Religion should play no role in debate on abortion

A close friend of mine told me a story about something which happened in their child’s science class.
Religion should play no role in debate on abortion

When a child asked about God’s role vis-à-vis science, the teacher responded: “We will have no talk of mythical sky creatures in my class.”

If God should have no role in a science classroom, then should there be no role for said mythical sky creatures in political discussion, particularly those relating to issues as serious as abortion?

At the weekend, the Catholic Primate of Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin caused a stir when he called for politicians to remember their faith in their pending discussions on whether to repeal the 8th Amendment.

He said that, from a moral standpoint, there is no such thing as ‘limited’ abortion.

The bishop added the medical prognosis for the life of a child in the womb, or the extent of that child’s disabilities, is no more morally relevant to deciding if the baby should be allowed to live than it is when considering an adult who faces the diagnosis of a life-limiting condition.

Of politicians, he added that they should not park their faith at the door in the upcoming discussions.

Now, thankfully long gone is the day when ministers of government cowered at the feet of religious leaders like Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. Such subservience was deeply damaging to the workings of democracy in Ireland during the first four or five decades of this State’s history.

The status of the 1983 Constitutional amendment — which guarantees equal status to the right to life of the mother and her unborn child — is now front and centre in light of the pending Citizens’ Assembly.

Archbishop Martin and many on the pro-life side say the 8th Amendment is a precious protector of life and an important instrument in law.

However, since the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital in October 2012, the role of the Church in the abortion debate has been controversial.

Many on the pro-choice side have called for a proper separation in Church and State, saying the argument must be based on medical and legal expertise and not theology or doctrine.

Such concerns are legitimate given how clumsily the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was formulated.

Few practitioners have said the act has worked effectively or brought the sort of clarity many have called for when those truly awful decisions have to be made.

Absolutely, people are entitled to their faith and yes their views are going to be shaped by that faith. Politicians are no different.

But over the decades, Ireland has been poorly served when legislation and policy making has been overly influenced by religious doctrine.

All over the world, from Belfast to Baghdad, from Boston to Bangladesh, we have countless examples of how the mix of politics and religion has proven to be poisonous.

Here in Ireland, Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, who has proven herself to be a welcome voice of independent thinking in this Dáil, has said the opinion of the Catholic Church should have no influence in the debate to liberalise the country’s abortion laws.

Given the conservative profile of her party, her views are noteworthy and is a welcome sign that our political system is throwing off its adolescent limitations.

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