And the man of God [St. Patrick] …earnestly prayed that he might be certified of the present and the future state of Hibernia [Ireland], … [Then Patrick] beheld the whole island as it were a flaming fire ascending unto heaven; and he heard the angel …saying…: “Such at this time is Hibernia in the sight of the Lord.” And …after a little space, [Patrick] beheld as it were candles burning, and after a while darkness intervened; and then he beheld fainter lights, and at length he beheld coals lying hidden here and there… And the angel added: “What thou seest here…, such shall be the [future] people of Hibernia.” Then the saint, exceedingly weeping…understood…by the lessening of the light, the decrease of holiness; by the darkness that covered the land, the infidelity which would prevail therein. Chapter CLXXV of the Vita of St. Patrick by the Cistercian hagiographer Jocelyn of Furness (fl. 1175-1214)
Sadly, St. Patrick’s vision of the extinguishing of the Catholic faith in Ireland has largely come to pass. Following the clergy sex scandals of the ’90s, the Catholic identity of the country has dwindled to the point of being “coals hidden here and there.” Whereas 30 years ago, 90% of the people attended weekly church services, now barely 30% do so. The overwhelming vote to approve same-sex marriage in 2015 was widely viewed as a repudiation of the Church’s authority.
In May, Irish citizens will vote on a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution and open the door to the legalization of abortion on demand. The Irish bishops are speaking out strongly against repeal. But, in now-secular Ireland, will enough people listen? Or will the “darkness” covering the land become complete?
Origin of the Eighth Amendment
For over 150 years, abortion has been illegal in Ireland. This prohibition originated in the British Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. When the Republic of Ireland became an independent state in 1922, the act was incorporated into Irish law.
The passage of the Abortion Act (1967) liberalized abortion laws throughout the United Kingdom. Because of the citizens’ strong religious convictions, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland rejected this trend. In 1983, Irish conservatives, wanting to prevent the judicial fiat that occurred with the Roe v Wade decision in the United States, proposed the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Republic’s Constitution.
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 indicate that right. Government of Ireland, Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 198
Enacted through a public referendum, voters supported the amendment by a 2:1 margin. It was believed at the time that the protection of the unborn was irreversibly guaranteed.
But then Ireland’s version of Jane Roe brought her case before their Supreme Court, and the legal erosion of the rights of the unborn began.
The Attorney General vs X
In 1992, a 14-year-old girl, known only as X, became pregnant as a result of a statutory rape. Her parents, claiming that their daughter was considering suicide because of the pregnancy, arranged to travel to England to have an abortion. Upon learning of the situation, the Irish Attorney General issued an injunction, prohibiting X from obtaining the procedure. Citing the risk of suicide, X’s parents appealed the injunction to the Irish Supreme Court.
By a four to one margin, the Court decided in the parent’s favor, ruling the threat of suicide constituted a “real and substantial risk” to X’s life and, thus, the abortion was permissible.
As a result of the X Case, voters approved two constitutional amendments, which permitted travel outside of Ireland for the termination of a pregnancy and the dissemination of information on how and where to obtain those services. Risk of suicide remained a valid reason to obtain an abortion.
Swaying Public Opinion: The Case of Savita Halappanavar
The X Case was used by abortion advocates to begin softening public opinion on legalized abortion. Their campaign was galvanized following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. Halappanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant, died from complications of a septic miscarriage. Reportedly, as her pain grew more intense, Halappanavar repeatedly asked for an abortion. However, because doctors misdiagnosed the situation, they did not consider her life to be in danger. Under the law, they had to refuse her request.
The Coroner ruled that Halappanavar’s death was due to medical malpractice and that procuring an abortion would not have saved her. Nonetheless, abortion advocates seized upon the case to incite public outrage against the Eighth Amendment.
As a result, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (2013) was passed. This legislation codified exemptions to the Eighth Amendment where there is a risk of loss of the mother’s life from physical illness, or from physical illness in an emergency.
Bowing to International Pressure
International sanctions through the European Court of Human Rights and United Nations Human Rights Committee brought greater impetus to the domestic efforts for repeal. In 2016, the case of Mellet v Ireland, and, again in 2017, in Whelan vs Ireland, the Human Rights Committee ruled that Ireland’s abortion laws “subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”
In both cases, the plaintiffs chose to abort their unborn children following a diagnosis of significant fetal abnormalities. Because they did not meet the “danger to the mother’s life” criteria, an abortion in Ireland was prohibited, requiring both women to travel outside the country to terminate their pregnancies.
The verdict in the Whelan case clearly revealed the contempt of the Human Rights Committee for Ireland’s law.
The U.N. Committee … held that Ireland must provide … reparations for the harm [Whelan] suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not continue to face similar violations. The Committee instructed Ireland to legalize abortion [emphasis added] and provide effective, timely and accessible abortion services in Ireland.
After that judgment, the issue of the Eighth Amendment could no longer be ignored.
