Sunday 25 August 2019

The Eighth can stand no longer

Pro Choice supporters hold a protest on O'Connell Street calling on the Government to repeal the 8th amendment. Picture: Arthur Carron
Pro Choice supporters hold a protest on O'Connell Street calling on the Government to repeal the 8th amendment. Picture: Arthur Carron


Just as a mansion built on crooked foundations can never be 'made good', so it is with constitutions and constitutional amendments.

 The analogy certainly appears to be applicable to our abortion regime where the shadow of the Eighth Amendment - conceived as it was out of political opportunism, put to the people against all wiser counsel and fought over in an atmosphere of fear and Catholic sectarianism - is lengthening and deepening rather than abating. One of the more unappreciated measures of how we have been misgoverned is the process where a Constitution that was socially progressive for its age has become a political sink-hole, where opportunistic political elites bury social difficulties in the hope that they will never rise again. That ignoble objective has certainly not been met when it comes to abortion. Instead we exist in a ghoulish state where it is quite possible that a clinically dead woman may be left decaying for days before her grieving family, whilst doctors differ and lawyers argue fine points of constitutional law over whether pregnant Irish women have the right to experience a dignified death.

Politics is often about compromise and that is not always an ignoble way of doing things. But, what is applicable when it comes to matters such as social partnership or union rates is not appropriate when it comes to inalienable human rights. The Gothic prospect that we might be faced with attempts to incubate a foetus in a dead mother at some future date would even cause a Frankenstein to blanch. It is not, alas, a solitary blemish either, for when it comes to our abortion regime there is no shortage of other 'moral issues' which need resolution swiftly. What self-respecting polity, for example, can continue to offer a tin ear to the sad, still stories of those who, in the modern variant of coffin ships, must flee abroad to more civilised places to resolve issues such as fatal foetal abnormality.

Our country is divided, when it comes to abortion between those who for genuine reasons are pro-life, pro-choice and a majority who are in the agonised centre. The one point of clarity in an occluded political landscape, however, is that the Constitution is no longer ad idem with the settled view of the citizens. They realise our current abortion regime is an affront to civilised discourse and the proper regulation and conduct of human interactions. In a functioning democracy this lacuna is not acceptable. It is often claimed that Ireland is a different country to that barbaric space where, in 1984, a pregnant child such as Anne Lovett could die in a grotto. The old saying about how the proof of the pudding lies in the eating seems to be quite applicable to our current condition.

The Eighth Amendment is a miserable, misbegotten piece of constitutional architecture and an anachronistic relic of an age whose political fruits were mostly poisonous. We understand that pregnant women and their unpredictable bodies can be a political nuisance. But, this Coalition cannot, to borrow a phrase from a different era, put abortion 'on the long finger' if it is to maintain any credibility as a reforming administration. This is not the time for the Augustinian politics of, 'Lord make us politically brave but not until after the next election.' The Eighth Amendment cannot stand under the weight of the citizens' disgust with its medieval diktats. It must go and the sooner that happens the better the consequences will be to the Coalition's dwindling reputation.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss