The battle to save the right to life of the unborn is now well and truly under way in Ireland. It is a struggle that will resonate in Britain. If those of us on the pro-life side win, it will be a big shot in the arm for the pro-life movement everywhere. If we lose, the last major pro-life bastion in Western Europe will have fallen. It is with precisely this aim of overturning the current law that the Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros gave $150,000 to Amnesty Ireland last year.

On January 29, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that the government had decided to hold a referendum aimed at deleting the pro-life amendment – known as the Eighth Amendment – from the Irish constitution. This decision was not a surprise as it had been flagged for months, but following a special cabinet meeting the intent to hold a referendum was confirmed. The date is yet to be announced, but May 25 is being talked of. It will be almost impossible to hold it much before then because a lot of preparation is involved in a referendum.

The government doesn’t want to delay holding it much past the end of May because after that many university and college students, thought likely to vote for a repeal of the Eighth in heavy numbers, will be on holiday.

If the vote is held in the autumn, that would not be long after the Pope’s scheduled visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families, which takes place at the end of August. Would his visit be a fillip to the pro-life movement? He is popular with ordinary people, Catholic and otherwise. It is hard to believe his trip would not assist the pro-life cause even if he never directly refers to the referendum. This is why the government would much prefer to have the vote over and done with as quickly as possible.

Let us remind ourselves of what is at the heart of this. In 1983, Irish people voted in favour of inserting a pro-life clause into our constitution by a majority of two to one. It is called Article 40.3.3 and reads: “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.”

With this section, the Irish constitution makes the unborn child one of us. It acknowledges that it is a human being like the rest of us and deserves the same protection. Notice that the amendment commits the state to defending the right to life of the unborn only “as far as practicable” and how it refers to the “equal right to life of the mother”.

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