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Monday, 11 March, 2002, 11:04 GMT
Irish abortion: Your reaction to the referendum result?
The Republic of Ireland has narrowly voted against a change to its constitution which would have ruled out a mother's threat of suicide being used as justification for an abortion.
The issue has proven a divisive one in the country's recent history, not least throughout this year's referendum campaign. Abortion is currently illegal in Ireland except in cases where there is a threat to the life of a pregnant woman.
Under the proposal, put forward by Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, it would have remained legal for doctors to carry out an abortion if it was necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman. However the proposed legislation would have ruled out the threat of suicide as grounds for a termination.
Out of the 42% of the country's population who voted, 50.4% voted No, while Yes votes tallied 49.6%. Conceding defeat on Thursday, Mr Ahern said his "honest and genuine attempt" to strengthen abortion laws had "been narrowly defeated".
What is your reaction to the referendum result? What are the implications for future abortion legislation in Ireland?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Elizabeth Dillon, USA
Having read most of the comments on display here, I have come to the conclusion that the most dangerous and damaging aspect of the whole abortion debate is religion. I therefore suggest that banning it altogether is the only thing that would bring true perspective to the situation. In any situation regarding life and death, I certainly would not accept any ruling based on the hypothetical teachings of someone else's 'imaginary friend'.
Since abortion is legal in Holland and contraceptives are more easily available teenage pregnancy has fallen dramatically. Backroom abortions with lousy equipment, even knitting needles, have disappeared. No more deaths through fumbled jobs carried out by incompetent "butchers". In the seventies we had a movement called "Baas in eigen buik" (Boss in our own belly) that fought for the right of abortion. The women wanted to decide themselves about their future instead of it being dictated by some men in government. Now we have good sex education at school and the number of abortions is going down. Religion no longer rules everybody and everything. Yes, we also have organisations that are against abortion but they haven't sunk to the level of those in the USA.
What strikes me most about the pro abortion lobby is that they are so determined to enjoy their rights and so determined not to take responsibility for them. Having sex, protected or not, can lead to pregnancy. If a couple are not prepared to accept the possible consequences of their actions then they should not be having sex.
Let's not lose the run of ourselves. The referendum was not lost on a 'yea or nay' debate on abortion. Rather, it was a vague question on the notion of whether suicide is to be considered as legal grounds for abortion, or not. It was based on a court case which had occurred a number of years ago, to a poor unfortunate girl. The electorate did not know the answer, because we're not lawyers, or experts in this field. My suggestion referendum is the following: I would like the government to legislate for abortion given one of the following circumstances:
Alec, Channel Islands
Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of abortion there is one bright and shining outcome of this referendum - the Irish people, after centuries of control by the Catholic Church, appear to have woken up to democracy, politely brushing aside the controlling hand of the priesthood and are deciding matters for themselves. More power to them, I say. The world has suffered enough under the non-democratic control of small elitist groups who claim to know best and demand absolute obedience to their rules.
Abortion isn't a nice thing but neither is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Especially when the father of your baby isn't interested.
I find it fairly nauseating that so many men here are declaiming against abortion in righteous tones. Women don't just mysteriously get pregnant you know! Yes, it takes two. But I wonder how many women have an abortion because the man they trusted and loved disappeared as soon as the word 'baby' was mentioned?
These men will never have to make the agonising decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy or not. No woman has an abortion lightly. No woman ever goes through one without thinking about it every day for years afterwards. And too few men support them in this decision and its aftermath. If there was less hot air about the 'evil' of abortion, and more men took proper responsibility for their actions, both during and after sex, then perhaps less women would feel compelled to terminate a pregnancy.
Christopher Laird, Japan
Politicians are, by and large, men. Priests are men. The ones needing an abortion are women. Holding a referendum does not change the fact that it is the wrong people legislating and deciding on women's issues, women's bodies and women's lives. It makes me furious. And even more helpless.
In a world where population issues are mounting day by day, we can at last see that people are starting to realise that sometimes bringing an unwanted child into the world would do more harm than good in the long term. I for one think that they made the right decision.
This is a brilliant result for Ireland and the liberal agenda. It is time that people in rural Ireland got a grip of the world and got rid of their traditional and religious stand point. The issue of abortion has no relevance to many of the older generation in rural areas who voted yes today. I'm 18 and I feel the traditional views passed by such voters should realise that it will be the young people of Ireland, like myself, who are going to have to live in the society of the future. Well done to the urban voters for supporting the right of free choice that women are entitled to.
Any woman who has had an abortion can assure you that it is not a recommended form of contraception. It is a harrowing, emotional experience that never leaves you.
