The Death of Common Sense – Thoughts on the Irish Abortion Referendum

On the 25th of May 2018, the Irish people voted overwhelmingly to empower Dáil Éireann- the Irish Parliament – to change their Constitution, thus paving the way for the legalisation of abortion in the Republic of Ireland. As a result of the referendum, article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution will be repealed. This article, commonly called the Eight Amendment, had since its insertion into the Constitution thirty-five years ago, guaranteed to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother. It prohibited abortion in almost all cases.  By repealing the Eight Amendment, the Irish people empowered their Government to legislate for abortion up to twelve weeks and indeed beyond, should the will of certain political parties be granted.

Now, for the point of argument, let us have a quick look at the text on the ballot sheet. The question in Gaelic and English – the two official languages of the Irish Republic – was formulated as follows: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the Constitution contained in the undermentioned bill?”. Then, on the following line came the “undermentioned Bill” with the cryptic title of the: “Thirty-Sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill 2018”.


It can be clearly seen, that the wording on the ballot sheet, was at pains to avoid sensitive content or indeed any kind of content for that matter. Words that could provoke emotions in the voter such as mother, child, the unborn, life, pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or abortion –  were avoided.

Certainly, every Irish voter knew what the referendum was all about. By voting in favour of the 36th Amendment, they were repealing Article 40.3.3 – the 8th Amendment. This amendment read: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right”.

By voting to repeal the 8th Amendment, the Irish voter was putting the rights of the mother over the rights of the child. This was a serious, substantive and radical change to their Constitution.  I believe that the 36th Amendment should have read:  “The State does not acknowledge the right to life of the unborn as equal to the rights of the mother and, with due regard to the rights of the mother, guarantees in its laws provisions by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy.” But it didn’t! The wording of Article 36, and consequently of the Irish referendum ballot paper was. I believe, an example of our so-called developed world’s politically correct code of ethics: hypocritical, superficial and incredibly cynical.

To put it another way, the question placed on the ballot paper– if the redactors were honest – should have said: “Do you agree that the State should not acknowledge the right to life of the unborn as being equal to the rights of the mother and as a consequence provisions should be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy?” It is evident that with such a more accurately phrased question the ‘NO’ vote would have had a better chance, but that chance had to be avoided at all cost.

The debate on abortion is generally around a triple question according to the radical abortion supporter and utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer:

  • Is it wrong to kill an innocent human being?
  • Is a human foetus an innocent human being?
  • Therefore, is it wrong to kill a human foetus?

Anyone in his right mind would answer ‘yes’ to the first question. I think this is undeniable, even in our politically correct societies. The answer to the second question is widely disputed on medical, genetical, philosophical and theological grounds. Because of this, the answer to the third question depends entirely on the second one.

We must begin our discussion by defining where human life starts.  Peter Singer has a surprising but logically coherent answer: he says that the real question on this matter is not about where human life starts because there is no such substantial change between conception and birth that could indicate that it starts anywhere else other than at conception.  The question, he suggests, is rather about where personhood starts.  Singer posits that personhood begins at the moment of the first conscious action of the human being, that is when the child is between twelve and eighteen months old.  That is why – he thinks – abortion (and infanticide) should be permissible.

Singer is right, when he says that there isn’t a ‘moment’ during the development of the foetus that could be linked to such a substantial change and would indicate a ‘before’ and an ‘after’ for there is no such substantial change.

There are a wide variety of opinions about these supposed ‘moments’, but there is no real public debate on this matter in politically correct Europe. If there were an opportunity for debate, I am convinced that the followers of those opinions that link the start of human life to anything other than conception, when a genetically different life begins in the womb, would have difficulty defending their point of view.

I mentioned the death of common sense in the title.  I believe that those who persist in arguing for abortion, they too will arrive at the same conclusions as Peter Singer. His thinking on personhood is extreme and unacceptable but it is consistent and coherent. He does accept that human life begins at conception. Unfortunately, 66 percent of the Irish voters could not accept that fact. They could not see that a 6, 8 or 12 week foetus– who eats, moves and develops as any other living organism, and from its conception is genetically different to any other living creatures, (mother and father included), should be saved from abortion, on the basis that it is a human being. There were no valid arguments presented whatsoever in the Irish referendum, neither medical, nor ethical, nor legal to justify legalising abortion, for a human being is a human being from womb to tomb, or what else could it be?

On the evening of the 26th of May 2018, the results of the referendum were announced from Dublin Castle.  The 33% of Irish voters who democratically defended innocent life will recall that day as the moment when future generations of the unborn heard their death sentence being proclaimed – and along with it,  the death of common sense.

Balázs Puskás

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