Good afternoon Ladies and gentlemen,
I want to talk to you about two things this afternoon. First, I want to address the
question that is often posed in relation to this Assembly. Why shouldn’t we simply have
a vote on this issue? Why shouldn’t we leave it to the majority to decide? I want to
explain to you why, in the unusual circumstances of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution,
doing this would be wrong. Secondly, I want to consider what the calls for “repeal”
actually mean in relation to our culture. I hope to persuade you that the cultural change
involved would be significant, highly regressive and fundamentally unjust.
First, why not have a referendum?
In a democracy, in most areas of life, the majority is allowed to make the rules just
because it is the majority. Generally, the majority speaks through the will of its elected
representatives. Occasionally, it speaks directly, as in a referendum.
From time to time, a majority can be put together in favour of doing things to members
of a vulnerable minority that those members may not like. But because they are in the
minority, they are usually powerless to prevent it.
In more serious circumstances, however, if you are a member of that vulnerable
minority, majority rule can feel a lot like tyranny. What can a minority do? Its only hope,
against the will of the majority, is to have resort to a legal device that is antimajoritarian.
We call that a fundamental right.
We have fundamental rights in our Constitution precisely because, every now and then,
the majority may wish to do something to a minority that is, quite simply, wrong. It is
wrong even though the majority wishes to do it. Where it breaches a fundamental
human right in the Constitution, this allows the vulnerable minority or individual to say:
“Stop! Even though you want to do this thing to me, you can’t.”
This is why the Eighth Amendment is part of our Constitution. Its purpose is to protect a
vulnerable minority. It says that the Irish State acknowledges the right to life of the child
before birth and commits the State to defending and vindicating that right. It also
recognises the equal right to life of the mother.
The Eighth Amendment acknowledges the equal value of each life and the importance of
preserving both. It does not pit one against the other, but rather seeks a middle ground
whereby the rights and needs and dignity of both are accommodated.
In other words, it recognises the common humanity of the mother and her unborn baby.
The rights of both are protected. The majority cannot legislate in a way that infringes the
right to life of the unborn baby or her mother.
That is why the idea of holding a referendum to remove a fundamental Human Right
from the Constitution is so wrong: it puts the power into the hands of the majority to
vote away the only protection the vulnerable minority has from that same majority.
I want to turn next to the issue of what Ireland would look like without the Eighth
Amendment, or Article 40.3.3.
Behind the glib exhortation, ‘Repeal’, is a landscape with no restrictions on abortion, no
term limits and no rights for the child in the womb.
Repeal means repealing Human Rights.
It means turning a blind eye to those who would discriminate against a baby just
because she is a girl, or because he has Downs Syndrome, or looking the other way
when a healthy child’s life is ended because she is not wanted. It means allowing a child
to be punished for the criminal acts of her father. It means that a child whose natural
life, doctors guess at, might be short can be condemned to die unnaturally despite the
fact that it is the only life that baby will ever have.
Children cannot be blamed for the circumstances of their conception, nor their own ill-health
nor the ill-health of their mothers. Yet you are being asked to propose a law that
would have them pay the ultimate price – the sacrificing of their lives, without trial,
without a chance to object, in an environment which should be a place of protection but
where they have nowhere to run and where no one can hear their distress.
Most people can see the importance of establishing norms that value each life as equal
and worthy of dignity because of the terrible injustices that can result where some are
treated as “less fully human” than others.
Repeal means surgeons killing defenceless infants for money and groups with friends in
high places campaigning for the right to do so.
Repeal means never discussing the rights of the child, nor the interests of the child, nor
the gruesome deaths these little ones suffer as the reality of what each and every
abortion entails. Repeal means that the unwanted child in the womb should be neither
seen nor heard, except that – sometimes – one is. In Poland last year a 24-week-old
baby boy with Downs syndrome survived an abortion and was left crying, alone, for an
hour, before he died.