As a Catholic I am disappointed with the direction that Ireland is going on the abortion issue. This result proves that Ireland sadly seems to be going the way of America and the rest of Europe. May God have mercy on Ireland.
I agree with the result but I believe that abortion should be legal. What right has the Irish government got to say whether a woman is allowed a termination or not - it is the right of the individual.
Suppose it had become illegal to abort a baby because the mother was suicidal. If she did commit suicide because there was no way out, you'd be even worse off as neither the mother nor her unborn would survive.
I wonder how many teenage pregnancies there would be if abortion was not allowed. I wish my country had guts like Ireland to stand up for what's right.
Ali Bushell, UK
As an Irish resident, I'm pleased to say that the hand-wringing, authoritarian, church-directed moral bullies have been defeated. Abortion is a nasty subject, but everyone should have the right to bodily self-determination. It was moral cowardice on the part of the government to hold this referendum. It can adopt moral postures while knowing that in reality the UK will clean up the mess.
Years from now when life is proven to have begun at birth the people will look back in disgust at abortion being used as an emergency form of contraception and will view us in the same light as we view medieval doctors who bored holes into patients heads to treat headaches. The fact is, as science has progressed, we are able to save babies born prematurely. But we are in danger of a situation occurring where if you are born in maternity you live, if you are an unwanted child your life is extinguished before it has even begun.
It's probably worth pointing out that the Catholic Church's attempts to restrict and stigmatise contraception has probably resulted in more abortions than any other factor!
It should be up to the woman. If men were capable of becoming pregnant I wonder if the present laws would have been passed in the first place.
Abortion has been legal in the US for nearly 30 years. During those 30 years, we have slid into a moral and cultural filth that may yet be the end of us. Whether one personally agrees with abortion has nothing to do with it. Killing the most vulnerable citizens speaks volumes about where a society is headed.
Can we leave God out of this issue please as it is not he who has to deal with the day to day physical, psychological and financial trials and tribulations of bringing up an unwanted child?
E Coldwell writes: "Can we leave God out of it?" But can we? This issue is about whether abortion is right or wrong. The whole human race has different ideas about this so who can say who is right. But if people read that dusty book on the shelf, they would see that there is a standard. Okay - take God out of it and morals, ethics, right and wrong have no value. It all becomes relative.
All the women of Ireland should deny the men sex. I wonder how long they would last before the law was changed. It takes two to make a baby, but the woman is the only one who has to bear the consequences. Men can just go on 'sowing their oats' with impunity.
To all the rabid pro-life men I would ask you to start taking some of the responsibility for your actions, and not force women into these painful decisions. It's not you who has to carry and care for the child if it is not wanted.
If some people think that men are nothing to do with the abortion choice, then why are fathers pursued for money when an unwanted child is born?
If a country such as Ireland is so against legal abortion, why did they rule to give women access to information regarding abortion clinics in the UK?
This is a mixture of both hypocrisy and pushing an Irish issue onto UK soil.
John Finegan, Ireland
Women have been aborting foetuses for centuries. Why is it that so many cultures choose to deny this reality? Abortion will always happen. Whether we choose to endanger the life of the woman by failing to provide access to safe and affordable abortion is the real choice here.
Sometimes, even with the best protection, women become pregnant. Some realise that they do not want to become mothers, and choose to abort. Shall we force women to have children they don't want, so that the child is abandoned, or worse yet, kept and reviled throughout its life?
Abortion is a personal choice, and it's no one's business but the woman's. I fail to see why this is so difficult for so many to understand.
Unless you can guarantee that all men will pay adequate child support, that all children put up for adoption will find good homes, and that all rapists will receive adequate punishment, I think the answer to the abortion issue is obvious.
Kim from Scotland: If a foetus is not a human being what is it? It seems to me that when a pregnancy is wanted and planned, the baby is a baby from the moment the mother knows of its existence, and yet if the pregnancy is unwanted it is just a piece of surplus tissue. I am not wholly against abortion - I think there are times when it should be offered - but we should recognise exactly what it is we are doing.
It's a clear-cut violation of human rights. Words fail me...
Bravo to Sarah. I'm sick of reading the extreme pro-life views written by some arrogant men. To Gordon, US/UK: I assume you are talking about women's human rights, not the rights of the foetus.
To Kirsty UK/USA: Of course I meant women's human rights. As far as I'm concerned there's only one person who has the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy or not and that is the young girl or woman whose life it will affect. A question to these extremists: why do they count the age of a child from the time it is born and not from conception?
