…the 8th

I don’t have a vote in the forthcoming referendum, due to my ongoing non-Irishness (I’ve only lived here since I was twelve, after all). And abortion is the sort of debate I try not to wade into, because I’m conscious that it’s a delicate an area into which to plant my big, ultimately-not-personally-involved, size nines. But hey, I don’t get to vote, so I might just briefly opine.

Just to be clear: the 8th Amendment is an obscenity for reasons that have nothing to do with anybody’s views on abortion. The 8th Amendment is a misogynistic, repulsive clause and being anti-abortion is no excuse for supporting it. It might – theoretically – be possible to draft a constitutional clause that prohibits abortion, while maintaining a basic and fundamental decency. I’m not sure what form that might take, but I’m sure that the 8th Amendment isn’t it.

Quite apart from what it implies legally, the text of the Constitution matters in and of itself; it’s a statement of a country’s priorities, what it does and doesn’t care about. The text of the 8th Amendment is weird and its implications are appalling. It refers to “the unborn,” acknowledges that the unborn has a right to life, and then goes on to say that it will use laws to defend that right. The “equal right to life of the mother” is mentioned almost in passing (seriously, it’s in parenthesis. It reads like someone saying “oh yes, well obviously not that” when you point out that their “send all the immigrants home” rhetoric would include their Uncle Tomek who fled the Nazis).

Here’s the thing. The 8th Amendment says the unborn has a right to life, but it doesn’t say that the unborn is a person. The unborn isn’t granted a full range of human rights. How could it be? The State doesn’t treat the unborn as a person and there’s a thousand reasons why it’s unworkable and morally grotesque, ranging from the banal to the deeply unpleasant. A pregnant woman going abroad doesn’t have to add the foetus to her passport. A pregnant woman can’t claim Child Benefit, and she can bring her “child” into an 18-rated movie. To pick a more unpleasant example… if a pregnant woman crashes a car, and as a result miscarries, the police don’t launch an investigation to see if she will be charged with manslaughter (I almost hesitate to give that example, as some people might actually think it’s a good idea). And yet the constitution does imply – if we push it to its limits – that we might lock pregnant women in rooms for nine months, replete with exercise regime and controlled diets, just to “safeguard the unborn.” We wouldn’t be affecting their right to life, after all.

The following terminology is a touch unpleasant, but there’s no other way of putting it: the Irish Constitution establishes the unborn as an entity that’s less than a person. And by a glancing mention that a pregnant woman has an “equal” right to life to this entity, it promptly makes her something less than a person too. Her human right to life is dragged down to being equivalent to a foetus. This is, literally, dehumanisation.

I wouldn’t ever agree with anti-abortion advocates who call for a ban. However, I might respect the integrity of the position if that ban took another form. If a constitutional ban was accompanied – for example – by a declaration that the welfare of a pregnant woman is always paramount, that we recognise a societal contract to place these people at the top of our priorities, and that the slightest sign of meaningful risk to their health would mean they may take whatever actions are necessary to safeguard their wellbeing and the State would do its utmost to support them.

Look, I wouldn’t get behind that, but I’d keep my disagreement polite. The 8th Amendment, though? It’s a disgrace that this was ever considered acceptable, and that it was voted for by 67% of Irish people. It’s a disgrace that it remains, and that various politicians have tried on numerous occasions to strengthen it. As for those who choose to defend it – sorry, I just don’t know where to begin.

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