There is a deafening silence from pro-abortion advocates about cases like this. Despite
the fact that they will (properly) argue for the humanity and rights of the murderer on
death row, they have nothing to say about an innocent, disabled child being left to die
without medical aid, without nourishment or comfort or help – not even a pair of arms
to wrap him in a blanket and hold him and sing to him as he died.
Repeal means adopting a culture whereby its okay to abort a baby because he has a cleft
palate (there were 11 such cases in the UK in 2015) or because she has cystic fibrosis
(there were 12 UK cases in the same year). It means rejecting those who are seen as less
than perfect and sends out a message that these people and their families are worth
Repeal means a culture where abortions become normalized. In 2015, 38% of abortions
in Britain were repeat abortions.
Repeal means carrying out abortions in Irish hospitals on viable babies, who are healthy
and kicking in the womb.
Repeal means discriminating against disabled babies and abandoning our mothers,
sisters, daughters, friends to a procedure that ends the lives of their babies.
Some will argue for a moderate position, or what they might call a middle ground. But
such a position is one in which some human beings must necessarily be treated as less
deserving of the protection of the law than others. It turns a blind eye to the injustice of
screening out those who are not seen as perfect, it ignores the gory details of what
happens in a “good, free, safe, legal” abortion, and it conceals the fact that in every
country in the world where abortion was brought in on “moderate” grounds, it utterly
changed the culture and practices of the people, such that there are, for instance, over
200,000 abortions every year in the UK.
So, when we look at it carefully, the moderate position actually isn’t moderate at all
because either it denies that unborn children are human beings, or it says that they are
human beings, but we don’t care about discriminating against them and treating them
less favourably in the law. In fact it is a unique form of discrimination because they
become the only human beings not protected by the law from having their lives taken by
Wanting a little abortion is not like trying to make a compromise on anything else – it
means that some children will lose their lives, effectively condemned to death, without
trial or right of appeal, despite their innocence, at the hands of a trained surgeon or by
chemical methods. How can a just society allow this? How can we ignore the plight of
these vulnerable children before birth? The pro-choice lobby do it by employing the
oldest trick in the book for the oppression of a powerless minority – and that is to deny
them the status of humanity. Because of course, if they’re not human beings, we can do
whatever we please to them. That is injustice of the most appalling variety.
Our Irish Constitution is a beacon of hope in a world that has become darkened by a
trend that elevates choice over justice. Were you to recommend the repeal of the Eighth
Amendment, our country would follow that well-worn path towards a culture where
human life is cheapened, made dispensable, commoditised. We have a chance – you
have a chance – to take a stand and value all human life, to defend a vulnerable minority
that is under threat. Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution protects the lives of both mother
and child. If we can do this, if we can save and protect and value both lives –and we can
– why wouldn’t we?
Delivered on Sunday, March 5, 2017
Note: The following is not from the above speech. It is a response to an inaccurate press release from the Abortion Rights Alliance which misquoted Maria.
The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) issued a press release on Monday that misquoted, and then condemned, statements Maria made on Sunday.
The press release said: “At one one point, Maria Steen of the Iona Institute made the outrageous statement that ‘Repeal means killing an infant for profit.”
Maria did not say this. In reality, she said: “Repeal means surgeons killing defenceless infants for money and groups with friends in high places campaigning for the right to do so.”
The ARC press release also said, “The Iona Institute presentation also referred to those who choose termination of pregnancy in FFA cases as [misquoting Maria] ‘condemn[ing their babies] to die unnaturally’.”
Here is what Maria actually said: “It [repeal of the 8th amendment] means that a child whose natural life, doctors guess at, might be short can be condemned to die unnaturally despite the fact that it is the only life that baby will ever have.”
In the first instance, the ARC totally misquoted Maria. What she said is obvious; doctors in abortion clinics earn a living by performing abortions.
In the second instance, the error was less egregious. However, what Maria said was also obvious and defensible. A child who is aborted, rather than lives out her natural lifespan, obviously has her life ended unnaturally because this is what abortion does by definition.