The Referendum to Repeal the Eight Amendment to the Irish Constitution will change several aspects of life in Ireland but it will also leave several unchanged.
The removal of the 8th amendment means that for the first time the Irish government will be free to make it legal to end a pregnancy without any reason. What precise laws will be passed we won’t know for a while.
Even if many people would never do that, people have decided that they want others to be allowed to do it if they so wish. And they believe that it has no impact on them because they believe that what a pregnant woman chooses to do when she is pregnant is none of anybody else’s business – not society’s, not the unborn child’s, not the child’s father, and certainly not the business of anyone speaking from the perspective of faith in God. Motherhood is being redefined as a purely private matter. It’s seen as one person’s business and theirs alone.
If we ever had a sense of public morality in Ireland, it is evident that it is very diluted now. Something is considered permissible if another person demands that they want to do it, so long as it has no apparent consequence for me.
Paradoxically, proponents of liberalising the law condemned the isolation and loneliness of women they said were left to carry their burdens alone. Yet, the very solution they called for is to cast a woman with concerns about a pregnancy completely into a private space – because it is no one else’s business but hers no one has a right to intervene. The doctor’s role will be functional – just to administer the lethal medication if and when a woman wants it.
In a fundamental way, our sense of community, our sense of society and our place in it, and our sense of duty to one-another are changed. From what was once a relatively cohesive and conformist society, we have moved to a place where just about the only thing the majority keeps agreeing on is that it is best that we all be different! With that comes an implicit trust in our ability to coexist in harmony with people with different and even opposite views, to feel free to voice a radical opinion and to allow others express theirs and to respect them. We need to work with renewed commitment towards a civil society based on what the majority hold are the guiding principles and values. Such a society always needs to allow room, respectfully, for people who do not always agree with the normative views. The traditional tea and sugar-loaning definition of neighbourliness is also scrubbed from our world. The new neighbour is one who doesn’t bother me in the slightest, whose paths intersect with me regularly, who confines their views on everything to their chosen online sparring forum, and who never invites me to anything they have on — because they don’t yet know my name!
There is a challenge, too, in this new world for Irish Catholics. The Jewish people of a few millennia ago asked “how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” when they were taken into forced exile! For every two people who voted to repeal the amendment in Ireland, there is also one person who feels in exile in their own land now. Active Irish Catholics probably account for the majority of this one third of the population who voted ‘No’. They face a period of social disorientation and estrangement. And they don’t have an obvious leadership or a voice. Like the Jewish people of old, their prophets have been silenced or quartered.
It will be a fundamentally new experience to be faithful to the unchanging law of God and to live in a society where the Divine is more and more marginalised. And yet, the primacy of human life is not changed by the referendum. As the cloud and dust of the referendum’s aftermath settle, as the posters are taken down and recycled, as the news media move their lenses to the next major topic, as the hallelujahs outside Dublin Castle go mute, thee is still a mission to be fulfilled by all who are Christian. It still includes reaching out with compassion and understanding to someone who may be in distress; never judging someone whose choices we may not make; always being ready to hear and to heal.
Perhaps here we may have a foundation for a society in which we may all find peace and prosperity.