It is time for the Irish Government to face its responsibilities. How hypocritical it is to force thousands of women to go to England to have an abortion. The authorities have to admit that abortion does exist in Ireland even if it does not occur on its territory. Strengthening the law, which is already so backward, would do nothing but abuse even more women's rights in Ireland. In my country, abortion has been legal since 1974. It does not mean it has become a means of contraception. This act is still far from banal and the decision still so difficult and traumatising.
If the State or the Church legislates against both contraception and abortion then they should be prepared to arrange to look after all unwanted children.
Dave, Dublin, Ireland
Dave, Dublin: I am not necessarily pro-abortion but I am pro-choice. I believe life begins at the time when the law recognises the start of life - that is when the born baby takes its first breath of air. Babies are not registered as being alive until they are born and breathing so giving legal rights to an unborn foetus is hardly logical. I fully support, however, the medical profession's decision that all terminations should be in the first trimester when the foetus is forming, after that the operation of aborting an unborn baby is more dangerous for the mother. However, until life is recognised legally - ie. until the child is born - the woman should hold all rights over what is going on with and in her body - including the right to choose what medical services she needs or does not need. I do not consider it murder to abort something that is not legally recognised as being alive.
When does an unborn child become a human being? Is it 22 weeks after conception? So does that mean that a baby 21 weeks and six days old is not human? Can we really set a borderline for when it is too late for an abortion? If the abortion law is passed in Ireland, this is the next problem they have to decide because some innocent human lives are going to end up in hospital waste. I believe human life begins at the moment of conception and to abort any time after that is killing a human being by the above reasoning.
Alex Keenleyside, England
A message to Raula: - for those men who deny a woman's self determination over her own body, I agree with the sentiments expressed. As a man it makes me angry enough to apply an equally stupid sanction on them as they are advocating when they say there are no circumstances whatever to justify an abortion and that the will of the mother is secondary to the perceived will of the foetus she carries. But there are plenty of women also who would willingly deny the woman's right to chose under any circumstances - I would like to hear your (colourful!) views on them.
Are we making decisions on behalf of the foetus? If so, are we acting in its best interests by chopping its body up and burning it? Most people see a foetus as an 'egg' and not like a 3lb miniature baby - hence their ability to agree to the destruction of the unborn child. The woman has a choice in the matter, the unborn do not.
I'm not keen on the idea of abortion, but I see it has its place. To deny a suicidal woman an abortion will inevitably result in the death of the foetus anyway when the woman kills herself. Is that preferable?
How many Irish women come to have an abortion in the UK in the NHS? Why should the British taxpayer pay for them?
In its early stages a foetus is entirely dependent on it's mother for life. When the child reaches viability then it becomes a person with it's own rights, but before that it is part of the mother and can only use the mother's oxygen and the mother's nutrition. Therefore it is the mother's body and hers to choose what to do with it.
I disagree highly with abortion.
I feel that it is murder and that people shouldn't be allowed to have them. Why should they get away with killing a human life? Although you cannot see the baby it is a living thing and it should be treated like every other human on earth.
David Bellerby, England
This referendum will make little difference in the broad scheme of things. A "yes" will not prevent abortions since they are available a short ferry ride across the Irish sea to those that want them, and a "no" will simply preserve the current status quo.
And a short sighted, mediaeval, self-righteous status quo which imposes a blanket set of views on everyone it is too.
I think Andy, UK has the right idea. After all the Bible does teach that God gave us the gift of being able to choose whether to do right or wrong...so even if the Catholic view is that abortion is wrong they should let women have the opportunity to choose what they do.
It's odd, isn't it, that so many of the contributors on another of these Talking Points feel that the parents of the disfigured little girl in Newcastle have the right of veto over essential medical treatment, but so many here are against a woman's right to decide whether or not to become a parent in the first place.
It is legally, morally, and ethically wrong to deny the right to life through abortion. I do believe that it is cold-hearted to deny abortion in extreme circumstances, such as rape or life of mother. Yet, it is even more cold-hearted to willingly carry out the murder of an innocent child.
I remember that case of a young under-aged Irish girl who
was raped in late 80s or early 90s in Ireland: I will
never forget the frantic parents' plea's to let her have
an abortion. They interviewed some priest on TV, and he said that she 'should have a baby because God gave it to her, and it will be good for her in the end". Horrific. I don't remember what happened in the end, I hope she managed to have an abortion.
"It's against God's will!" You know that rational debate on a subject has ended as soon as people start trying to justify their opinions by claiming the support of supernatural forces. Why not try thinking for yourselves.
