Abortion referendum: a turning point in Ireland?

The Irish constitution currently bans abortion. Today the Irish will vote on whether this should change. According to the polls, the advocates of liberalisation, which the government and parliament also support, have a slight lead. Commentators describe the mood before the vote and how this once deeply Catholic country is rethinking its values.

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The Irish Times (IE) /

The youngest lose their right to life

If the abortion ban is abolished the parliament will be able to decide over life and death by a simple majority, warns columnist Breda O'Brien in The Irish Times:

“I believe everyone, whether their biological father is a rapist or not, should have the right to life. But I know it is possible to amend the Constitution and legislate for abortion in exceptionally traumatic cases like rape. And if we vote Yes this time, we will never, ever get a chance to vote on it again. We will have enshrined the right of politicians to choose for us into our Constitution and taken away the right to live or ever choose anything from the youngest humans.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Moral compass shows a new direction

Ireland seems to be saying farewell to the last relict of its Catholic past, writes Ireland-based journalist Mario Danneels in De Morgen:

“It's encouraging that a grassroots campaign supports those in favour of changing the law, that the 'yes' buttons, pullovers and bags are dominant, that the people distributing the 'no' literature either look very lost or are practically being hunted away from the shopping streets with fire and brimstone. And what's very conspicuous: the bulk of the religious involvement comes from America. The role of the Irish Church in the campaign has been negligible. It has clearly realised that it has had its day. ... Many Irish see this referendum as not just being about abortion, but about the country's moral compass. They want it to be pointed towards to the present once and for all now.”

Index (HU) /

A deeply divided country

Irish society is facing a landmark decision, Index writes:

“On the one hand we have foetuses that are obliged to be born despite serious developmental disorders, and life-endangering pregnancies that are pushed through at all costs and end in death. But on the other hand we also have children who were only born because of the strict laws, and happy families. A deeply divided but increasingly liberal country will vote whether in 2018 it still wants tough abortion laws - the toughest in Europe, oriented on the doctrine of the increasingly unimportant Catholic Church. ... But regardless of the result one thing is certain: neither the topic nor the deep divisions in society will disappear. And neither will abortion itself, or the ten 'abortion tourists' on average who travel to England every day.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

Church can also change its stance

It is only since 1869 and the papacy of Pope Pius XI that the Catholic Church has imposed the penalty of excommunication for abortions, Göteborgs-Posten notes, and hopes that this stance will also change:

“It's excellent that Ireland is holding a referendum on abortion and the constitution. Hopefully the next step will be a debate about how to formulate abortion legislation. People in Catholic countries where the belief prevails that abortion must be a punishable offence in all cases should remember that this view is relatively new in the almost 2000-year history of the Catholic Church. Religious views on abortion can also change. This is necessary if the lives of women are to be saved.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Abortion bans put women's lives at risk

Restrictive laws can't prevent abortions but they force women to put their health at risk, Ann Starrs, president of the US reproductive health think tank the Guttmacher Institute, writes in The Daily Telegraph:

“Worldwide, an estimated 25 million unsafe abortions occur each year, even though abortion is a simple and safe procedure when properly performed. Unsafe abortion occurs most frequently in countries with restrictive abortion laws. Banning abortion does not eliminate the procedure, but it does make abortion more likely to be unsafe. In fact, research shows that abortion occurs just as frequently in countries where abortion is prohibited or highly restricted as where it is broadly legal.”

Gość Niedzielny (PL) /

Let us pray for Ireland

The Catholic priest Tomasz Jaklewicz hopes in Gość Niedzielny that abortion will continue to be banned in Ireland:

“If the Irish vote to abolish legal protection for life, it will be a bitter symbol that puts the icing on the cake in the speedy process of secularisation under way in the Emerald Isle. ... On Friday we must pray that the Irish will honour their great tradition in the fight against the civilisation of death, and speak out for the independence and freedom of their youngest citizens.”

Irish Independent (IE) /

Abortion ban is cruel

The current abortion ban represents an inadmissible intrusion in women's private sphere, columnist Gene Kerrigan criticises in The Irish Independent:

“The 'pro-life' forces have nothing to say to raped and pregnant children, or to raped and pregnant women. And if a woman knows that the foetus inside her will at best live just long enough to lose the fight to breathe they nevertheless demand that she see the pregnancy through. In this stark view of the world, there's no place for a woman's intellect or conscience. The choice, whatever circumstances she might face, has already been made. ... There is not another measure implemented in the history of the state that is so intrusive, so authoritarian in personal matters, so cruel in its effects as the Eighth Amendment.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Avoid a situation like that in Germany

Thanks to modern prenatal diagnostics the number of abortions of babies with disabilities in Ireland would increase if the ban is lifted, as it already has in Germany, columnist Breda O'Brien warns in The Irish Times:

“However, if the Eighth is not retained, suppose a woman, Anne, opts for NIPT at 10 weeks. Some companies guarantee a result in five days. Given that a positive diagnosis is 99 per cent accurate, Anne might then ask for an abortion. No reason will be required. ... Before the last German election, Natalie Dedreux, a teenager with Down syndrome, asked Angela Merkel why nine out of 10 babies with Down syndrome are aborted in Germany. Merkel was visibly discomfited and had no answer. Neither will we if this referendum is passed.”