Campaigning for the referendum to Repeal the 8th Amendment is now in full flow. I have not thrown myself into the debate in any meaningful sense because I think there are already many people to make the case for Repeal in much better arguments than I could articulate.
So I’ve been an observer, reading and listening to the debates. On RTÉ Radio 1’s Today with Sean O’Rourke program on Monday the 30th of April, Declan Ganley, described by Sean O’Rourke as an ‘entrepreneur and pro-life campaigner’, tried to put forward the logic that we should vote against repeal because otherwise we would be putting our ‘Trust’ in politicians. And in the era of constant governmental scandal and growing tally of famous feck-ups, how we could ever ‘trust’ politicians?
This is not an unfair observation. Apart from maybe lawyers or sales people, is there another profession in which its occupants are automatically assumed to be deceitful?
And it’s not just our elected representatives that are proving to be unworthy of our trust. The ongoing controversy over failings within cervical cancer screenings have shown that those working within the civil service are not only failing in their duties, but worse still, compounding the wrong by trying to cover up the mistake in the first instance.
That is the logic of this particular argument of the No Campaign; how can we remove the 8th amendment from our constitution when we can’t trust our elected representatives to do their jobs? It’s a clever tactic that will appeal to those who hold grievances against the political class, and there is no shortage of people who fall into this category. Referendums are an easy way to land a blow against a government when it’s in office.
But the No Campaign are hoping that people will not follow this logic through and see that it in fact invalidates the very argument they are trying to make. If we cannot trust the politicians who will draft the legislation on abortion if the 8th amendment is repealed, then who can we trust?
By arguing to keep the 8th, the No side want us to place our trust with the wishes of the voters from four decades ago. Granted, this is the principle in which constitutions function; these documents are the bones of our democracies and if well designed, they should last centuries. But the regulation of a medical procedure such as abortion has no place in a static text. For issues like this, we cannot place our trust in the morals and judgments of our predecessor citizens. If that was the case, slavery would still have to be legal in the United States. The women’s place would still be in the home… oh, wait. We still have that one given to us by our forebears in the 1930s.
This referendum is indeed a question of trust and those we have to trust are women. We have to place trust in our elected representatives to draft laws around abortion that will then pass the trust onto women and their doctors. That is the only way to avoid continuing the decades of misery, abandonment and mistrust that Ireland has inflicted upon its women.