Removal of Eighth would create law more inhumane than Britain’s
Abortion in Britain can take place for functionally any reason up to 24 weeks
(Of note this article is only available to subscribers on the Irish Times website.)
Vote No: “While the Irish Government’s proposals may seem restrictive, just as the Abortion Act did in the 1960s, long British experience shows that any legislation enacted based on their ‘principles’ would introduce a radically permissive abortion regime all throughout pregnancy. File photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Looking at this from a British perspective, it’s worryingly hard not to see shadows of our own law, the Abortion Act 1967.
When it was introduced just over 50 years ago, the 1967 Act was sold to the public and to the Westminster Parliament as a restrictive law. The evidence of half a century, however, shows this claim was utterly empty. The everyday reality in Britain today is that abortion is available on demand, for any reason, up to 24 weeks. In 2016, just over one in five British pregnancies ended in abortion.
The false assurances we heard in 1967 are echoed by certain pro-repeal politicians today, as they claim that abortion law after any removal of Eighth Amendment protections for unborn children would be modest and more restrictive than those across the Irish Sea. The truth is that, if anything, it would create a law not just as permissive and inhumane as Britain’s – but even more so.
The reason why the Abortion Act has led to abortion on demand is because section 1(1)(a) of the Act allows abortion under what we now call Ground C: when two doctors agree that “the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family”.
‘Mental health’ reasons
Some 97 per cent of all abortions in Britain take place under this ground; 99.8 per cent of which are carried out for “mental health” reasons/
Of course, no evidence exists that abortion helps safeguard mental health. As pro-choice Prof David Fergusson reported in a longitudinal study on mental health and abortion, the “evidence clearly poses a challenge to the use of psychiatric reasons to justify abortion”. Uncoincidentally, no verification is required regarding the alleged underlying psychological condition, nor is even one of the two doctors required to be formally qualified to be able to identify such a condition.
As a consequence of this, abortion in Britain can take place for functionally any reason whatever up to 24 weeks – the explicit “upper limit” introduced in 1990. This has meant a situation of normalised laxity, which a media investigation in 2012 showed even allows for the ugly spectre of misogynistic sex-selective abortion.
This permissive abortion system has not only led to the destruction of girls in the womb, but to the deeply tragic suicides of young women. Examples include 13-year-old Ashli Blake in 2014, whose abortion helped to cover up her sexual abuse; young mother Jade Rees in 2015 after the abortion of her baby daughter, and the artist Emma Beck in 2007 after the abortion of her twin girls.
Compare the British model to the principles of the Irish Government’s Health paper on prospective abortion legislation. These state that under any legislation they introduce, abortions would be provided “without indication” (ie on demand) up to 12 weeks, but also on the grounds of “risk to health” to a pregnant woman with no gestational restriction.
Ireland would suffer a system even more extreme than the British, which itself has destroyed so many lives, not only of unborn children, but of pregnant mothers
Moreover, no distinction would be made between physical and mental health. This would establish the same supposedly limited “health grounds” for abortion as in UK law, but by crucial contrast, with no “upper limit” applying in such cases. This would lead to a de facto situation of abortion on demand, for any reason, up to birth.
“Any reason” would include the sex-selective abortion that has been shown to be possible in British practice. The Stop Gendercide campaign started by women’s groups Jeena International and Karma Nirvana, in analysing currently debated proposals for permissive abortion on the Isle of Man, has noted that due to improvements in prenatal testing technology, foetal gender can now be detected after seven weeks’ gestation. Not only would introducing abortion on demand up to 12 weeks formally legalise sex-selective abortion in the first trimester, but providing de facto abortion on demand would enable sex-selection throughout all of pregnancy.
While the Irish Government’s proposals may seem restrictive, just as the Abortion Act did in the 1960s, long British experience shows that any legislation enacted based on their “principles” would introduce a radically permissive abortion regime all throughout pregnancy.
Ireland would suffer a system even more extreme than the British, which itself has destroyed so many lives, not only of unborn children, but of pregnant mothers. Both lives matter: every life counts.
In considering how to vote in the upcoming referendum, I hope the Irish public realises that if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, the Republic would go down a road even darker than that of British practice. Knowing this, I hope voters will opt instead to Vote No to maintain Ireland’s Constitution as a civilised standard of human dignity and rights.
David Alton is a member of the House of Lords and a long-time anti-abortion campaigner