Fionnbharr Rodgers, Contributor.
‘Science informs us that the zygote or fertilised ovum already has the entire genetic code of a human being. For that reason it is an actual, not a potential, human being,’ wrote Fr. John Joyce in The Irish Times of 27th February.
The sentiment of his article was not unfamiliar, as one receives the same from those who subscribe to a Pro-Life perspective across all climes, classes, and colours. Their religion, their philosophy, is theirs. It is right that accommodations are made for that whenever one finds themselves making the case for choice; we could all benefit from tempering our emotions in contemporary political discourse, in general.
However, the debate to which Fr. Joyce was adding his shilling- that of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment – is not a philosophical quandary; if Aristotle (or, indeed, Douglas Adams) has not by now crafted a definitive description of what is human life and where it happens to begin, then there seems little chance that we will today.
I would like to think that the fact that the zygote contains the genetic code of a homo sapien is such an obvious one that it does not need to be printed in a national newspaper, yet it does not answer the question of the nature nor origin of human consciousness. Getting ourselves involved in these conversations, on a political level, is usually as productive as chasing a rabbit down a hole.
The debate today is over the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland:
”The state acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and , as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
This is, first and foremost, a debate about the law of the land and so our primary occupation should be on the formation of the practicable. The last line of the amendment is also the most interesting.
President of Fianna Fáil, and Leader of the Opposition, Micheál Martin caused a controversy last month when he reversed his position on the subject and came out in favour of Repeal. He defined himself as coming from a ‘pro-life perspective’ but also recognised the disparity between his own conscience and the circumstance of another, and entirely autonomous, person. No one of considerable note is an advocate for abortion: the pro-choice perspective is, as the name suggests, an advocacy of choice and thus believes that policy should be that which serves the public interest and overall safety.
Regardless of the swing of the upcoming referendum and regardless of the law, abortion happens in Ireland and it will continue to. All which is within our power is to decide whether abortion will be safe or unsafe.
History shows that prohibition doesn’t work. US cities in the 1920s were awash with speakeasies and bootleg beer; today, it is nothing but easy to purchase marijuana of varying qualities and descriptions; and abortion happens in Ireland. Criminalisation merely adds danger to the inevitability.
The result of the referendum, to be held this summer, will only ever determine whether abortion is carried out by medical professionals in sterilised premises, or by much more perilous means.