Within days Ireland will be facing a Referendum to remove the right to life of the unborn from the Constitution. I am asking you to reflect on a number of issues and misinformation that people have brought to my attention since the publication of my pastoral letter.
Some people fail to see the humanity of the unborn and consequently their right to life. The baby and the inhumanity of abortion are rarely mentioned in the political debates. All of us are alive because our mothers chose to accept the life in their wombs. We cannot now deny, in 2018, that the baby in the womb is alive, vulnerable and an innocent baby whose safety is in our hands. Many fathers and mothers have seen the amazing ultrasound pictures of their children. The baby’s heart starts beating at 21 days after conception. Our own Irish language has a beautiful word for the unborn – beo gan breith – which means alive but not born.
It is often said that those who support life are not compassionate. Compassion is not one sided. Compassion for the mother is vital but we must also extend our compassion to the child in the womb. There is no semblance of compassion involved in ending the life of the innocent child. Compassion means that we look after the mother and the child. It is our responsibility as a society to promote every support for women in a crisis pregnancy. We must be there for each other, always, all the days of our life. Pope Francis has very comforting words for those who may have had an abortion and for whom it was a very painful decision. “Do not be discouraged”, the Pope said, “Believe in the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord”.
Under the provisions of the Eighth Amendment, no treatment is ever denied to an expectant mother. The Church teaching is quite clear. A woman in pregnancy must be given every life-saving treatment that she needs, even if the child she is carrying will not survive this life-saving treatment. Doctors have always had to deal with situations where their intervention to save the mother’s life has resulted in the unavoidable death of the baby in the womb.
The Church has always taught that abortion is gravely wrong “and is not compatible with our Catholic faith in any way” (Pope Francis). If you vote Yes, you are actually voting for abortion. Many of our brothers and sisters in other Christian Churches, in other faiths, and of no faith hold a similar view.
The question before us is quite clear: “Do we want abortion on demand for any reason up to 12 weeks, which is when 90% of abortions take place?” The right to life in the Constitution will be replaced by the right to end the life of an innocent person. The unborn baby will be left with no protection whatsoever. It is remarkable that the State, which, under the Wildlife Act, has so many legal protections for non-human life, is trying to remove the most basic right of the child in the womb.
I commend the work of the many pro-life groups many of whom – of all ages – I have met around the diocese to protect the unborn child. They are the voice of the voiceless.
As voters, we are the unborn babies’ last line of defence. I am encouraging you again to speak to your families and friends about the issues I have outlined but do so with respect and courtesy. Continue to pray for mothers and the unborn at this critical time. In the light of what I have said in my recent Pastoral Letter, it is essential to vote NO if we are to build a truly compassionate society that values all life.
Bishop of Cork and Ross