The Irish Government Takes Up the Question
In response to the Mellet vs Ireland decision, the Citizens’ Assembly, 100 individuals chosen to represent the voice of the Irish people, was formed. Its purpose was to advise the Oireachtas, the Irish governing body, on several issues, the first being the Eighth Amendment. After several months of deliberations,
[the] Members voted …to remove Article 40.3.3° [the Eighth Amendment] from the Constitution, and …replace it with a provision…, which would make it clear that termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the pregnant woman are matters for the Oireachtas. Final Report of Citizens’ Assembly on the Eighth Amendment, June 2017
As expected, the Joint Committee of the Oireachtas supported a referendum for the repeal as well. In December, they issued a report incorporating the majority of the Citizens’ Assembly’s recommendations.
If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, the Oireachtas will enact legislation guaranteeing abortion for any reason up to twelve weeks gestation. Late-term abortion would be permitted in the event of a diagnosis of a terminal fetal abnormality.
Going forward, the rights of the unborn will be subject to the whims of the legislature.
Pro-life Groups Fight Back
Given the combined strong-arming by the international community, the biased political leadership, a well-coordinated advocacy for repeal by the media and powerful pro-abortion groups funded by billionaire George Soros, it would appear that repeal of the Eighth Amendment is all but assured. However, the Irish Pro-Life movement is not going down without a fight.
Groups such as Precious Life and the Life Institute have staged rallies throughout the country, reminding voters that legalized abortion always expands far beyond the “safe, legal, and rare” mantra espoused by abortion advocates. In contrast, they point to an independent actuarial report which found the Eighth Amendment has saved an estimated 100,000 lives.
The Love Both Project was launched to advocate for better maternal care to protect both mother and child. Cherish All the Children Equally raises awareness of sex-selective abortion and the disproportionate termination of babies with disabilities. A billboard campaign illustrating how relaxing abortion restrictions has led to the euthanasia of over 90% of unborn babies with Down syndrome worldwide has been effective.
The recent refusal by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGB) to formally endorse the repeal effort is also seen as a blow to the pro-abortion side. The assumption by the government that abortion services would be “availed of through a GP [General Practitioner]-led service,” is considered by the NAGB to be an “affront to [the] profession.” The conspicuous absence of any conscience protection language in the Oireachtas’ report is giving the general practitioners cause for alarm as well.
“Two Lives, One Love”- the Campaign of the Irish Catholic Bishops
Supporting the efforts of the secular groups, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Committee has strongly condemned the referendum. In a statement sent to the Citizens’ Assembly, the bishops made it clear “there is no such thing as a human life without value.”
In their appeal, “Two Lives, One Love,” the Bishops assert that the Eighth Amendment “describes the right to life of the unborn as ‘equal’ to the right to life of the mother. It quite rightly does not place the right to life of the unborn above that of the mother.”
[we] have an obligation to be at our most compassionate, our most merciful, if and when the expectant mother and father and their unborn child require support during a crisis pregnancy. Supporting and sustaining a culture of life is in the interests of every generation and it defines us as a society.
Given that obligation, the leader of the Irish Catholic Church, Archbishop Eamon Martin, urged his fellow Catholics to become “missionaries for the cause of life” as the vote on the referendum approaches.
Speak the truth about life and speak it with love. Despite the strong pressures to remain silent, do not be afraid to witness to the equality of all life in private conversations and public discussions in the coming months.
[The Eighth Amendment] is a declaration of equality and respect for human life–it represents, at the very foundations and substructure of our laws, a conviction that all human life is equally worth cherishing.
A Beacon for the Rest of the World
Up to now, Ireland’s strong stance on the issue of abortion has set it apart from most countries.
[Ireland] has served as a beacon at a time when other countries legalized abortion in wide-ranging circumstances. [It] has shown it’s possible to prohibit abortion and still be a world leader in protecting the lives of pregnant women. (prolifecampaign.ie).
Maintaining the Eighth Amendment is critically important, not only to Ireland but also to the worldwide pro-life movement. George Soros stated that a pro-abortion victory in Ireland would embolden the legalization efforts in other strongly conservative countries, such as Poland.
The last major pro-life rally in Ireland is scheduled for March 10. As activists prepare, there is a reason to hope. Recent polls show some encouraging signs that the demise of the Eighth Amendment may not be a foregone conclusion.
And St. Patrick’s vision did not end with the darkness.
The angel said, “Look toward the northern side, and… shalt thou behold the darkness dispersed from …the light which thenceforth will arise.” The saint raised his eyes, and behold, he at first saw a small light arising in Ulydia [Ulster], which a long time contended with the darkness, and at length dispersed it, and illumined with its rays the whole island… until it had restored to its former fiery state all Hibernia.
Perhaps this battle to “Save the Eighth” will preserve both the Amendment and the Catholic faith in Ireland.
St. Patrick, and Our Lady of Knock, pray for Ireland.