“Saving them both”: Sky-high stakes in the Irish Referendum

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A pro-life poster is seen in front of Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral in Dublin May 7. Photo: CNS/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters

During this last week in Ireland, the highly charged and internationally supported “Yes” Referendum campaign, stepped into overdrive.  As the Referendum date on 25 May draws closer, well-known Irish actors and rock stars, often ex-pats, have joined the chorus calling for the repeal of article 40.3.3 (the 8th Amendment) of Ireland’s Constitution.

The 8th Amendment (voted into law in 1983) states: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”

The monolithic repeal alliance comprises many un-surprising forces: Amnesty International, Marie Stopes, International Planned Parenthood, along with most of Ireland’s leading media outlets, trade unions, local “pro-choice” cells and many representatives of government agencies.

Those in “Save the 8th Campaign” argue that Ireland has been subjected to a “tsunami of misinformation” which includes the fudging of health statistics and the absence of debate by the Health Minister about the precise provisions his government is planning should the repeal succeed.

Despite this, there are signs that many Irish people of different ages are opposed to the repeal and, that this opposition is growing.

People walk past a pro-life poster in Dublin May 7. Photo: CNS/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters

When in recent days, the supergroup U2 tweeted its support to “the repeal the 8th” campaign and there was an instant backlash.  Fans in Ireland and across the world accused them of betraying their human rights and Christian rhetoric.

One female U2 fan, joined over 800 on-line protesters, charging the band for its inconsistent life “ethic”: “My heart is very heavy. For decades you’ve consistently sang (sic) of & spoken out against war & human rights atrocities, but now are backing both of those activities in one–toward the most vulnerable citizens on Earth. Abortion harms women and girls, kills children, & hardens hearts.”

The Catholic Weekly asked Anne-Maree Quinn, health professional and bioethics educator, about the complex situation in Ireland, a country in which she lived and practised for nine years.

Today, Anne-Maree lives in Melbourne and works in healthcare and teaches in allied health and health ethics. She is a Bioethics Masters graduate from the John Paul II Institute (Melbourne Campus) and has a Licentiate in Philosophy from the Milltown Institute in Ireland.

While in Ireland, Anne-Maree became involved in researching the life issues in that country and ran as an independent candidate in the Dublin City Council elections.

Anne-Marie Quinn. Photo: Supplied

Anne-Maree described the immense weight of pro-abortion lobbying, both ideological and financial, pressing down upon Ireland and its leaders, and aiming to remove all legal restrictions to abortion in that country.

She described how the “Repeal the 8th” campaign has become more fevered in Ireland and among the ex-pat communities around the world.   Despite dominating the airspace across the media, it seems pro-repeal activists have been blocking pro-life social media and have been painting over or removing the many “No” posters, especially those around the more traditionally pro-life communities in rural and Western Ireland.

The Catholic Church has been accused of adversely influencing the vote but in fact, that moral voice has been very muted.  The campaign in support of the 8th has been argued in terms of the rights of women and of the disabled unborn.

Anne-Maree cited the case of Lucinda Creighton, an active and articulate barrister, researcher in European affairs and parliamentarian who was appointed the Minister for State European Affairs.  In 2011, Creighton was expelled from the Fine Gael party when she defied the party by voting against a Bill which would allow abortion for pregnant women at risk of suicide.

U2 guitarist David Evans, also known by his stage name The Edge, with Msgr. Melchor Jose Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, under secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Irish Bishop Paul Tighe, adjunct secretary of the same council, during a conference on adult stem cell research at the Vatican in 2016. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring

Lucinda Creighton founded the Renua party in 2015 along with her Senator husband Paul Bradford and some of the other politicians who were expelled from the major Irish parties for their pro-life commitments.  She has since left politics but the Renua (Gaelic=Renew/New Era) is a small party, which among other positions, opposes the repeal of the 8th Amendment and is reaching out to what it believes is the often silent but “ordinary” populace of Ireland.

Anne-Maree explained that one of the pieces of misinformation in the campaign for repeal is related to dangers to maternal health.   A central claim of the Irish “pro-choice” campaign is that the Amendment risks the lives of pregnant women.

