Abortion vote: Ireland is now in the secular camp of Europe

Ireland strengthened its position in a Europe that is drifting away from the Roman Catholic orthodoxy, as the “yes” vote to repeal the 1983 constitutional amendment won last Friday
Abortion vote: Ireland is now in the secular camp of Europe
Messages at a memorial to Savita Halappanavar a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland - Photo: Clodagh Kilcoyne/REUTERS
01/06/2018
15:19
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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The “yes” vote to repeal the 1983 constitutional amendment which guarantees the unborn the right to life, making abortion illegal unless the pregnancy is life-threatening, was expected to gain last Friday in the Republic of Ireland, yet not by a landslide, with a final result of 66.40% over 33.60% for the “no” camp.

Consequently, the Green Island has strengthened its position in a Europe that is drifting away from the Roman Catholic orthodoxy. “The reality is people are taking an à la carte approach,” declared after the shocking referendum the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin.

Speaking on the Irish public radio, Martin said: “I think what this referendum affirms is that Ireland is now conforming to a Western liberal democracy, especially on issues like abortion, same-sex, civil partnership, marriage, and divorce. People are self-identifying as Catholic. And I hear people saying they are Catholic but they don’t accept the church’s teachings.”

The Archbishop’s words summarized the path followed by his countrymen towards European social liberalism.

Once a staunch supporter of the Vatican diktat and its dogmatism on core issues as abortion and same-sex marriage (approved at a referendum in 2015 by 62% of voters, in the first time that a state legalised this type of union through a popular vote), as Poland, Spain, and Italy, the Irish society evolved from a conservative, agrarian, poor and relatively isolated orientation to an urban, selfish, postmodern, and rich Celtic Tiger” eager to catch up with its advanced neighbors.

It is likely that this process was accelerated after the financial crisis of 2008-2012.

The “yes” to the repeal of the eighth amendment swept almost every demographic: urban and rural (40 of 40 constituencies and every county but Donegal, in the Northern Ireland border), women (70%) and men (65%), young and mature adults. Only over 65s were majority “no.”

Therefore, the Dublin government and officials as Health Minister Simon Harris, who actively campaigned for the “yes”, have now strong support for its proposed law in the Oireachtas (Irish Legislature) permitting abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, subject to medical advice and a cooling-off period, and up to 24 weeks in exceptional cases.

As the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar called it, it is a “quiet revolution”. Incidentally, Varadkar is the first Irish head of government from a minority ethnic (Indian) background, the youngest to hold office (he was 38 years old on his election) and the first openly gay.
 

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The tide turns North

Malta and the Vatican are now the only European countries where abortion is entirely banned, while at the international level there are three other countries: Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

The impact of the repeal vote is especially strong in Northern Ireland, where the Labour opposition is challenging British Prime Minister Theresa May to demonstrate her “feminist credentials” by relaxing stringent local abortion laws.

The shadow Attorney General, Shami Chakrabarti, said reforms that brought the rights of Northern Irish women into line with the rest of the UK were “a test” of the tory leader.

He added that unless devolution was restored to Belfast quickly, the British authorities could no longer ignore the plight of vulnerable women in Northern Ireland and should act.

The Irish Employment Minister, Regina Doherty, increased the pressure on May, stressing that her country, where new laws are expected to be in place by the end of 2018, had “set the tone” for what should happen in the North.

All eyes will be set on Pope Francis’ visit to Dublin in August, to attend the World Meeting of Families.

The Vatican strategists could not expect more bad news, in the context of an increasingly irrelevant church plagued by self-inflicted clerical sex abuse scandals (all of Chile’s 34 bishops offered Francis their resignations in the wake of a child sex episode and cover-up this month) and an inability to keep up with and reach contemporary Catholics.

Coming from “the ends of the Earth” as the pontiff said, one could suggest that Francis has given up the battle for Europe’s souls. He is focused on the future in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, where his Jesuit ideals prioritizing the poor are popular.

However, the first non-European head of the Catholic Church in nearly 1,300 years is facing a growing challenge from the Old World’s right-wing clergy: in Poland, now considered the most faithful Catholic country of Europe, there is a merger between the traditional values that Pope John Paul II promoted and the extreme nationalism of governing Law and Justice party, which opposes Francis’ calls to accept migrants and to preserve the environment.

In other countries such as Italy, Hungary, and Croatia, church officials are not hesitant to express their nostalgia for the days when Pope Benedict XVI identified secularization and mass immigration as the main challenges to the European identity.

However, the Bavarian pontiff resigned five years ago and today, living in silence and retirement, himself has become the symbol of a declining moral order in urgent need of renovation.

Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen