During the past few months, the abortion debate in Ireland has centred around the Citizens’ Assembly, a monthly meeting of 99 members of the public who were tasked with making recommendations to the Government on how to proceed regarding the Eighth Amendment, the last remaining constitutional protection for unborn children.
At its final weekend at the end of April, the Assembly members voted on what changes they wanted to see take place, and the results were extreme.
After voting against an option that would see the current legal protection remain in place, the Assembly voted to recommend a vast number of changes including allowing abortion in the case of disability, and for socio-economic reasons.
The results produced an outcry, not least among politicians who had most likely been hoping for a more moderate result to be returned by the Assembly. They know that there is no appetite among the general public in Ireland for the kind of extremities suggested by the Citizens’ Assembly.
But the reality, as pointed out by the Pro Life Campaign and other close observers of the Assembly proceedings, is that this kind of result was the only one that could have been expected given the one-sided and chaotic nature of how the Assembly was run throughout.
The writing was on the wall throughout, particularly when you consider who got an invitation to address the members, and who failed to make the cut.
On the one hand, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) were invited and described as an “impartial expert” – this despite the fact that they are Britain’s largest abortions provider. The members weren’t told that BPAS facilitates abortion to birth, and they weren’t told anything about the scathing report BPAS received from the British Care Quality Commission after 11 women had to be transported to local hospitals over a fifteen month period following abortion procedures in BPAS clinics.
Why not tell the members this in order to ensure that they were fully informed about the credentials of BPAS? It’s a good question, but I have a better one.
Where was the invitation for families who say their children are alive because of the Eighth Amendment? These are people who say they actively considered abortion but due to the fact that there were no abortion facilities in Ireland – thanks to the Eighth – they had time to reflect, make plans and ultimately change their minds. Their children are living, breathing testimonies to the positive effect of the Eighth Amendment and the members deserved to hear from them. Their exclusion from the process was a fatal error which really calls into question the entire results.
The next stage of the debate in Ireland is critical. The Government is currently setting up a Committee to consider the results of the Assembly and how best to move forward. But before it can even think about making changes in this area, it must look at the way the Assembly carried out its business. Such a narrow, one-sided viewpoint cannot form the basis for any plans that would take away from the right to life of unborn children.
If the next phase of the process is to have any credibility, then the Government Committee must give urgent priority to shining a spotlight on how the Assembly actually went about its work and why such disrespect was shown to the families who have benefited most from the human rights beacon that is the Eighth Amendment.
The one good thing that the Citizens’ Assembly results has done is to highlight just what happens when you start to talk about removing the right to life. The entire human rights framework unravels and very quickly, the talk turns to abortion on wide-ranging grounds. Pro-life supporters are very aware of this. There is no such thing as “restrictive abortion”. Once the right to life is removed from some human beings in society, respect for all human life is diminished and gradually eroded.
There is nothing liberal or progressive about the Assembly proposing a referendum to strip unborn babies of their first and most basic human right, namely the right to life itself. Pro-life campaigners in Ireland are working hard in the aftermath of the chaos of the Citizens’ Assembly to ensure that these most defenceless members of Irish society continue to be protected under our laws.