Sometimes it seems to me that the referendum on the Eighth Amendment is about more than just abortion. Of course, primarily it is, but there are other significant strands.
This struck me particularly listening to the interview with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Today With Seán O’Rourke last Friday. When ‘yes’ campaigners are asked some hard questions I find they rarely do well. They don’t get it very often, and so are ill prepared.
That interview was robust, as it should be, but some of the answers were very telling – asked whether he thought a doctor was dealing with one or two patients in a pregnancy situation he answered: “The patient you’re dealing with is the patient in front of you. That’s the woman. At a later stage, beyond viability or when the pregnancy is wanted you treat it in that scenario as two patients.”
So the unborn child is only a patient if it’s wanted?
Later he was asked if it was a baby that was in the womb. He answered: “Absolutely…that often depends on the woman carrying the foetus or baby.” So, it’s only a baby if the mother thinks it is?
It was no wonder that Seán O’Rourke followed this up with an exasperated ‘‘is there not anything objective here?”. And there’s the heart of it – this referendum is at some level a conflict between extreme relativism and a sense that there’s an objective truth.
The referendum is also about how the media works in our democracy and how easily it can be compromised. There were a few cases in point last week, some of the worst cases of media bias I’ve ever come across.
I thought repeal campaigner Dr Peter Boylan did poorly on Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1) on Monday of last week , but in an outrageous move Newstalk allowed him on the next day’s Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) to do so some damage limitation, adding to a long line of soft interviews with this particular activist.
The same thing happened the previous week when he went on Liveline to do damage limitation for Dr Rhona O’Mahony. This time he was allowed unchallenged to attack Maria Steen (“purports to be a lawyer”), and the whole thing, it appears, led to remonstrations to Newstalk. The next day Pat Kenny called it a targeted attack because people were using similar words in their complaints! Then in a sop to balance, they had Steen on that next day, but predictably she got a right old grilling…and this was supposed to indicate balance and impartiality?
Last Thursday night there was another egregious example of media bias in favour of the repeal side. The Tonight Show, hosted by Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper, had a thorough debate on the Eighth, with Wendy Grace and Dr Kirsten Fuller on the pro-life side, and Sen. Catherine Noone and Dr Louise Kenny on the pro-choice side. I felt that Cooper’s questions were much more challenging to the ‘No side’, but the worst of it was a dubious “fact checking” exercise at the end by Sinead O’Carroll of The Journal.ie, when most of her points were at the expense of the ‘No’ side. Since when did The Journal.ie become some sort of neutral arbiter of accuracy?
Her points were totally unchallenged but could certainly be open to contradiction – for example she queried the one-in-five figure of UK abortions, but this figure had been confirmed an hour earlier on Prime Time. So, who checks the fact-checkers? If this had been specifically designed to undermine the ‘No’ side’s arguments, it couldn’t have turned out much different.
A Would You Believe special that night on RTÉ1 featured positive pro-life contributions from people like Cliona Johnson, Liz McDermott and Bishop Alan McGuckian among others. But what was most unnerving was the depiction of the abortion regime in Norway – how totally corrupted the culture had become in its routine acceptance of abortion.
One abortionist gave a disturbing account of one gruesome method, though not the worst.
Finally, on Today With Seán O’Rourke last Monday morning, the host gave a robust interview to former Taoiseach John Bruton, who nevertheless gave one of the clearest outlines of the pro-life perspective, continually bringing the debate back to the humanity of the boys and girls likely to be aborted in greater numbers if the Eighth is repealed.
Pick of the week
RTÉ1, Saturday, May 26, 9 am
Live coverage of the referendum count.
FILM: KING LEAR
BBC2, Monday, May 28, 9.30 pm
New version of Shakespeare play with Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson and Emily Watson. Moral issues galore!
RTÉ2, Wednesday, May 30, 10.50 am
Today in Magical Sites, some children are exploring the medieval monastery at Kilmalkedar in Co. Kerry.