The 8th Amendment Referendum

So this is a thorny topic about which much was written in the run up and in the aftermath of the last 24 hours or so since the result became clear.

On May 25th Ireland voted by about 2 to 1 to remove the 8th amendment from the Irish Constitution. The 8th ammendment placed in the constitution the right to life of an unborn child making abortion incredibly restrictive and to all intents and purposes, impossible legally within the state.

As a general rule I am extremely socially liberal, I knocked on doors and happily voted for same-sex marriage, I am a member of the Green Party and would be left leaning in almost every respect. However this is probably the one area where I could be considered conservative.

Having studied Philosophy and later Law at University I found there to be no good conclusive argument as to the point at which human life begins. Being unable to arrive at that conclusion for myself I fall back to the precautionary principle, being that the potential harm (ie the ending of a human life) being greater than the opposite, the most ethical approach is to restrict abortion to a limited set of circumstances.

That does not translate to being happy with the situation pre the repeal vote, i.e. that women and girls in the most horrific circumstances such as being victims of rape or incest or being in the horrible position of being pregnant with a child who will not survive had to go to the UK to access termination services, or order medication over the internet, clearly not a safe proposition.

This is a position I have held for some time, long before the current debate heated up. With the announcement of the intended legislation including unrestricted access to abortion up to 12 weeks, my position probably hardened somewhat and I informed my party colleagues that I would not be taking an active part in the campaign, something I genuinely felt, and still feel, guilty about.

As the weeks rolled on and the debate intensified, it became clear that the momentum was with the repeal side. Poster’s seemed to be a 50/50 split and the national media gave as far as I could tell equal time to both sides. However the activists on the repeal side were far far better. Their stories were more personal. Their statements more impactful. Their arguments struck at the core of emotion and they owned words like sympathy, compassion, understanding and justice throughout the campaign.

On the no side there were the muted arguments from the Catholic Church. Does anyone under retirement age listen to them anymore? Clearly they have lost all moral authority in the wake of scandal after scandal after scandal and they may never recover, nor do they deserve to.


The no side completely failed to counter the arguments that they were oppressing women, infringing on women’s rights, and generally wanted to put women back into the kitchen, preferably barefoot and within handy reach of the kitchen sink. Women-hating catholic fascists the lot of them. And yes, Ronan Mullen is all of those things. But what chance did the no-side have when the likes of him and Declan Ganley (is there a more failed politician in the history of the state) are trotted out as the spokespersons?

As a “no” voter I felt extremely isolated. Where were the young professionals who wanted to make the ethical argument for the other side? Where were the calls to a higher level of debate beyond “God says its wrong” or “this proposal is too extreme”. I found myself in the very uncomfortable position of being on the same side of a debate as the Healy-Rae’s and the Mattie McGrath’s of the world.

For the first time ever I felt isolated in my social media bubble. Being a left leaning environmentalist, my twitter feed, my Facebook and indeed my real-world peer group would all be of a broadly similar mindset. Left leaning, under 40, liberal. For the first time I saw the smugness that the left is often accused of in full flight from the other side of the fence. There was an amount of gloating and rubbing it in, in the wake of the result from a great many people. Not from people I know in real life particularly, but in a big way from the noxious troll-fest that twitter can be.

I don’t feel that Ronan Mullen and the Bishops represent me in any way shape or form, and I saw no-one on the no-side that did represent those who are of a similar age and background to me.

As the final week of the referendum came around my wife told me she had changed her mind and was voting yes. Her argument being along the lines of most of what has been heard, it’s a personal choice for women to make and they need to be trusted with that. This was the point where I started to waver. As the week drew to a close I paid more attention to the issue of abortion tablets being purchased on the internet. As someone who is an avid user of the web (hello, probably the last person on earth with a blog I make no money from) it’s not quite clear to me why this wasn’t something I was more aware of earlier. I can’t tell you why it particularly resonated with me in the week leading up to the debate.

Approximately 1000 women in Ireland were taking abortion tablets on an annual basis in Ireland. Unsupervised. From unknown sources. With all the risks that come with anything you buy on the web from a less than reputable source.

And now the ethical argument opens back up again. The precautionary principle is now flipped on its head. We have the fact that abortions are happening in Ireland, whether I like it or not, whether the law likes it or not. Retaining the 8th amendment will not change that. So onus placed on protection the potential human life of the unborn slides away, because the battle is lost. Now the precautionary principle applies to the mother. The potential harm from taking sub-standard, illegal medication in an unsupervised fashion becomes the only risk and the ethical thing to do flips from trying to protect the potential human life, because you can’t, that battle is lost, to protecting the life and wellbeing of the mother.

I voted yes. I suspect that I am in a camp of hesitent/reluctant yes voters. I am still not comfortable with the prospect of abortion on demand but have come to the realisation that there is nothing I can do about and if its going to happen anyway it should be done in as safe and controlled a fashion as possible.

I must confess to being embarrassed that I did not arrive at this position earlier.  In spite of my reservations, I am glad that the law has changed. I was not happy with the status quo and I felt very uneasy putting my anti-abortion views, particularly because I’m a man, onto other people.

The Repeal side are to be commended for an amazing campaign.

There is no rating on this blog post, it’s not something that you can score. I take away from it several lessons. One being that its important to challenge yourself and your own beliefs because you never know when you might change your mind. The second being that life outside of your social media bubble is uncomfortable. The third being that we could all do with having a bit more respect for the opposite point of view to our own.

I promise that the next post won’t be so heavy. I’ll find a nice crafty ale somewhere and pontificate at length about its virtues or otherwise.

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