Family & Life's Address to the Citizens' Assembly
Text of Family & Life's oral presentation to the Citizens' Assembly
Miss Justice Laffoy, ladies and gentlemen of the Citizens’ Assembly, good morning. I represent Family & Life, and its supporters across the country. We are grateful for the opportunity to make this presentation. We hope it will assist you in your deliberations and help you to see the importance of keeping the 8th Amendment.
I should say that Family & Life has had grave reservations about this process. It has seemed to us that the government’s purpose in establishing this Assembly was to facilitate a referendum on removing the 8th Amendment while, at the same time, insulating the government from political damage.
Despite our reservations, Family & Life decided to engage with the Assembly in good faith. We made a submission to the public consultation, which I hope you have had the opportunity to read. This lays out our main arguments for keeping the 8th Amendment and addresses, in greater detail than I can in the time available today, the issues which we believe you should take into account as you come to make your final decision.
As the process continued, we have been concerned by an apparent lack of balance in the presentations at the various sessions. These included very little material to show the benefits that have been brought by the 8th Amendment—benefits to mothers, babies, and society generally—on the basis of which a case might be made for keeping it. At the last weekend session you even had representatives of the abortion industry brought in to address you.
You heard from Dr Patricia Lohr, Medical Director of Britain’s largest abortion business. BPAS made more than £29 million (€34 million) last year, mostly derived from performing abortions. So it is hardly a disinterested party, let alone an impartial expert.
You also heard from Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute, set up as the research branch of Planned Parenthood, the abortion giant to which the IFPA is affiliated. The Guttmacher Institute’s entire purpose is to produce research presenting abortion in a favourable light.
But despite all of this, Family & Life has sent me here today, because we hope that even now you may be persuaded to stand up for the important human rights at stake, human rights that are seriously threatened by proposals to repeal the 8th Amendment.
Family & Life believes that the 8th Amendment should be retained because it affirms that the right to life is a fundamental human right belonging to all human beings, born and unborn; and re-affirms the basic equality of each and every human being. We believe that the 8th Amendment underpins a medical culture which ensures that pregnant women and their babies receive the best possible care.
The amendment affirmed that the unborn child is a human being and consequently is protected by the law. While the word “abortion” is not mentioned in its text, the main purpose of the amendment, for which the people voted so strongly in 1983, was to prevent the legalisation of abortion either by Act of the Oireachtas or by a decision of the Supreme Court.
But that is precisely what those who are demanding repeal of the 8th want. Many have openly stated that they would like an abortion regime like Britain’s. This view is reflected in many of the pro-repeal submissions you have received. (These were, of course, a minority, and the 70% of citizens who made submissions in favour of keeping the 8th Amendment unchanged should be acknowledged.)
It should also be recognised that, in the event of the 8th Amendment being repealed, the Supreme Court, in assessing the constitutional situation, could not simply revert to 6th September 1983. Rather the Court would be bound to take account of the fact that the Irish people would have deliberately chosen to strip a particular category of human beings of their rights – a quite extraordinary thing to do since fundamental human rights are not normally considered something that can be taken away at will, even by a majority vote of the people.
The recognition of the importance of human rights is one that has unfolded over centuries. In 1776, the US Declaration of Independence stated that “all men are created equal” and are endowed with certain inalienable rights, including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. In 1947, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spoke of the “rights and freedoms” to which every human being is entitled, regardless of “race, colour, sex, language, religion” or other status. In 1983, Ireland affirmed that the unborn child is a human being, to be counted as a member of the human family, sharing in that basic equality and dignity common to all human beings. The 8th Amendment was a pioneering declaration of the fundamental equality of all human beings, something of which we, as a nation, should be proud.
The unborn child is equal in dignity to his or her mother and father, and indeed to all of us. The amendment recognises, however, the unique relationship between the unborn child and the mother, and the fact that medical problems can arise during pregnancy. On rare occasions, a medical intervention necessary to save the life of the mother may result in the unintended death of the baby. This was foreseen by the 8th Amendment and it was drafted in such a way as to ensure that it could not be used to undermine, in any way, the mother’s right to life.
It is a straightforward scientific fact that each one of us began life at conception. Thanks to advances in technology, we now know vastly more about life before birth than ever before. Every cell in your body today has the same genetic code as the single-celled zygote that you once were, and that code determined all the genetic traits, physical and mental, that make up the person you are today and will continue to be until you die.
Only in the 20th century, even as our knowledge and understanding of the unborn child grew, did societies begin to decriminalize abortion, initially for “hard cases” such as rape or incest. In 1967, the British government enacted an abortion law which was intended to be strict, with “rigorous safeguards” against abuse. Fifty years later that legislation is responsible for about 200,000 deaths per year.
Killing on such an industrial scale is only possible by the dulling of consciences, by the dehumanisation of the unborn child. This is why abortionists refer to the unborn child as just a “bunch of cells” or a “lump of tissue”. It is easier to approve the killing of a “foetus” than that of a baby.
Those who may think that Ireland could abandon the 8th Amendment and yet adopt a more restrictive abortion law than Britain’s should consider the example of France. The law there contains many of the restrictions that might be proposed as being preferable to the British model such as a much lower time limit and (until 2015) a mandatory waiting period. And yet, this French law results in an abortion rate which by some measures is even higher than Britain’s. If Ireland had an abortion rate comparable to Britain’s that would translate to well over 12,000 abortions every year.
And who would perform these abortions? Abandoning the life-affirming culture underpinned by the 8th Amendment will create great difficulties for many medical professionals. They will face growing pressure to become complicit in actions they believe to be gravely unethical. The need to respect the conscience rights of medical professionals (and others) should be carefully considered by the Assembly.
The basic starting point of the pro-life movement is that the unborn child is a human being, and consequently that abortion is the taking of a human life. This is an assertion based on scientific evidence, and is not dependent on any particular religious belief.
Family & Life comes before you today as an advocate for the thousands of unborn children who will die as a direct result of your decision, if you recommend repealing or eviscerating the 8th Amendment. I claim no particular expertise, medical or legal, because none is needed to see that killing is wrong. “A burning light,” as has been said, “will shine as brightly in a child’s hand.” The choice before you is a straightforward one: life or death. I ask you, please, choose life. Thank you.
Family & Life. March 5.