Five questions about abortion

Today the south’s Supreme Court will meet, to listen to an appeal by the State against a High Court ruling last year that said the unborn child/foetus has rights beyond the protected right to life as stated in the Constitution. If the Supreme Court doesn’t overrule the High Court decision, this will probably complicate and delay the proposed referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Fascinating, eh? Well no, actually. For most people, the question of the repeal of the Eighth Amendment doesn’t focus on the timing of a referendum or even the mental labours of the High Court and the Supreme Court. For most people the question of the repeal of the Eighth Amendment comes down to one simple question: will abortion be legally available in the south of Ireland?

There have been calls for a national debate on the matter, with people treating difference of opinion respectfully. I would be lying if I said I’d noticed much of this so far. I’d also be lying if I said that a lot of people are open to persuasion one way or another. The convictions held on both sides are no doubt sincere, but they are also unyielding.

I like to think I’m a reasonably rational person. As things stand, I am convinced that the introduction of legal abortion to the south of Ireland would be a bad thing. But if satisfactory rational answers were provided to a number of matters, I’d be open to rethinking. Yes, maybe I’d remain unyielding even in the face of rational argument, but I’d like to think I wouldn’t.

So what are the core questions that require thought and rathional debate ? I’ll list five that come to mind.


  1. If human life does not begin at conception, when does it begin? Virtually all Irish people would be horrified at the idea of killing a new-born or about-to-be-born baby/foetus. So at what point during pregnancy does the foetus move from being a cluster of cells to being a human life? And why at that point? I have heard one answer to that – when the foetus is ‘viable’. Viable means living successfully in a given environment. None of us could survive in our environment without the support of others. As I see it, this applies particularly to babies and young children. So at present the ‘viable’ criterion seems to me debatable.
  2. Should we deal with unwanted pregnancies ourselves, rather than have thousands of Irish women travelling to Britain each year for an abortion? Most definitely, in my view. But at present I’m not convinced  abortion is the best way of dealing with unwanted pregnancies. As I see it, to argue that having an abortion in Ireland is better than having an abortion in Britain misses the point. Surely the destruction of the baby/foetus is the point, not where it happens?
  3. Is it wrong to show pictures of an aborted foetus? It is certainly shocking; but since this matter, everyone agrees, is a serious matter which involves law-making and, some would argue, life and death decisions, shouldn’t we look unflinchingly at what we may vote to have happen?
  4. Should abortion be allowed in cases of rape, incest or what is called ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ – that is, the foetus/baby is expected to live for a very short time after birth? It could be argued that it should, since forcing a woman to complete her full term, or imprisoning her for so doing, would be unthinkable as well as very difficult. In other words, the law couldn’t be enforced. That may be, but before considering if a law would make sense, we need to start with the question, is abortion the taking of human life? If it is the taking of human life when the foetus/baby is conceived in normal circumstances, then it follows that it is taking human life when the foetus/baby is created in hideous circumstances – i.e,, rape or incest. As to fatal foetal abnormality: there are doctors who insist the term doesn’t exist medically; and there have been cases where medical predictions of minutes or hours of life have been changed to years of life, which the parents have valued. In the cases of rape and incest, the foetus/baby is a totally innocent party who will be literally punished – with a death sentence – for the sin of its father. In the case of fatal foetal abnormality, does it make ethical sense to end the life of the foetus/baby because its life may well end a few months later?
  5. I think the term “a woman’s right to choose” is misleading. The term refers to the woman’s right to choose or not choose an abortion, because the foetus/baby is growing inside her, not someone else. That is true. But the existence of the foetus/baby relates directly to the father also. And to society generally.We would never accede to the notion that a woman has the right to choose whether her new-born infant or her five-year-old son/daughter lives or dies. Which brings us back to that core question: is the foetus human? To my inexpert eye a 12-week-old foetus looks very human; but even if it were some lesser form of life, the destruction of that life would fill me with at least as much horror as the destruction of, say, a young pup. And regardless of the gender of the destroyer, I would believe society has a right to protect that life. (Please don’t say I’m equating a foetus with a pup. I’m not. I’m talking about the reluctance of most people to take the life of a pet, let alone what might be a human being.)

I don’t expect this blog will win me many new friends – certainly not judging by past responses. But that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we focus on the core questions, Is this human life? If so, how should we respond? And are we capable of discussing this matter in a rational and respectfual way? 






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