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Ireland: abortion referendum. Pastoral Letter from Irish Bishops, “Two Lives, One Love”

The Irish Bishops continue to advocate the defence of the life of the unborn, in view of the Referendum that the Irish Government has decided to hold on 25 May 2018 to legalize abortion in Ireland. The Bishops, who had first expressed their official stance on the abortion referendum in a statement a few days ago, have issued a Pastoral Letter today entitled “Two Lives, One Love”.

“We believe – they wrote – that human life is sacred from conception until natural death and that Article 40.3.3 reflects the appropriate balance of rights. We ask God’s blessing and guidance on each member of our society in responding to the significant responsibility that we have to defend this right for the present generation and for the generations to come”.

The article to which the Bishops refer is the Eighth Amendment of Article 40 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland which upholds that the mother and the unborn child have the same rights. If the Irish people vote to abolish this amendment, the Government will be given the green light to regulate the termination of pregnancy by law. “Some people argue that the right to life of the unborn should be a matter of personal choice on the part of the mother”, the Bishops wrote in their Pastoral Letter. “Others argue that, while they are opposed to abortion as a general principle, they believe that there are some children to whom the right to life does not apply either because they have been diagnosed with a serious medical condition or because they have been conceived as a result of rape. We wish to state our firmly held belief, based on reason as well as faith, that there is no such thing as a human life without value. We accept, of course, that death is part of our human condition. What we reject is the suggestion that any person can decide when it is time for another person to die”.

The Letter analyses Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland and all of its implications, reaffirming that “the right to life is unique” and that “in the absence of that right, no other civil or natural right can be exercised, either now or in the future”. The Bishops thus urge everyone to see the unborn child as a “person” and to “consider carefully the reality of what happens in the life of each human being, between conception and birth”, stressing that “the distinct identity of a human individual is already present once fertilisation has taken place. Everything else is simply the process of growth and development of a person who has already embarked on the journey of life”.

An interesting section is where the Bishops speak about the “power of language” while analysing the use of language with reference to unborn children. “We question why, in public discourse, healthy unborn children are always referred to as ‘the baby’ while those who, in the opinion of some, do not measure up to expectations are routinely defined as the ‘foetus’ or the ‘embryo’”. This manner of speaking risks depersonalising certain categories of unborn children in a way which seeks to normalise abortion.

The Pastoral Letter also deals with two particularly “sensitive” and delicate issues that have characterised the referendum debate: the case of children with limited life expectancy and that of children conceived as a result of violence. The Bishops urge families to understand that “every case is different and that, while some babies will die before birth, and some will live for just a few hours, others will live for significantly longer”. As for the second case, the Bishops wrote: “A child conceived following rape is also a person. He or she has rights, including that most fundamental of all rights, the right to life”.

The Letter ends with a vigorous defence of the Article that the Referendum wants to repeal. “We believe that the deletion or amendment of this article can have no other effect than to expose unborn children to greater risk and that it would not bring about any benefit for the life or health of women in Ireland. We encourage you, therefore, as members of the human family, to work actively towards keeping the right to life in the Constitution, in the name of equality, fairness and compassion for all”.

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