THE Irish Government would move rapidly to enact legislation in the wake of the landslide referendum vote to remove a constitutional ban and liberalise abortion laws, the Irish Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said on Monday.
Laws reflecting the will of the people to allow unrestricted terminations up to 12 weeks would be tabled before the Dáil (the principal chamber of the parliament) rises for the summer recess, he said.
The cabinet was briefed on the new timetable on Tuesday. Mr Harris is meeting the leaders of opposition parties during the rest of the week.
Younger voters were prominent in the landslide victory for the Yes campaign, but it was supported by many older, more traditional citizens known as the “silent yes”, who took not just Ireland but the world by surprise. In what was expected to be a close-run result, an unusually high turnout of 64 per cent voted 66.4 per cent to approve of changing the law, while only 33.6 per cent endorsed the status quo.
Although some predicted this as a death knell for Irish Roman Catholicism, few voters cited religious influence as a motivating factor in their decision.
Although there were instances of highly distasteful graphics on a few posters, the two opposing sides behaved with much more restraint than in 1983, when the Eighth Amendment giving equal protection to the foetus and the mother was passed.
The Roman Catholic hierarchy, very prominent in 1983, was remarkably quiet this time around, although bishops and priests gave support to the No side wherever possible.
Members of other denominations expressed similar reservations, particularly about the suggestion that abortion could be on demand for up to 12 weeks after gestation, although many took comfort from the suggestion that the ban on terminations for disabled children would remain, and also that medical measures would be put in place before “unrestricted” abortions were allowed.
The removal of prohibition in cases of confirmed fatal foetal abnormality were also felt by many clergy to be reasonable.
After the outcome was announced on Saturday, showing support for the removal of the ban in every constituency in the Republic except, narrowly, Donegal, the RC Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, said that the post-referendum Church must renew its commitment to supporting life.
“The Church is called to be pro-life . . . not just in words and statements and manifestos, but to be pro-life in deeds, by being a Church which reflects the loving care of Jesus for human life at any stage.
“That loving care includes support to help those women who face enormous challenges and who grapple with very difficult decisions to choose life.
“Pro-life means being alongside those whose lives are threatened by violence, and being alongside those who cannot live life to the full because of economic deprivation, homelessness, and marginalisation.
“Pro-life means radically rediscovering in all our lives a special love for the poor that is the mark of the followers of Jesus. Reshaping the Church of tomorrow must be marked by a radical rediscovery of its roots.”
The RC Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Eamon Martin, said that he was “deeply saddened” that Ireland had “obliterated the right to life of all unborn children” from the constitution, and was now on the brink of introducing a liberal abortion regime. The Church, he said, must demonstrate how it could be of support to women in such circumstances.
The Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, said that the result “unquestionably brought difficult and challenging issues to the fore in the consciousness of Irish society.
“Now, as the outcome of the referendum is known, and society at large absorbs the implications, it behoves us all to consider these matters with mutual respect, and in good faith and conscience over the coming months.” He called for prayers for the members of the Oireachtas (the legislature) as they reflect on their responsibilities.
The Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, observed that many factors influenced the vote, including the telling of the many stories on both sides, and the listening that took place, encouraged by the Citizens’ Assembly.
“As a consequence of the decision of the people, the constitution of Ireland is going to change,” he said. “The citizens of Ireland are, as of now, called upon to show dignity and respect, care and compassion, as we continue to co-operate and to collaborate at every level of our society in what will undoubtedly be onerous days and weeks of decision around policies and practices.”
The Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Noble McNeely, said that the result caused his Church “a profound sense of sadness”, and urged the government and the Oireachtas “to keep the promise they have made to the electorate to make abortions ‘rare’ in Ireland, and to ensure that the unborn with disabilities, like Down’s syndrome, will not have their lives terminated”.
A Methodist statement, signed by the President of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Dr Laurence Graham, and its Lay Leader, Dr Fergus O’Ferrall, stated that the Church looked forward to contributing to the Oireachtas’s consideration of such legislation. They said that the aim in the future must be to keep the rate of abortions low as far as humanly possible, but, where they were chosen or unavoidable, that they were safe, legal, and rare.
Northern Ireland is the next target for abortion legislation, as it is set to be the sole remaining part of the British Isles where abortion is prohibited in all but exceptional cases. David Smyth of the Evangelical Alliance said that he hoped that the devolved nature of the matter in Northern Ireland would be respected by British and Irish governments.
“The referendum is over, but the conversation on how to best support women and unborn children in pregnancy crisis is only just beginning. Now is the time for all sides to put as much resource as they put into their campaigns into services for pregnancy crisis and addressing the structural and systemic inequalities which lead women to believe that abortion is their only ‘choice’.”
He went on: “We live in a consumer culture where personal autonomy is often perceived to be the highest moral good. Abortion cuts to the heart of human identity, relationships, and purpose, and cannot be redefined as a private or amoral health-care choice.”