Yet, that is what is on offer. In addition, the promise of limiting abortion to the first 12 weeks cannot be delivered on because this Dail and Seanad, or a future Oireachtas, could amend it at will.
I have been a member of Fine Gael since I was 16 years old. I will be with those Fine Gael members who oppose the current proposals. I am also a practising Catholic. My faith tells me, as does science, that life begins at conception. However, I realise I cannot impose my beliefs on others. I also realise that others cannot impose their beliefs on me. In a democratic society, compromise, however distasteful, is sometimes necessary. In every issue, intent is what defines if an action is ethical. In my view, an ethical compromise could be arrived at on this issue. For that to happen, the current proposals must be turned down.
Many years ago, I persuaded a highly indignant community, which felt it had been very badly treated, not to appeal a planning permission for a homeless housing scheme for vulnerable people but instead to enter into negotiations with the sponsoring organisation in relation to its proper management. The organisation had its planning permission and the residents were told there would be no further conversation. They appealed to An Bord Pleanala and the entire proposal was overturned. With much delay, the issue had to be approached in another way.
The abortion debate reminds me of that dispute. There will be only one "winner". My instinct is that those opposed to the repeal of the Eighth will win, but the issue still will not go away. One minister has already stated that in this event the question will be put again. If the repeal side wins, there will also be continued pressure on politicians for another referendum.
The reason I believe there will be a majority No vote, despite what the opinion polls say, is that the full facts of abortion on demand are frightening. More than 55 million abortions in the US since it was legalised there, comparable numbers based on population in the UK. About 180 million women missing from the world's population because of gender-based abortions. Many doctors on record as having personally carried out tens of thousands of abortions, the reality that 12 weeks will not remain as the limit and that one person could have multiple abortions, will be heavily weighed. One way or another, we are heading for a divided society that will leave the division of the British people on Brexit in the halfpenny place.
Perhaps it is time for a historical compromise.
The Government's proposed wording for the referendum is: "Provision may be made by law for the provision of termination of pregnancies." If this is accepted, there will be no protection whatever for the unborn in the Constitution, as the Supreme Court has ruled.
Daily, the State is required to intervene in the lives of families, where children are at risk. This is a very delicate area. Yet, the law is applied without recourse to undue interference in families, and with care and compassion.
The State's authority to intervene is contained in Article 42a.2.1, inserted as the 31st Amendment to the Constitution in recent years. This constitutional provision contains the words "in exceptional circumstances", the State may intervene using "proportionate means, as provided by law" to protect the child.
If the proposed constitutional amendment on abortion was something like "in exceptional circumstances, and by proportionate means as provided by law, provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancies", the stated objective of the Taoiseach to have limited abortion available could be achieved, and the middle-ground would likely find this a better option.
It seems highly improbable that a law governing the valid health needs of the mother, or one dealing with rape, or pregnancies where the overwhelming medical evidence is that a baby will not survive outside the womb, would be struck down by the courts, should "exceptional and proportionate" be the measure.
The content of such a provision would still, in part, be repugnant to Catholic teaching. However, the Papal encyclical Evangelicum Vitae allows that Catholic legislators (in this case citizens of the State) who vote to allow abortion, by supporting a proposal that would reduce the incidence of abortion, could do so in good conscience. It seems to me that the more moderate wording I set out previously would meet that test. Such wording would appear to meet the ethical objections to the current proposals made by the Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, and other religious groups. I suspect it would also win the support of a majority of those with no religious beliefs.
This country voted for gay marriage. We have an openly gay Taoiseach. We have shown that we are an open-minded, accommodating people. We have nothing to prove to the outside world on the abortion issue. We do not need to follow horrific international trends on abortion. We could help lead the world in a better direction. Abortion on demand is not necessary or desirable. It is both unethical and inhumane. Let's try to find an accommodation which is informed by consideration and compassion and not by a winner-takes-all, debate-winning mentality.
I was campaign manager for five EU referendums. Two of these were lost and were put to the people a second time and carried, when the real concerns of people were addressed. Current proposals should be rejected. If they are, more balanced proposals will, in time, emerge. The wording set out above could provide that balance.
Gay Mitchell is a former Fine Gael TD and MEP