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Respectful debate on this issue is a threat to no-one, and indeed should be encouraged.

By Sean O'Donnell - 25 March, 2018

In a week where his colleague Carol Nolan was suspended from her party for voting according to her personal convictions about abortion, Peader Toibin’s speech in the Dail on Tuesday night, was a welcome reframing of the debate on the Eighth Amendment within the wider context of modern Irish society. With numbers of people waiting on hospital trolleys or for life-saving treatment, and the numbers of homeless families and poverty stricken children spiralling, it seems as though we are a society facing an examination of conscience about the defence of our most vulnerable members. A respectful, sensitive debate on the issues surrounding the proposed changes to Irish law would be wide enough to include those situations, as well as the many thousands personally affected by abortion itself.

However, as anyone with a Facebook account knows, discussions of this importance rarely remain respectful. For the last year so many debates have thrown up the question again and again – who has a right to speak about this issue? Is it voters? Are men allowed to have a say?  Only women? Only pregnant women? Should the Church be a part of the debate? As online debates heat up, as the phone-lines of local and national radio stations become busier, it seems that a large part of the discussions centre around who should be discussing it, and whose voice should be heard.

It can become difficult to look past the rhetoric to remember what it is that we will each be asked to vote for – the retention or removal of the following words from the Constitution:

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The removal of this protection from unborn children means that following the recent decision of the Supreme Court, Irish children will have no rights before birth at all. A society who wants to call itself compassionate, surely must not remove human rights from the most vulnerable, the voiceless, those who never have a choice and those whose very life depends on the choices of others.

Mary Kenny, a young mother from Limerick, was faced with a crisis pregnancy in her second year of college. “I honestly felt like my life was over. The thought of a child crashing into my life in nine months was something I was not going to allow.”

She says that the Eighth Amendment gave her the time she needed to think, and a conversation with a colleague whose children had been adopted was the expression of support that she needed.

“In my situation all it needed was for one person to say ‘You can get through this, and I’ll be there for you.’ That’s all it took for me to realise that I could get through it. I saw my little Hollie at twelve weeks gestation, and when I saw the picture of my beautiful little girl on the screen, the phrase “my body my choice” went out the window. I touched the screen and tears ran down my cheeks, because she was just as much my baby then, as she is now.”

Mary has since met many women who have had abortions and felt they had no real option, or that there were no other choices available to them. Many of the stories that have been circulating seem to speak of this experience. One of these is a heart-breaking account shared on the Facebook page, “Courage to Love”, written by a young Irish man whose pregnant girlfriend had gone home to England for the Christmas holidays to spend time with her family, and who had been supportive of their decision to choose life for their baby.

“Two days later I got a call from her to say that her mother had driven her to the abortion clinic and told her it was an abortion, or she was on her own, and would be cut off. All she kept saying to me on the phone was “they gave me no choice.”

Hearing stories like this, the need for compassion, support and care for those personally connected with abortion, and for sensitivity during debates around the issue, becomes ever more apparent.

Though Ireland has a lot to be proud of, there is still work to be done, says Mary. “The supports out there for women are amazing – Gianna Care, Every Life Counts, One Day More – all these are examples of the type of support and compassion that women need.” These volunteer organisations are helping to create a culture in which mothers, fathers, families are cherished, and babies are protected, but without government funding, there remains a limit to their efforts. A familiar word from pro-life advocates is that there is always a better answer than abortion. A large part of this debate will continue after this referendum, as Ireland seeks to become a place where, given the right support, women like Mary can choose life for their children, and help to build on the vision that the Eighth Amendment offers.

“On  19th November Hollie was born, and as I looked at her I couldn’t believe I had thought that this was the child that would ruin me. Instead, she was the making of me.”


Thank you Peadar Tóibín for standing strong for life #savethe8th #votenotoabortion

Thank you Peadar Tóibín for standing strong for life #savethe8th #votenotoabortion

Posted by Life Institute on Fimmtudagur, 22. mars 2018

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