The outcome of last Friday’s abortion referendum in Ireland was not surprising. Every poll conducted beforehand found a majority in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment, which protects the rights of both the mother and unborn child.
For years abortion campaigners and a compliant media had softened up public opinion with a relentless focus on hard cases. (It did not matter that, in the most widely discussed case, an abortion would not have saved the mother’s life.)
Celebrities queued up to appear in stark videos depicting the law as heartless and immoral. When the polls appeared to be narrowing, tech giants introduced restrictions on online advertising, to the undisguised delight of abortion activists. The Irish government, led by a man who described himself as pro-life as recently as 2014, artfully prepared the ground for the referendum and displayed a fluent command of pro-choice propaganda throughout.
But while the result was not a surprise, the margin of victory was. With a lowish turnout of 64.13 per cent, 66.4 per cent voted in favour of abortion and just 33.6 per cent against. Catholics outside Ireland looked on with horror: this was a landslide victory indicating that hundreds of thousands of nominal Catholics had voted to strip the unborn of their rights. From Lagos to Los Angeles, Catholics have grown up revering Ireland as a land of saints and scholars. How could the Irish have chosen to introduce abortion not just grudgingly, after an uneven fight, but with such apparent enthusiasm?
There is a four-word answer: the clerical abuse crisis. If priests had not violated the innocence of children and prelates had not covered up their crimes, then the Irish may have held on to the Church’s life-giving teachings. Nowadays the government can command majority support for almost anything if it can frame it as a choice between Ireland’s dark, priest-ridden past and the bright, compassionate uplands of modernity.
Now that the country has embraced abortion, it faces some predictable consequences. The restrictive abortion regime that the government promised will give way to abortion on demand. There were 25 legal abortions in Ireland in 2016: that figure will skyrocket in the coming years. Some babies will be aborted simply because they are girls. Others will survive the procedure and be left to die. Pro-lifers will be harassed on the streets and driven further to the margins of public life. Respect for life will diminish generally and there will be intense pressure to introduce assisted suicide. All these things have happened in Britain since abortion was legalised 50 years ago and there is no reason why they won’t also occur in Ireland.
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