Turning a minority into a creative minority
Amidst the obvious hurt and disappointment felt in the wake of the passing of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, those who stood up for the voiceless unborn and voted ‘No’ on May 25 can feel rightly proud of their stance. This is not a time to allow sadness to turn to despondency and inaction. Those who voted ‘No’ now have the job holding the Government to account as it begins to draft abortion legislation.
Some commentators have said that the decisive nature of the ‘Yes’ victory which paves the way for a liberal abortion regime in Ireland up to 12 weeks’ gestation means that those who voted ‘No’ should go away and allow others to be in the driving seat. This is to ignore the fact that a truly pluralist democracy allows all voices to be heard. Any society that does not have a creative minority critiquing the dominant political thrust or questioning cultural assumptions is all the poorer for that lack.
It’s also worth remembering that the number of people who voted ‘No’ – 33.6% of those who voted – is more than any political party managed in the last general election. No one, for example, would suggest that Fine Gael is irrelevant because it attracted just 25.5% of voters in the 2016 general election.
Those who canvassed, put up posters, spoke in the media and took a stance in favour of the Eighth Amendment should be proud of their efforts and take comfort from the fact that they spoke for a third of the people.
The road that lies ahead is not an easy one for the pro-life community. But has it ever been easy? The first task will be to hold the Government to account on their proposed abortion legislation.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the law will mean that abortion will be rare in Ireland. He will have to prove how he will ensure this, for in every other jurisdiction where abortion is introduced it soon becomes commonplace. What will the Government do to make Ireland unique? The Tánaiste Simon Coveney says he wants to ensure that the legislation cannot be further liberalised. What are his proposals to do this?
Minister for Health Simon Harris has also said that abortion on grounds of disability will be illegal – there is no sign of this in the draft legislation – what safeguards will he put in place to be true to his word?
It’s also worth considering the fact that of those who voted ‘Yes’, only 52% of them according to the exit poll were comfortable with abortion being unrestricted during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This means that there are a considerable number of people who might be described as ‘soft Yes’ voters who opted to vote for abortion in the hard cases rather than on demand. Pro-life people need to reach out to these people and find common cause in ensuring that abortion does not become even more liberal in Ireland. It would be wrong for the Government to use their ‘Yes’ as if it were a carte blanche for abortion.
Those who voted ‘No’ also have a wider political responsibility to ensure that the Government does not get off the hook on the broader social justice and culture of life issues.
Being pro-life means standing up for the unborn, but it also means calling attention to the dreadful way this State treats asylum seekers, to the seeming indifference of authorities to homelessness, to the crisis that has become almost accepted in our health system, to the chronic under-funding of schools and the isolation felt by so many people in rural Ireland.
Those who voted ‘No’ on May 25 are a minority – but they have a choice whether they are content to be dismissed as an irrelevant minority or whether they will fight to be a creative minority. Be not afraid!