They didn’t vote for the trebling of abortions, for the refusal of pain relief for babies, nor for the proviso that doctors who refuse to comply must refer the mother on to one who will, writes Cora Sherlock.
One year on from the referendum that removed the Eighth Amendment and allowed abortion, campaigners are demanding that access to abortion be increased. Those who followed the debate will hardly be surprised.
After all, things are very different to when Health Minister Simon Harris heralded a post-referendum “brighter Ireland” in which concerns regarding the new act would be inserted via amendments.
But during debates in the Dáil and Seanad, even the most reasonable amendments were shot down with the excuse that the referendum had passed and that to do anything different would be to go against “the will of the people”.
This applied to humane amendments, too, like the provision of pain relief to babies about to be terminated. While it’s true that two-thirds of the electorate voted for the removal of the Eighth Amendment, they didn’t agree to this.
Indeed, many have expressed horror to pro-life groups about this development, admitting that they would never have opted for repeal if the Government had explained that this would be the likely outcome. The situation is no better for those who voted yes thinking they were providing a better alternative for families’ whose baby is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition in the womb.
Abortion campaigners had insisted that ending the baby’s life should be an option for these families. But they had nothing to say about the recent tragedy in Holles Street, where a couple aborted their baby after a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition, only to discover that their baby had no such illness.
Tragic situations like this will likely happen more and more, as experts have already said that there is no way to diagnose a “life-limiting condition”. The new act not only disregards this fact, but accepts abortion as a default position for parents who should, instead, be offered support and comfort at a difficult time.
In the past, the abortion debate in Ireland centred around finding new ways to reduce the numbers of abortions. Somewhere along the way, though, that worthy aspiration has been lost. During the recent debate, the sole aim of yes campaigners seemed to be the provision of abortion services.
Attempts by those who opposed repeal to try and veer the discussion towards something more positive were dismissed. Sadly, that shift in attitude among campaigners and government proponents has led to the present situation and the idea of any reduction in abortions has been all but forgotten.
During the referendum, pro-life campaigners were mocked for their concerns that once abortion is introduced in a country, the number of abortions inevitably increases. Recent estimates, however, suggest that this is borne out by the facts.
The abortion group START has just announced that 800-900 abortions a month have been carried out since the new law took effect. If true, this would mean an almost trebling of Ireland’s abortion rate.
Once again, we heard very little from abortion campaigners on this development, but it is likely that those who voted yes are shocked at this enormous increase. It’s also unlikely that yes voters intended that doctors who refuse to carry out an abortion must then refer the mother on to another professional, who will carry out the procedure.
This does not equate to genuine conscientious objection, and the fact that many doctors have protested against this section of the act, since its passing into law, proves that there was little or no debate of the role of doctors pre-referendum.
Indeed, Mr Harris planned his GP-led service without even discussing the proposal with the country’s doctors. One doctor told me that he first heard about the plans on a news bulletin. With such little focus on the fact that the new act would strip doctors and medical students of their right to continue to save lives, rather than end them, is it any wonder that so many voters thought they were assisting in the vital work of GPs and not obstructing it in such a subversive way?
Perhaps this was the greatest fallacy of the abortion campaign — convincing the public that the Eighth Amendment presented a danger to mothers. And yet, the new act itself dispels this inaccuracy, confirming that abortion is a procedure “intended to end the life of a foetus”.
Yes voters went to the polls in the hope that they were protecting women, but many are only starting to realise that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life and may itself lead to intense trauma and regret in the aftermath. The loss of the Eighth Amendment was a tragic setback for the pro-life movement, but the seeds for future success are already being sown, particularly among pro-life student societies, which are developing new initiatives intended to help restore the belief that every human being deserves a chance at life.
Pro-life organisations are also working towards the day when full legal protection will be restored in Ireland. Recent pro-life victories abroad have shown that this can be done and there is no shortage of motivation and belief among campaigners, who have been joined by many who regret their yes vote. The fightback has already begun.
Cora Sherlock is a solicitor and a pro-life campaigner