The good news though is that we’ll probably get some distraction from the annual round of economic apocalypse with a good old-fashioned acidic row about abortion. Ah yes, it’ll be the 1980s all over again: and isn’t a new series of Dallas even starting on TV3? Cardinal Seán Brady has already warned the church will be rolling up its sleeves, while on the other side of the debate there have been a few snippy that’s-rich-coming-from-you ripostes. So far, though, the debate, such as it is, has been fairly respectful: no one wants to re-visit the splenetic nastiness of the last referendum. But then, so far, we haven’t really got stuck into an debate. So far it’s been about referendums versus legislation or the possibility of backbench revolts by some Fine Gael deputies. When the expert group reports in October is probably when the emotional temperature of the argument will start to rise: and it will do so because the abortion issue, apart from being controversial in its own right, also serves as a symbol of how we see ourselves as a state and as human beings.
It’s obviously in Sean Brady’s job spec to oppose abortion, so he had no choice, yet the prospect of the catholic church seeking to influence the government of the day will dredge up all sorts of nasty memories and associations, giving further ammunition to those who wish to characterise everyone on the so-called Pro Life side as religious yahoos who only oppose abortion because they think God told them to.
And while the name-calling goes on, there will be a generation ‘too young to remember the last referendum’ who perhaps for the first time will have to consider how they feel about abortion. They’ll have to ask themselves when life begins. Is it at conception? Or is it a more graduated process? They’ll have to consider whether the unborn have rights and if yes, what sorts of rights they should be. How do these balance against the right of the mother? And is the right to life absolute? Does it trump everything? Is a potential baby more important than a raped suicidal teenager? This is all deep, difficult stuff, with many hard cases to consider: and the potential danger that it is impossible to come to a definitive conclusion on the matter. And if that’s the case, then should the state be interfering at all? Shouldn’t it just regulate abortion clinics and let each individual come to a decision in accordance with their own beliefs? If you are of this generation, and feel you have to ponder these questions, then here’s some advice: leave the country now. In a few months time you won’t be able to hear yourself think, what with all the pompous din.