WHETHER you are for or against repealing the 8th amendment to the Constitution, the most important thing on Friday next, May 25th, is for people who are entitled to do so to vote in the referendum on what has become such a divisive issue. Those for or against repealing the 8th are already firmly entrenched in their stated positions, so the votes of those who have not yet made up their minds will be crucial to the outcome.
It is important that these people familiarise themselves with the issues involved and ensure that they are properly informed before they cast their vote. Also, it is morally incumbent on people who think that this has nothing to do with them not to dismiss the rare opportunity a referendum provides to have their say, as it is a matter that might affect some of their family or friends at a future date.
As Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, chairperson of the Referendum Commission, states in her introduction to the very useful and informative booklet, The Independent Guide to the Referendum on the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy, ‘if you do not vote, other people will make the decision.’ The 8th amendment– after a similarly fractious referendum campaign in 1983 – saw Article 40.3.3 inserted into the Constitution providing that the unborn has a right to life and that the mother has an equal right to life.
The interpretation of this has posed ethical difficulties for doctors here since then and there have been many court cases, including the ‘X case’ in 1992, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Article means that termination of pregnancy is permitted only when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including a risk of suicide. That year also, in two referenda, clarification was provided that the Article does not limit the freedom to travel abroad for an abortion and does not limit the freedom to obtain or make available information about services that are lawfully available in other states.
The subsequent Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act of 2013 regulates termination of pregnancy where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman. While all of this has been endlessly debated in various fora, the reality is that thousands of women seeking abortions have gone abroad – mostly to the UK – adding to the stress and trauma of their unfortunate situation, while unregulated abortion pills are being bought online and imported here for use to terminate pregnancies without appropriate medical advice.
After widespread consultation, the Citizens’ Assembly – which is meant to be representative of a cross-section of Ireland’s voters – recommended that there should be a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment and, perhaps, went even further than their brief by recommending that, if repealed, legislation should be introduced effectively allowing abortion on demand up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy. Their recommendation was endorsed by the Oireachtas Committee they reported to and now, the people are being asked to vote on a proposed new wording of Article 40.3.3 that ‘provision be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.’
Voting yes to this will mean that our legislators in the Oireachtas will decide by way of legislation whether abortion will become available in Ireland and to what extent. The proposed legislation will be for abortion to be freely available in Ireland up to 12 weeks and that is what will be put before the Oireachtas, if there is a yes vote next weekend.
The pro-life campaign looking for a no vote do not want abortions to be carried out in Ireland no matter what. They believe that the GP service is already overburdened and this should not be foisted upon them as there are many conscientious objectors in the medical profession also.
Those seeking a yes vote in the pro-choice lobby believe that having abortion available here, with appropriate advice and counselling, should be the right of those who need to have one and they should not be forced to go abroad for one. Abortion pills would not need to be acquired from possibly dodgy sources and could be prescribed responsibly by doctors after allowing patients a few days to think over their options before making a final decision.
Among those who say that they will be voting yes is a cohort of people, who – while they would not personally be in favour of abortion – believe that others who may need it should not be deprived of the choice here in Ireland. Voting no would keep that option closed to everyone.
The Referendum Commission has a very good website (www.refcom2018.ie) that is worth consulting if you want unbiased information. It’s your choice, so make sure you use it wisely on Friday 25th.