Yet in December 2017, the Institute for Obstetricians and Gynaecologists reported that the maternal death rate in Ireland was 6.5 per 100,000 compared to 8.8 per 100,000 in the United Kingdom and 26.7 in the USA.   The Institute declared “Ireland is one of the safest places to have a baby.”

Anne-Maree pointed out that much of the false information being used by the pro-repeal campaign is now being refuted by medical professionals themselves.

Consulting Obstetrician and Gynaecologist and former Chair of the Irish Institute cited above, refuted the lie that pregnant women in Ireland could not access treatment such as chemotherapy or take other steps to save their lives: “The amendment does not inhibit our ability to treat a woman.  It does one thing only- it bans us from intentionally killing one of our patients.”

In 2012 a tragic and controversial death in Ireland, of the 17 week-pregnant Indian-born dentist, Savita Halappanaver received world-wide coverage.  Savita’s death was enlisted as an example of the fatal risk to women posed by the legal restrictions on abortion.

Following the death of Savita, the Irish government and health department conducted several inquiries. The results concluded that her death was the direct result of a terrible series of failure, not the lack of abortion access in Ireland.

Some of these failures included a lack of compliance with the hospital sepsis protocol, miscommunication and medical mismanagement. It was also found that Savita suffered a very rare infection of E coli. ESBL which was more antibiotic resistant than was normal in cases of pregnancy related sepsis.

Savita’s miscarriage was “inevitable” and would under the present constitution, normally be treated quickly and this might involve the induction of the baby in order to save the mother.  Indeed many doctors in recent weeks have reported taking these steps in similar cases.

Anne-Maree noted: “It was unfortunate that Savita’s husband and the Indian community in Galway were drawn into the campaign by shock and grief.” Their voices unfortunately clouded a clear perception of the key issues in this case.

Having studied at the John Paul II Institute and being aware of the type of philosophical and social issues which often underpin a culture’s change, Anne-Maree said: “I was under no sentimental illusion that ‘Holy Catholic Ireland’ existed when I arrived there.”

She noted that many Irish women, perhaps several thousand, travel to England, Belgium and the Netherlands each year to have abortions.  She also told us, that the morning-after medications and RU 486 are illegally promoted and distributed by abortion activist groups through social media and in pop-up supplies.  Anne-Maree recognised that the reality of a more lax sexual ethic in the society and the underground supplies of unregulated medication posed a culture of unsafe practice and neglect for Irish women and the many female visitors who visit Ireland.

Despite this, Anne-Maree reported that there some signs of a new type of Irish pro-life movement emerging from the grass-roots rather than from the ‘official’ Church or from the politicians.

Some of the positive factors in this change include the growing fluency of disability rights movements in Ireland and around the world.   In Ireland, Anne- Maree said, Downs’ people and those with special needs are more visible and are being incorporated into the work and healthcare profile of the country.  Doctors are far more familiar with responding to their needs as infants and as adults.

Another notable factor is the lead taken by ‘new wave’ feminists and other women providing pregnancy support and advice to women who have had abortions.  The Irish Women Hurt website includes stories about the adverse effects of abortion written by women who have experienced these first hand.

The “Save the 8th” campaign has been well organised and generally ‘on-message’ with its bright pink posters calling for the country ‘to love them both!’ thereby effectively conveying a pro-woman/pro-life ethic.    On March 8th, the “Save the 8th” rally swelled to a well- organised  100,000 people marching through the streets of Dublin.  Although the BBC declined to refer to the large numbers of the marchers it did comment upon the young demographic of the rally.

Lastly, Anne-Maree said that the “Save the 8th” supporters have not simply reacted against the threat of change: they are using the campaign to take the front foot in urging the government to fund “gold standard” infant and maternal health, including the promotion of measures to improve the health and well-being of disadvantaged women.   They have also called for and outlined principles for Ireland to lead the world in the development of perinatal palliative care.

Anne-Maree is still hopeful that Ireland’s ‘instinctive concern for the vulnerable” will shine through on May 25th, but she adds: “being pro-life means constant courage and vigilance.”