I'm no feminist (I'm a bloke for a start) but I've never understood why some men get so upset by what women (who they don't even know) choose to do with a foetus inside their own body. Seems to me like its none of their business and if its for religious reasons then all the more justification for opposing such medieval morality.
There is much talk of women's rights and human rights on this page. We are not only endowed with rights but are required to be responsible people. Responsible firstly for our own actions but also responsible for the good of those around us. Pregnancy should be seen as a fundamentally positive thing for society and not just a source of population growth. Until now Ireland has cherished the family and its children as its primary source of strength. It would be a shame to lose this fundamentally humane ideal of the society which we hold dear.
The idea of just popping in to some clinic to have an abortion sounds so cold, so selfish. But it isn't - far from it. My girlfriend and I have to live with the idea that we killed a life form that was ready to grow... it's hard to explain exactly what I want to say because there is NO way of describing our feelings at that time. I can tell you one thing though - we don't regret doing it at all.
It's amazing how the Irish fought for independence from the UK, only to replace rule from London with rule from Rome.
I suggest to the women of Ireland that they should refuse to take part in sexual relations until such times as they regain control over their own bodies and the consequences of the sexual act. I'm sure this would encourage a rethink on the basic human rights of contraception and abortion.
Many of the arguments against abortion on this page seem to invoke God, or at least a reactionary-conservative God that doesn't permit abortion. Those who believe in a more liberal God who lets people make their own decisions on reproduction should be given the appropriate freedoms.
Austin Rock, Ireland
Allow abortion now and let individuals make their own important choices in the Ireland of the 21st century.
For the few stupid men who tried to express their sexist opinions: if you are going to accuse women of taking control of THEIR OWN body and sent them to jail for having abortions then at least half of the men population should be in jail since it's their sperm who got in a woman's womb at the first place! It is men's responsibility that there is no contraception pill for them in the market although it's been more than 10 years the pill for women was developed! It is men's fault that progress towards that direction was not accomplished since from studies most men would deny taking the pill due to side effects it might cause -as seen from latest studies- which are not different from the ones women have at the moment with their pill! Why not put every man in jail then, this will ensure there won't be any abortions!!!
After reading some of the ill-considered and wholly unjustified vitriol that your female contributors are hurling at men, I'm surprised that they ever get into a situation where abortion might be necessary. What man would waste good sperm on such a bunch of irrational shrews?
Alistair Strachan, Northern Ireland
I think that being Irish is important and I think that being a Catholic is important too. I think that as Ireland is a Catholic country, it should not let abortion be legal.
It is funny really. The Catholic church is full of stupid contradictions. They talk about respecting life and say that life is sacred. Pah! Cobblers! Just take a look at your history. Respect for life, don't make me laugh. I think this goes for most religions! As far as I'm concerned, the only place for religion is in the history books.
Some people think that abortion is morally equivalent to murder, so it's quite clear why they think it should be illegal. But the simple fact is that it isn't - not so much because of the complicated philosophical arguments about the rights of women to control their bodies, but really just because not everyone agrees. The fact that so many people see abortion as qualitatively different to murder means that it is not something that the government has a right to legislate on, except to ensure that women are presented with the full facts before making any decision. And by the way, it's not just the woman's decision - men have rights too, but again, it's just not feasible or appropriate to enshrine these in law in this case.
Gareth Boote, England
If human life begins even whilst the egg is still a single cell, then it is a very small step to the argument that all eggs and all sperm have the right to meet at every opportunity. In practice this means that all women and girls should be obliged to have unprotected sex at every ovulation from puberty to the menopause. This is clearly ridiculous, as is any attempt to restrict abortion, especially where contraception is banned and it is not illegal to leave the country and have an abortion elsewhere.
The only person who should be responsible for making the decision to abort a foetus is the person who is carrying it. It should be the right of every female to be able to make a decision about her own body. I am disgusted that the Irish
Government has decided to allow a referendum on this most emotional issue. I am even more upset that MEN are allowed to take part. If the Irish Government wants a referendum, then it should be specifically targeted at the female population.
Pregnancy is a result (for those who weren't sure) of two people engaging in a specific act. As such, any consequence of that act is the RESPONSIBILITY of those two people and not any government or religion. The Irish Government may well get more mileage from investing in educating people about this responsibility. On the dark side, the danger is that it becomes an alternative to contraception which would be a serious step back. Give people the information needed to make informed decisions about their life but make it morally unacceptable to abuse those freedoms.
