Religious Views on Abortion and Restrictive Laws in Ireland

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Archbishop Eamon Martin's Religious Views Against Abortion
  • Ensuring Safe and Legal Abortion: Women's Reproductive Rights
  • Local Experience of Abortion


September 18th, 2018 was the day a referendum was passed in Ireland, to remove the constitutional ban on abortion. In this research paper I will be addressing how religious views on abortion and ethical views on the legalisation of abortion differ by looking at a variety of stakeholders perspectives on Ireland’s repeal, and how their religious and ethical beliefs influence their decisions. The stakeholder perspectives that will be discussed in this paper are the U.N, represented by the perspective of Anand Grover who is a lawyer for legal activism, the Catholic Church of Ireland represented by Eamon Martin’s religious perspective and finally the view of Siobhán Whelen who has witnessed the cruel restriction of Ireland’s previous abortion laws. The issue at hand is a controversial one, and Ireland has changed it’s stance after the referendum. Ireland had one of the most restrictive bans on abortion before the movement to repeal the eighth amendment - which was dated all the way back to 1980’s - and has become much more visible in the recent years. The campaign increase in popularity, has no doubt been caused by the new generation of feminists, rising recognition of the importance of equality and rights and the accomplishment of the legalisation of same sex marriages in 2015.

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Archbishop Eamon Martin's Religious Views Against Abortion

A perspective within ireland, is that of Eamon Martin archbishop of the ireland catholic church who holds a strong religious perspective on abortion and believes that the referendum obliterates the right to life of unborn children. Eamon Martin goes on to say in a pastoral message that “by creating a culture where the decision to end the life of an unborn child is portrayed as simply a matter of individual choice” in simple terms he believes that letting this referendum pass gives the message that ending life is permissible and that some human lives - in the context of the unborn - are less significant and deserving of protection and the right to live than others. As mentioned earlier Martin has religious beliefs stemming from the “seven core values of Catholic teaching” one of the which states “care for god's creation” which is directly related to the issue at hand and justifies his strong opposition to abortion. Furthermore, his strong religious beliefs are reflected clearly in his pastoral message as it strongly resembles the view of the catholic church’s general synod, which states “the foetus has the right to live and develop as a member of the human family, we see abortion, the termination of that life by the act of man, as a great moral evil.” Martin’s strong religious beliefs is likely the result of him being the major contributor to the Irish Catholic Church, and his early closeness to the church through his parents teachings. Additionally Martin seems to follow a deontological ideology, since he believes that it is wrong to abort a child as it is essentially killing it, so he believes the right thing to do is to never get an abortion but he does not consider the consequences an abortion ban, consequences such as not being able to raise a child due to economic instability or maybe there was a rape case and the mother never intended to have a child in the first place but is now forced to do so, Martin’s disregard for the consequences and alternative moral dilemmas in relation to abortion highlights his moral absolutism, as his morals are not relative to any of the situations mentioned above. So, judging by his perspective on abortion Martin follows the duty ethics approach as he believes in doing the “right” thing but does not consider the consequences and seems to believe in moral absolutism. In 1983 when the anti-abortion clause was added to the constitution the voting turnout for that amendment was 66.9% in the favour of the clause, today 66% of the votes were to repeal the same clause and give women the right to abortion, showing that the perspective of Eamon Martin and the church is that of the minority and if his belief gained popularity, then many would believe that this was a direct attack to rights of women and their decision to not have a child, this would result in feminists reacting with outrage. Additional consequences of a no abortion belief being upheld would be that people would come to have a greater value the life of humans and it would spread the message that the lives of all humans, kids and adults alike, are equal and the thought of ending a life is not a personal choice but can be seen as morally incorrect.

Ensuring Safe and Legal Abortion: Women's Reproductive Rights

A global perspective on this issue is from Anand Grover, the United Nations Special rapporteur for health. He believes that those who are prepared to prosecute and jail women for wanting an abortion are infringing a women's human right. In a poignant report Anand Grover states that “Criminal prohibition of abortion is a very clear expression of State interference with a woman's sexual and reproductive health because it restricts women's control over her body, possibly subjecting her to unnecessary health risks.” He believes that all states should provide safe and legal abortion services for women, because anything otherwise, contravenes human dignity by restricting the freedoms which individuals are entitled to, in relation to decision making and bodily integrity. Aspects of his view can be connected to the ethical system of utilitarianism. In utilitarianism actions are justified as right or wrong based on the outcome that creates the greatest good for the greatest amount of people or creates pleasure for the greatest amount of people and when the government is interfering with someone's personal choice and controlling what they do with their bodies, then it is not producing the greatest good for the largest amount of people. Put simply, Grover’s utilitarian view explains that women have rights to their bodily integrity and have rights to choose whether or not women want to have an abortion, although, in the ethical belief of deontology it may be seen as morally wrong, the action of giving women their freedom and rights to their own body is for the greater good. If a greater amount of people starterted to reside with this view, women wouldn’t need to have unsafe and illegal abortions which lead to an estimated death of 22,800 women, because banning a women’s right - abortion - doesn’t stop them from getting abortions it just increases the risk of a complication that could prove to be fatal.

Local Experience of Abortion

A local perspective on the issue comes from Siobhan Whelan who has personally witnessed the restrictive laws of abortion in Ireland. In 2010 Siobhan Whelan was denied access to an abortion despite of being diagnosed with fatal fetal syndrome during her pregnancy, which meant that the foetus had under developed vital organs such as the heart and the brain, meaning that if the pregnancy were to take course, the child would be stillborn or would die within hours of birth. Since Whelan was forced to continue with the undesired pregnancy the child was born with the abnormality and survived for 3 hours before dying in the arms of Whelen and her husband. Whelan believed she was subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

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