Ireland is voting today to remove a constitutional amendment inserted 35 years ago. This did not, as many understand, outlaw abortion. That was already long forbidden in the Ireland of 1983. It went much further than that.
The Eighth Amendment created a whole new legal entity called ‘the unborn’, with a right to life equal to any human being — and specifically, to that of the woman carrying it. Oddly the amendment does not define ‘unborn’, but that didn’t seem necessary at the time. The entire debate was framed within the context of the Catholic teaching that personhood begins at conception. While that wasn’t a practical criterion, a human being does exist in law as soon as there are detectable signs of pregnancy — when its equal right to life inevitably casts uncertainty over medical practice, putting women’s lives at risk.
When you think about it it’s bizarre to treat a pregnancy, from its very outset, as equal in humanity to an adult woman. A new person is there when she has finished giving it life, not from the moment she starts. That is plainly obvious to a detached observer. To see something else requires religion.
According to the religion, life begins not when a woman has completed her role in the process, but when the man has completed his. Gestation, birth, nurture, all that stuff is details. When the guy rolls off and farts, that’s the miracle.
Thirty-five years ago, some religious people put their strange ideas into our Constitution; ideas that betray a deep distrust, even fear, of women. Today we have a chance to put it right again.