Anna Krohn: Ireland cast adrift after its abortion referendum

A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Photo: CNS/Alex Fraser, Reuters

The Preamble to the Irish Constitution begins: “In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final  end, all actions both of men and States must be referred “

There was bitter irony for many around the world to awake on Trinity Sunday 2018, with the results of the Irish Referendum.  Nearly 67% of those who voted in Ireland chose to repeal the Irish Constitution’s ‘two patients’ model which afforded an equal right-to-life of both the pregnant woman and her unborn.

It is too early to analyse the true motivations and patterns for the votes in any depth.  Even pro-repeal lobbyists appeared shocked by the results which prior to the poll date on the 25th May appeared to be ever tighter race.

While roughly one in every three Irish voters expressed their desire to keep the 8th Amendment and two in every three voters cast a ‘Yes’, a silent proportion of those able to vote did not.   What motivated this third of the country’s voters?

In just a few days, commentators have penned alternately grim, ambivalent or triumphant elegies to the “land of saints and scholars” or as the New York Times headline blared: ‘Hammer Blow to the Catholic Church’.

Among the most bitter of the epithets, came from the wild-man of Irish writing and journalism, John Waters (former lover of the even wilder rock singer Sinead O’Connor) who wrote in the First Things:

“On Friday(25th), the Irish people climbed Calvary backwards, in the name of progress… If you would like to visit a place where the symptoms of the sickness of our time are found near their furthest limits, come to Ireland.”

That Ireland has politically cast itself adrift from its Catholic past and from many other stable social anchors goes back well before May 25th.

Annually, between 2 to 4 thousand  Irish women travel overseas for abortions.  The morning-after pill has been available over the counter since 2015.  Embryo freezing, manipulation and unregulated in-vitro fertilisation procedures are available.

In 2018, Irish authorities reported a “dramatic” 11 % increase in the number of sexually transmitted diseases among those in Ireland between 15-25. The Irish youth suicide rate is among the highest in Europe.”

That suggests that a proportion of the disturbingly gleeful Dublin “Yes” crowd, are simply relieved to discover that they are not alone in being wounded by abortion and existential despair.

In contrast to these scenes the “no” minority, though grieved and disappointed seems more philosophical and determined in the face of the loss.  There survives a surprisingly hopeful and pioneering spirit, especially among the young women and young men in the movement.

The Catholic Weekly asked Anne-Maree Quinn, who spoke to some of these people, for her post-referendum thoughts.  She reflected:

“Sadly, this is not really a surprising result.   I must say, however, that the pro-life movement demonstrated a confident and measured campaign.  They used sound social and medical evident in their cause.”

“There is new awareness emerging at the grass-roots of the movement.”

“It is clear that the movement is determined to work for the most vulnerable: the disabled, women in crisis, women hurt by abortion and the unborn.”