Trigger warnings: mention of pregnancy, childbirth, sexual assault, rape, fatal foetal abnormality, death, self-inflicted harm, domestic abuse, abortion
On 25 May, the people of the Republic of Ireland will go to the polls to vote in one of the most important decisions to face their democracy in a generation and one of the most challenging and controversial issues within not only Irish society, but across the globe. This vote is to repeal of the 8th amendment of the Irish constitution which equates the life of the foetus to the life of the person carrying the foetus.
This amendment has prohibited abortions happening legally and safely in Ireland in the vast majority of cases, including where the pregnancy is a result of a sexual crime, the pregnancy is nonviable or unwanted. But let’s be clear about one thing, Irish people have terminations on a daily basis. Whether through travelling, often to England, and paying privately for an abortion, or through trying to induce miscarriages (sometimes through dangerous steps).
Did you know:
- 14: is the number of years that a person could imprisoned for procuring miscarriage inducing pills - Source: Amnesty International
- 10: is the number of women, girls, trans men and non-binary people who travel to access an abortion per day - Source: Amnesty International
This isn’t a vote on whether or not you agree with someone’s choice to terminate a pregnancy, a vote if you’d choose to have an abortion if faced with the same situation, it is whether the provision of this service should happen safely and legally in Ireland. As a Christian, I couldn’t in good conscious vote anything other than yes to this question, and here is why.
‘He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God’ - Proverbs 14:31
It is clear is that the people who are most affected by the 8th Amendment are those who are the most vulnerable and that is where our Christian conscience should kick in. Restrictive abortion legislation is a class issue and as Christians, one resounding message that scripture gives us is to love and care for those in financial difficulty.
I can only imagine how difficult it must be to have to travel to access what is internationally considered a human right, inevitably drawing out a process which is hard enough for everyone involved. However, for those who can’t afford the flight, procedure and accommodation; for those with migrant status, unable to leave the country for fear they won’t be let back in; for disabled people who cannot easily travel; for those in abusive or unsafe environments, who cannot leave the house, let alone the country, without their abusers permission, the risk is exponentially higher. This may sound like a tactic to be used by those trying to emotionally manipulate people into voting yes, but the risk is real.
Despite becoming Christian at age 17, I was lucky to find a church where I feel at home, and most importantly, where I learnt my values weren’t incompatible with Christianity; in fact, they are integral to the heart of what the Bible teaches us. As disciples of Christ we must follow Christ and try and live as he did, and the son undoubtedly showed unconditional and active love to those on the outskirts of society, particularly those who the Bible refers to as poor.
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? - James 4:12
Nobody grows up aspiring to have an abortion- those who make that choice do so because that they are unable to continue their pregnancy for a vast range of reasons. Through contacting charities such as the Abortion Support Network and learning about the work they do, I see that our compassion must be given to those who are put in impossible circumstances.
Personally, there are limited circumstances in which I think I would consider ending a pregnancy; I strongly believe in God’s plan and that perspective has helped me through so many situations. On the other hand, when you have heard about a mother of three, who is exhausted, stretched and unable to raise a fourth child, but has fallen pregnant, who has asked how she can crash her car to cause a miscarriage but not kill herself, I cannot stand for things the way they are. When you have heard about a couple, who had an unviable pregnancy, had to travel to England, feeling like criminals because their child wouldn’t survive more than 20 minutes outside the womb and the mother couldn’t continue for 9 months with a pregnancy and go through childbirth to watch her baby die, but had to have their babies ashes sent via courier because they weren’t able to take them home on the plane, I cannot stand for things the way they are. Even if someone decides to end a pregnancy in a situation I don’t think I personally would, I trust pregnant people to make that choice, I respect their choice but fundamentally I could not call myself a compassionate and loving Christian if I let pregnant people risk their lives because of my personal judgement.
This vote is about whether people are forced to travel, risk jail or endanger their lives to make a choice about their own body. Irish people have abortions daily, but given what people go through now to access them, can you stand for things the way they are? I cannot.
The No campaign say that relaxing abortion laws creates ‘abortion on demand’, higher abortion rates and that people will use it as a form of contraception. This has been statistically disproven. This narrative ignores that not all contraception is effective, but more importantly do you think that being forced to continue a pregnancy should be the punishment for not practicing safe sex? Surely life is so much more important and valuable than to be given as a punishment, especially one that is widely resultant from a lack of effective sexual and relationships education. Improving provision of sexual and relationship education would encourage the practice of safe sex, which should alleviate the concerns around abortion in that context.
Without the repeal of the 8th amendment, a change in the law would be impossible. It has taken endless campaigning from pro-choice activists, a consultation with the Citizens Assembly and for people to have died as a result of the draconian abortion laws for this referendum to be called, and it will take a lot of support for the amendment to be repealed. This referendum is difficult and emotive for many, and you may have been told that voting yes to repeal the 8th is incompatible with believing in Christ. However, as followers of Christ we are called to treat others with compassion, not to judge and to love unconditionally. So, even if you would personally make a different choice, I would encourage you to vote yes, and give hope to those making that choice themselves and help create a more caring and compassionate Ireland.