Statement from the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, on the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment
This month, voters in the Republic of Ireland face a stark choice in the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment.
The government proposes to introduce legislation allowing unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and in certain cases permitting it beyond 12 weeks. However, these changes can only happen if the Constitution is amended to remove Article 40.3.3 (known as the Eighth Amendment), which recognises the equal right to life of the mother and her unborn child.
The proposal for unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks has caused grave concern among all the main Christian churches in Ireland. It goes far beyond allowing for termination in a few very difficult cases, implying that the unborn child—at least up to 12 weeks—has no right to life and should have no protection under the law. This is deeply troubling for Christians, who view unborn children as human beings made in God’s image.
We read in scripture how, on meeting the expectant Mary, Elizabeth said: ‘As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’ (Luke 1:44).
Unquestionably, the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment raises a number of complex questions: should abortion be dealt with in the Constitution or by way of government legislation; should the fact that hundreds of Irish women already leave the state every year to procure abortions influence our response; does the fact that many terminations are already taking place in Ireland (using unregulated pills) mean abortion should be made legal; and how should Ireland’s record of failure in the care of women and children – for example in the mother and baby homes – affect the way we vote?
Often, in the past, the protection of vulnerable women and children in Ireland left a lot to be desired, but legislating now to allow the lives of the most defenceless among us to be terminated is not the answer.
Past wrongs would be better addressed by providing better pastoral care in future for women, their partners and their families; by improving support services; and by investing more in medical and mental health services. We must be compassionate in responding to those for whom pregnancy is unwelcome or traumatic, and must seek to offer a positive alternative to abortion.
The Archbishops of the Church of Ireland have stated that “unrestricted access to abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage, is not an ethical position we can accept.” Nevertheless, our tradition is concerned to ensure provision for terminations in – hopefully – rare circumstances and in a safe medical setting.
People differ on where the line should be drawn. Cases in which a woman’s life is at risk have long been regarded by our church as instances where termination would be justifiable. For some, cases involving diagnosis of a life–limiting condition which may prove fatal, or pregnancy resulting from sexual crime, are circumstances in which abortion could be justified. In every case, however, the church seeks to offer pastoral care sensitive to the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of women and families who find themselves in such difficult situations.
For Christians, there is a civic duty to vote in this referendum and a solemn responsibility to weigh up the consequences of their actions. It is important that between now and May 25th we all express our views with courtesy, compassion and clarity. The debate should not become vitriolic or personalised. The issues raised are sensitive and complex, and the outcome may well affect Irish society for decades to come.
I encourage all church members to deliberate carefully, and to be thoughtful and prayerful in their response to this referendum.