Chippla Vandu, Netherlands
As an Irishman I am disgusted. Firstly, this should not be decided in a referendum - it is a personal issue. Secondly, why do men have a vote? There are so many issues with this disgraceful legislation. They are trying to ban the morning after pill and IUDs because they now say that life begins on insertion of the sperm and not implantation of the egg - how crazy is this? Not one cell has even divided yet. If a woman receives an abortion she will receive 12 years in jail. They will not abort in cases of incest or rape. Welcome to the developing world where we deny rights! If Ireland allowed abortion, but counselling was made compulsory there would be less Irish abortions. I implore any lawyers out there to challenge these laws under the human rights act. Please, this is an issue of freedom and personal choice.
Hear hear, Sean the Irishman from UK. Why do men have a vote on this issue? It is entirely up to the woman to decide whether or not she can cope with the baby. I am not for abortion as a means of contraception but making it illegal will only force women to have botched up backstreet abortions - hardly progress in the 21st century!
I am puzzled by what appears to be the prevailing view in Europe: the death penalty is wrong, yet the life of the unborn child is treated as though it is a commodity that we can dispose of when it suits us.
All life is sacred. It seems to me that we don't even hold the life of the unborn child in as high esteem as that of the murderer, child killer or war criminal.
Sarah Kerr, England
The problem in Ireland is that birth control is also considered immoral, but in today's society young unmarried people are having sex, that is a fact. With no birth control on offer then more unwanted pregnancies are going to occur so the government needs to face these facts and wake up to reality and put in place the option for women to make the choice of having an unwanted baby or not. They should either offer decent birth control or the right to abortions.
Women should have the freedom to choose whether or not to terminate the life of the foetus in them. Imposing legislation on abortion may seem to be an issue of moral values and religious obligations, but it also restricts a woman's freedom to choose. By restricting their choices with regard to the foetus inside them is not only a form of disrespect for women, but also a step closer to forming an authoritarian society.
Making abortion legal could encourage more women to consider having it done, which I feel is morally wrong!
Richard Drozda, England
Abortion is not a fit subject for the law, in Ireland or anywhere else. A foetus is part of a woman's body. She, and only she, has the right to decide whether to carry it to term or not. All restrictions on this are pillars of the universal macho-theocratic perversion that rules the world and demeans women.
Abortion is ending a human life. This is not a moral issue, but simply a case of protecting the unborn child.
Andy Brown, UK
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act: Right to respect for private and family life. This right covers "The right to control your body." Surely this overrules any Irish abortion law?
The relationship in Ireland between the state and the church is an important one. It is also fundamentally correct in its doctrine against abortion. The rules permit where an expectant mother is an imminent danger is there only a necessity to abort premature life. My own personal feelings on the subject, is that the more laws are tightened the better because of life being sacred and because God has given that life in the first place and only he has ostensible authority over each and every one of us. Ireland is a European member of the now embraced European Union responding pragmatically to 'freedom to life'. Subsequent arguments to this concept are also not being open to abuse and so the decision of the Irish Government in my opinion is a correct one.
Brendan Fernandes, UK
The choice should be left up to the women and it is better than her dying from the immoral backstreets abortions.
Pregnant women who don't want their child, should have it fostered or adopted. Medical tests show that abortion is not healthy for the mother, and often can lead to bouts of serious depression later in life. Abortion isn't exactly healthy for the child either...
Sarah Mary, Dublin
Whilst I don't agree with abortion as I would rather unwanted children were adopted, I do believe a woman should have the option to consider it.
I oppose the proposals. Routinely, Irish women requiring an abortion have the job done in England. Ahern needs to depart from the archaic and draconian rulings of the Catholic church and provide in Ireland the facilities that his people so obviously require.
I do not support the Irish abortion rules but I do not agree with abortion either. I think, as with everything, there are occasions when abortion is necessary, for whatever reasons, and I don't think governments should legislate against people rights to decide for themselves what is right in their case. However, a referendum is probably the correct method to determine what the Irish people want.
History shows that abortion will happen whether or not it is legal. The referendum question should be: "Do you want abortions to be done by back-street quacks or would you prefer them to be done safely and legally?"
Evil is represented in human form by those who murder, rape, denigrate and impoverish those whom them deem to be less valuable as humans as themselves. The quintessence of this is the lethal attack on life least deserving - the unborn child.
Whilst totally agreeing this is a very important subject and it throws up many different views, I can't help being amazed at the extent that the electorate in the 26 counties are beating their breasts and talking about the right to life yet for 30 years they kept relatively quiet about the right to life for innocent people living in Northern Ireland.
A: They say that the risk of suicide by the mother shall not be grounds for an abortion. In this sense they overturn a previous Irish Supreme Court ruling that said it was.
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