As I boarded the bus this Monday morning my heart was heavy. Morosely I looked out the window. From the evidence on all the lamp-posts, between now and May 25th (referendum date) it’s going to be all abortion, all the time.
A potted history of Irish abortion laws for non-Irish readers goes something like this. In 1983 abortion was illegal in Ireland. Religious groups (comprising of the same people, who in the coming years would oppose divorce, contraception, homosexuality) decided to make this permanent and demanded a referendum to include in the Irish constitution, an amendment which declared that a foetus has the same human rights as the woman carrying it. Passed by a two to one majority, abortion became illegal in all circumstances – including in cases of rape, incest, paedophilia, and fatal foetal abnormalities.
In the decades since this has been marginally relaxed – it is no longer a crime for a woman to travel to England for an abortion, and theoretically if continuing a pregnancy will kill her, termination of pregnancy is permitted. But Ireland still has one of the world’s most restrictive set of laws on abortion.
Because the constitution was modified to give a foetus the same human rights as a born, adult woman, a public vote is needed to change this. Those religious activists knew what they were doing in 1983.
So now every lamp-post for the next seven weeks will be festooned with cheery posters – funded by extremist religious conservative groups in the US allegedly – screaming more polite versions of phrases like ‘You baby-killing SLUT’ or ‘Don’t murder babies you ungodly WHORE.’ Similar to those horrific posters used in the same-sex marriage referendum, which none-too-subtly implied that gay marriage was a danger to children.
Every radio show; TV show and newspaper will be obsessed with the outcome of the vote. Under Irish law whenever a referendum is held it is a legal requirement to give both sides an equal amount of airtime. Technically this is fair – the reality however is that the Irish constitution has been debased on several occasions by special interest groups to limit people’s freedom. And those voices gain access to the airwaves – to argue against law-abiding minority communities.
Abortion, divorce, homosexuality are not issues that ought to be placed in the constitution by popular vote. These are issues up to a person’s individual conscience. If you are opposed to any of them, then you are absolutely free not to enter a lesbian marriage, after divorcing your husband, and terminating a pregnancy. Trying to control other people’s bodies through the constitution is sinister beyond measure. It makes the constitution itself a morally dubious document when it can be exploited to suit a specific agenda.
For the next six weeks, I am not going to read the newspapers or websites concerning this topic. I will switch channels when it is discussed on television. I know how I am voting. I’ll be voting ‘Yes’ to remove the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution. It’s not up to me to tell a woman what she is ‘allowed’ to do with her body. But I have a vote on the matter. And until the pro-life crowd invent a machine that can bring a foetus to full term without forcing an unwilling woman to carry said foetus, then it really is none of their business either.