By Cian Molloy - 12 March, 2018
Following their Spring meeting in Maynooth, Ireland’s bishops published a revised version of their pastoral message, Two Lives, One Love, to help inform the national conversation on the right to life in advance of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to be held later this year.
The bishops state that they believe that human life is sacred from conception until natural death and that Article 40.3.3 reflects the appropriate balance of rights.
“Some people argue that the right to life of the unborn should be a matter of personal choice on the part of the mother. Others argue that, while they are opposed to abortion as a general principle, they believe that there are some children to whom the right to life does not apply either because they have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, or because they have been conceived as a result of rape. We wish to state our firmly held belief, based on reason as well as faith, that there is no such thing as a human life without value.”
The bishops point out that the right to life is a fundamental personal right, as acknowledged by the European Convention on Human Rights. They note that Article 40.3.3 does not concede the right to life to the unborn, but acknowledges that right as a fundamental right, which belongs to the unborn by virtue of their being a person. Additionally, the article does not place the right to life of the unborn above the right to life of the mother.
“We would ask you to consider carefully the reality of what happens in the life of each human being, between conception and birth,” the pastoral statement says. “There is no moment as developmentally significant as the moment of fertilisation, in terms of defining the beginnings of personal existence. There is no logical or scientific basis for considering, on the one hand, a born child to be a person with all the rights that this involves and, on the other hand, an unborn child to be a non-person.”
The bishops use the pastoral to highlight the language being used by the proponents of legalised abortion. “Words like ‘foetus’ and ’embryo’ and ‘zygote’ have specific technical meanings. We question why, in public discourse, healthy unborn children are always referred to as ‘the baby’, while those who, in the opinion of some, do not measure up to expectations are routinely defined as the ‘foetus’ or the ’embryo’. We are concerned that language is being used with the intention of depersonalising certain categories of unborn children in a way which seeks to normalise abortion.”
And they point out that many thousands of Irish people are alive today as a direct result of the enactment of the Eight Amendment. “Quite apart from the numbers of lives that were saved as a result of Article 40.3.3, expectant parents who experience a crisis pregnancy have been culturally supported in making the decision in favour of life and in avoiding a decision which many of them may have regretted afterwards.”
The pastoral letter also examines, particular circumstances that are being used to argue in favour of abortion – where unborn children have life-limiting illnesses or where the children have been conceived as a result of rape.
In relation to the first ‘hard case’, they say: “Even taking the worst case scenarios, the situation of an unborn child with a life-limiting condition is comparable to that of a born child or adult at an advanced stage of terminal illness. One of the particular challenges facing parents of unborn children with life-limiting conditions is the lack of coordinated support for them. We believe a lot more needs to be done to provide appropriate perinatal hospice services, which offer warmth, tenderness, nutrition and hydration and, in that way, support parents in caring for their sick children until natural death. This, rather than the repeal of Article 40.3.3, should be the focus of government policy and it is something towards which we can and should all work.”
In relation to children conceived as a result of sexual assault they say: ” A child conceived following rape is also a person. He or she has rights, including that most fundamental of all rights, the right to life. Society must similarly extend its support to the unborn baby. Some people respond to crisis pregnancy by proposing abortion as a solution. It may even seem like the compassionate thing to do. But these children are innocent and they are entitled to the best support and care that we can provide.”
The bishops conclude the pastoral letter by saying: “Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland has a particular vision which is based on respect for the right to life of every person. We believe that the deletion or amendment of this article can have no other effect than to expose unborn children to greater risk and that it would not bring about any benefit for the life or health of women in Ireland. We encourage you, therefore, as members of the human family, to work actively towards keeping the right to life in the Constitution, in the name of equality, fairness and compassion for all.”