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Ireland: Toward the Legalization of Abortion?

May 05, 2017

The Citizens’ Assembly voted with a strong majority to “end the ban on abortion”; it could lead to a referendum in 2018.

In Ireland, the Citizens’ Assembly summoned by Parliament in 2016 to give an opinion on a series of social subjects, voted with a strong majority to “end the ban on abortion” by revising the Eighth Amendment. This amendment, added to the Irish constitution in 1983, “acknowledges the right to life of the unborn ”. This vote could lead to a referendum in 2018, which is the same year Pope Francis is supposed to visit the country for the World Meeting of Families.

A consultative assembly of 99 citizens selected at random was convened by the Parliament of Ireland in the fall of 2016 to examine existing laws, particularly those on abortion.

In Ireland, abortion is illegal, except in cases where the mother’s life is endangered. The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution grants equal rights to the fetus and to the mother. But there have long been breaches in this legislative scheme.

In 1992, the Supreme Court obliged the State to provide the necessary information for women who wish to abort abroad, especially in the neighboring island of Great Britain. In 2013, after a woman died because of her pregnancy, Fine Gael – generally a centrist party – government authorized abortion in the case of a medical emergency for the mother. Last July, a bill to legalize  abortion in the case of a serious deformation of the fetus was presented to Parliament, but rejected.

There is also pressure to legalize abortion from the United Nations and the European Union. In June 2016, the UN asked Ireland to modify its law, on the pretext that it subjects women to “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.

Organizations supported by billionaire George Soros have been pursuing this same goal, by promoting abortion and contraception. They have been studying different strategies “to keep countries...from setting in stone the personification of the human embryo”.

After his visit to Ireland in 2016, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiž nieks, published a report on March 29, 2017, in which he “reecommends that the Irish authorities take all necessary measures to ensure that access to safe and legal abortion as provided by law is fully implemented in practice.”

Thus, on April 23 and 24, 87% of the voters of the Citizens’ Assembly voted in favor of organizing a referendum to change the Eighth Amendment that protects the life of the unborn child. What is more, 64% of the citizens consulted wish there to be “no restrictions on the reasons” for an abortion.

After this vote that has only an advisory value, the Irish Minister of Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, and the Minister of Social Protection, Leo Varadkar, have asked for a referendum on abortion to be organized for 2018, the same year that the Holy Father plans to come to Dublin for the World Meeting of Families.

This will be the first pontifical visit since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979. But, 35 years later, the face of the country has greatly evolved: the most Catholic country of Western Europe has become one of the most secularized. Revelations about the abuse of minors by the clergy, the chaotic way these affairs were managed, and their exploitation by the media,  helped undermine the faithful’s trust in the Church and her Magisterium, lastingly discrediting the ecclesiastical institution for a long time.

Thus in 2011, Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, declared that “the historical bond between the Church and the State can never be the same again.” At the same time, the Irish government recalled its ambassador from the Vatican.

In a context in which the voice of the Church is no longer as audible as it once was, it is easier to understand how 62% of voters approved the bill on homosexual “marriage” in 2015, making Catholic Ireland the first country to legalize it with a referendum.

Conscious of their lack of popularity, the bishops of Ireland are not in the front line of the fight against revising the Eighth Amendment, leaving that to powerful pro-life organizations like Pro Life Campaign.

Bishop Kevin Doran of Elvin is one of the few Irish prelates to enter the fray, recalling, after the vote by the Citizens’ Assembly, that no matter what amendments are made to the Constitution, Catholic hospitals will still have to observe the teaching of the Church on abortion. This stance immediately unleashed a media campaign that is as violent as it is unjust, questioning the legitimacy of the Catholic Church in Ireland to be directing confessional hospitals, given the abuses committed in the past.

Preoccupied by the growing hostility towards the Church, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, publicly lamented on April 30 the fact that priests, religious congregations, and committed Catholics in Ireland are  “unfairly under attack as they live out their faith and their ministry generously and with dedication”.

In St. Patrick’s country, Pope Francis can count on a popularity that has remained intact since his election. After obtaining the nomination of an Irish ambassador to the Vatican in 2014, the Holy Father received an official invitation to Dublin from the Prime Minister.

Time will tell whether the affection and esteem of the Catholics of Ireland for Pope Francis are strong enough to influence the grim process that is already underway.

Sources: Crux / Géné / Irish Times / Le Figaro / FSSPX.News - 05/05/2017