By Philippa Hitchen
Voters in Ireland are casting their ballots on Friday in a referendum to decide whether or not to repeal a constitutional amendment which would allow the country to introduce abortion legislation.
Irish law currently recognises equal rights to life for a mother and for an unborn child, making abortion illegal except in cases where the woman’s life is at risk.
Women accessing illegal abortions can receive a maximum 14-year jail sentence, but the law allows them to travel abroad for an abortion, resulting in several thousand Irish women travelling to the UK each year to terminate their pregnancies.
Ireland’s Catholic Church has been working, ahead of the referendum, to make its voice heard in support of the ‘No’ campaign, as Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armargh, Primate of All Ireland explained to Vatican News:
The archbishop described the vote as a “watershed and historic moment” as people are asked for the first time in Ireland, by referendum, “to discuss the equality of all human life”. He notes that the 8th amendment under review is a declaration of equality of life between the life of a woman and her unborn child, “both lives being precious, in need of protection, love, and the support of society and its laws”.
He said the Supreme Court has warned that “removal of this protection will leave the unborn child with no constitutional rights, which is a huge step”.
Church's teaching on sacredness of life
The Church, Archbishop Martin noted “has all along, through gentle, truthful, but loving messages, tried to teach that all human life is sacred and precious, from the first moment of conception until natural death”.
He said that proposed legislation seeks to introduce a “very liberal abortion regime” with unrestricted access for first three months and thereafter access on health grounds, not yet defined, and possibly up to birth for life limiting conditions”.
Broad coalition of concern
These proposed changes, the archbishop concluded, have united all Christian traditions [around the ‘No’ campaign]. But this is not simply a Catholic or Christian issue, he said, since “people of all faiths and none” have come together in a broad coalition of concern, sharing the belief that “innocent human life should be protected”.