The 8th Amendment (Article 40.3.3.) to the Irish Constitution is the original Life Equality Amendment. It protects the equal right to life of unborn children and their mothers.
Inserted in the Constitution in 1983, this recognition of the equal dignity of all human lives means that our abortion rate is much lower than that of our nearest neighbour, Britain. The abortion rate in England and Wales is 15.9 per 1,000 women (aged 15-44)—this is more than four times higher than the Irish rate of 3.8 abortions per 1,000 women (aged 15-44). From these figures, it is no exaggeration to say that there are tens of thousands of people alive today as a direct result of the social, cultural and legal influence of the 8th Amendment.
Despite this, pro-choice advocates continue their relentless campaign for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment. Their reasons can perhaps be divided into three main claims. None stand up to closer scrutiny.
First, it is argued that abortion is a right under international human rights law. This is untrue, and the fact that this argument is proposed by groups like Amnesty International in their campaign in favor of abortion is surprising. There is no such thing as a right to abortion in international human rights law. (There is a right to life; it is acknowledged in Article 3 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, something proponents of abortion conveniently ignore). A review of every one of the main international treaties on human rights will confirm the fact that the supposed “right” to abortion doesn’t exist. These are the treaties that form international human rights law, not the various ideologically-driven and non-binding U.N. committees that Amnesty and others are so desperate to invoke.
The second claim involves an attempt to portray Ireland as some kind of international backwater due to its concern to protect innocent human life. But Ireland is a progressive, young and extremely well-educated country. Even despite the effects of the global economic crash, we have one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. We have robust anti-discrimination legislation. Women and gay people proudly occupy some of our highest public offices. We have no far-right political party and no back-alley abortion clinics. Far from being embarrassed by our pro-life Constitution, Irish people embrace it. Abortion campaigners know this. Recently, a leading pro-choice politician (and Government Minister), Aodhan O’Riordan, admitted as much when he said that if a referendum were to be held on repealing the 8th Amendment it would almost certainly be defeated.
The real question that must be asked of this claim is what do pro-choice campaigners consider to be “backward” about a desire to protect all human lives?
Human rights do not diminish with time and there is nothing backward about recognising what science has taught us—that the unborn child in the womb is as human as anyone who will read this article.
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Perhaps it is the final claim, however, which is the most damaging—the continual insistence that Ireland’s protection of unborn humans jeopardizes the lives and health of Irish women. This erroneous claim has the effect of making people think Ireland is an unsafe place to be pregnant. The truth of the matter is that Ireland is a country that has consistently ranked among the safest in the world for pregnant women. We have a lower maternal mortality rate than a whole host of countries with liberal abortion regimes. We know from the series of official reports that issued after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012 that her death was due to undiagnosed infection, not the abortion law. Protecting the lives of unborn babies doesn’t have to come at the cost of maternal health care. Abortion is life-ending, not life-saving and pregnancy itself is not an illness. Doctors in Ireland recognize this by caring for both mother and baby.
Would Ireland be a kinder, more compassionate society if we repealed the 8th Amendment? Not if we go by the experience of other countries where human life at its earliest stage is deemed less than worthless. In the United States, Planned Parenthood is being investigated by Congress for harvesting tissue from aborted babies; in England and Wales, 90 percent of children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted; in England, babies who survive abortion are left to die alone in hospital corners; and in India, baby girls are aborted simply for being girls. And everywhere, some unborn babies are saved through medical intervention while other babies of the same gestation have their lives unjustly ended—at times even in the same hospital.
Every society can do better for women and families facing unplanned or difficult pregnancies, and Ireland is no different in this regard. But the radical discrimination that lies at the heart of abortion serves no one. The 8th Amendment, the original life equality amendment, has shaped Ireland into a truly life-affirming society where no one group of human beings has the right to determine that others are “less human”.
More than that, it has saved countless lives and Ireland is a better place because of it.