Repeal of the Eighth

Clair Wills suggests we think about Ireland’s experience with the unwanted pregnancy problem:

In a couple of weeks’ time, on May 25, Ireland will mark the fourth anniversary of the abortion referendum, when, with broad cross-party support, 66.4 percent of the population voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution. 

Adopted following a deeply divisive referendum in 1983, “the Eighth” asserted the right to life of the unborn, “with due regard to the equal rights of the mother.” Abortion had been illegal in Ireland since the passage of the British Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which was kept on the statute books after independence. But for religious conservatives it was not illegal enough.

In the early 1980s an alliance of conservative and right-wing religious groups rode the wave of Catholic fervor that washed over Ireland following Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979.

Just what Ireland needed: a wave of Catholic fervor. The mother and baby homes, the laundries, the industrial schools weren’t enough; the rapey priests weren’t enough; the general priestly dominance wasn’t enough.

The baleful consequences of the Eighth for Irish women and children quickly became apparent, and over the years further amendments guaranteeing the right to travel for an abortion and the right to information were added to the constitution, in order to try to soften the restrictive legislation.

You can’t abort here, but do feel free to nip over to Liverpool and abort to your heart’s content.

the No campaign (those against repealing the Eighth) tried to position itself as the defender of the rights of children—who were no longer described as the unborn, but the “preborn.” This argument didn’t wash with most people, and part of the reason for that, I’m sure, were the ongoing revelations of abuses in Ireland’s religious-run Mother and Baby Homes, the dead babies buried in septic tanks, and the scandal of forced adoptions, that had been in the news since the Irish Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes began its work in 2015.

Not to mention the previous revelations about the laundries and industrial schools, pits of horror all of them. Defender of the rights of children in a pig’s eye.

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