Thursday, 13 December 2018
Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
With goodwill to all, this is a sad moment for hundreds of thousands of people in our country. It is a moment of great change but it is not permanent negative change. It is a crisis for solidarity with some of the most vulnerable in Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of people are very sorry that this day has come. It could be said that Ireland has not so much caught up with the rest of the world but, rather, lost its lead and the rest of the world has caught up with us in terms of this very sad and despairing way of dealing with a human dilemma.
As we consider how we got here, it is useful to reflect on how past wrongs sometimes lead to counter-reactions and injustices. I think of past injustices of men towards women, the despair of the events of the 20th century internationally and the emergence of Marxism and its focus on the resolution of injustice through conflict between people. It is fair to say that a movement has grown which has driven a wedge between women and men and women and children and chosen to see a conflict of rights instead of a reconciliation of rights in response to many human problems.
I pay tribute to the visionary people who in 1983 established a constitutional principle that cherished all human life. Although it is true that many travelled abroad for abortions, it has always been wrong to say that this was only a matter of whether people had an abortion abroad or at home. There has not been sufficient emphasis on and realisation of how many lives were saved because of the eighth amendment, how many women avoided abortion regret and how many children grew up to be adults, to survive and thrive in our society. There is no easy way to deal with this dilemma but it is always better to take the route that does no harm and does as much good as possible.
One could dwell on politicians, promises given by political parties, promises not kept and people misled and deceived. One could also reflect on the corruption of medicine at home and abroad and on the coercion of people's consciences. They are all issues that flow from unjust law. We do have a problem. In the name of "compassion", innocent lives can be taken away. That is a matter of concern to anybody who sees himself or herself as an inclusive humanitarian. In our topsy-turvy world, this silencing of the invisible vulnerable voice is called "compassion". It is even called "human rights". It is, sadly, a travesty of respect for human rights and human dignity.
There is hope. Advances in science increasingly help us to a realisation of the wonder of life in the womb from its earliest stages. Once more, we will see stirrings of idealism. A new generation will emerge, and is already emerging, that will demand a return to solidarity. Nothing is forever. Much focus was given to the cheering after the result of the referendum, something that many people, including "Yes" voters, found disturbing.
Less attention has been paid to the many young people, not a majority but numerically significant, who see this in human rights terms. Some of them are people of faith and some of them are not. They see it as something that should be of concern to all faiths and none - including the weakest among us. We are at our best as a society when we make room for the weak and the invisible and the powerless. That is never about saying "No" to supporting women in their dilemma. It is a both-and solution, instead of an either-or solution, that has always been at the heart of the pro-life message.
We will arrive at a moment where there will be more education and cultural change in favour of a more inclusive vision of human rights. The Minister may talk about erecting barriers to those who would protest. I would certainly never want to engage in any activity that would stop people from accessing what is a legal entitlement but neither the Minister nor anybody else can ever silence the voices of those who will want, in a loving and respectful way, to offer and to persuade in a better direction in a way that cherishes all human life.
These people I have spoken about, whom I have met, who are texting me today, men and women, younger and older, people in college and people in the working world already, these are the people who will respond in ever more active, kind and vigilant ways to try to create a better future. Today is not the end of the pro-life movement. Today is the beginning of a new phase in its work. There are encouraging signs in other parts of the world. Angela Merkel's successor as head of the Christian Democratic Union, CDU, party in Germany, is pro-life and would wish to take things in a better direction there.
Even when a majority is strongly against, the thing about the pro-life message is that, because it is rooted in something that is good and beautiful, it always has new ambassadors as each new generation comes forward. It is my hope, and something I see in these young people, that they are not out to divide. They are out to bring people together in a search for solutions that are inclusive, respectful of women, men and people born and unborn. There will be civil rights activism in the name of that important civil right that is conscientious objection. I refer to a person's right to go his or her way peacefully, to do no harm to others and not to be caught up in processes that are unjust and do harm to others.
We have reached the end of this phase. We have lost something, noble, good and productive. I am sad to say that, in the short term, we will see the negative fruits of the repeal of the eighth amendment and the legislation that has followed. I already see, however, the early light of the bright new dawn that is ahead.