Some Irish believe lives were saved by country's prohibition on abortion

IMAGE: CNS photo/John McElroy

By Sarah Mac Donald

DUBLIN (CNS) — In the last
major pro-life rally ahead of Ireland’s May 25 referendum on whether to liberalize
the country’s abortion laws, thousands gathered to say “no” to
far-reaching proposals that could see abortion on demand up to 12 weeks, and
even later in some cases.

In less than two weeks, people
in Ireland will be asked if they wish to repeal Article 40.3.3 of the
Constitution, known as the Eighth Amendment, which enshrined a ban on abortion
in 1983 and gives equal right to life to the mother and the unborn child.

The Irish bishops have warned
that if the Eighth Amendment is repealed, legislation the government plans to
introduce would make Ireland one of the most liberal abortion regimes in

Among the speakers who addressed
the weekend rally in the shadow of the Irish parliament on Dublin’s Merrion
Square was Mary Kenny, 24, a single mother from Pallaskenry. She believes the
Eighth Amendment saved her daughter’s life.

“Holly’s life literally
hung in the balance in the early stages of pregnancy,” said Kenny, who
became pregnant at age 19. “If it had been a matter of just driving down
the road to the nearest abortion clinic or to my GP, almost certainly Holly
would not be alive today.”

Instead, Kenny believes the near
total ban on abortion in Ireland gave her time to think about her pregnancy and
opt to keep her baby.

“My first thought was
abortion. I looked up the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and decided
that I would travel to England to end the life of my small baby,” she
said. She would have been one of the 3,265 Irish women who annually make the
trip across the Irish Sea to Britain for an abortion.

However, she discovered her
passport was out of date, so she could not travel.

“I became frantic and I
ordered abortion pills online,” she explained to Catholic News Service.

She broke down in front of a
colleague. “I told her my feelings of hopelessness and (of) the pills that were
on the way. She told me she would have given anything to have been able to
become pregnant, because all her children were adopted. ‘You can do this,’ she said.
At that moment, those small words of encouragement were all that I needed to

Holly arrived Nov. 19, 2013.
Kenny continued with her college studies and has since secured a degree in technical
communications and electronic learning at the University of Limerick.

Addressing the rally on May 12,
Kenny said: “We know that at least 100,000 lives have been saved by the
Eighth Amendment. We meet so many women that regret their abortions, but nobody
regrets having their child.”

While polls indicate that the “yes”
campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment currently polls at 45 percent of
voters, the gap between the two sides has been narrowing in recent weeks, with
34 percent saying “no” and 18 percent of voters still undecided. Nearly
4 percent gave no opinion.

Gavin Boyne, 20, a student of philosophy
at Trinity College Dublin, told CNS he is strongly opposed to a repeal of the
Eighth Amendment, which he believes saved him from being aborted.

“I have heard the
pro-choice side argue that abortion should be legal in less-than-ideal
conceptions,” he told CNS. “I am the prime example of a less-than-ideal
conception. My mother was 16 and got pregnant after a one-night stand. That is
not ideal, but does that make me less valuable as a human being?”

Warning that repealing the
Eighth is stripping unborn babies of their humanity, Boyne said a “yes”
vote would suggest that “choice and convenience take precedence over human
life, and that is a very slippery slope to go down. We have seen cases in the
past where a certain group of people has been dehumanized and anything then was

On campus, he has found “a
very strong ‘yes’ presence.” Many students are “very hostile and
aggressive,” but he said he worries that “they have been fed
soundbites, not facts.”

Someone else who knows the
challenge of being pro-life on campus is 21-year-old Katie Ascough. She was
impeached as University College Dublin’s Students Union president over her
decision, following legal advice, to remove information from the student union handbook
on procuring an abortion.

Ascough, a graduate in medicinal
chemistry and chemical biology, told CNS, “My impeachment, if nothing else
— it highlighted the issue of freedom of speech in our country, especially on
college campuses.”

Tracy Harkin’s fifth child was
diagnosed at birth with Trisomy 13, a severe life-limiting condition.

“We were told at that time
that she was incompatible with life and that over 90 percent (of) children
diagnosed with this don’t make to a year old. But Kathleen has defied all
medical expectations, and she is still with us today at 11 years of age. She is
our little miracle,” said Harkin, 43, of County Down.

Harkin is a member of the
support group Every Life Counts, which assists parents whose children are diagnosed
with a life-limiting condition. If the referendum passes, she believes the
impact on children with a disability will be dramatic.

“Unborn children with
special needs will be eradicated. It is heart-breaking for me, because I think
special needs people bring so much to our families and our communities; they
are a blessing. They teach us how to love and they bring out the best in us,”
Harkin said.

“There will be huge
pressure on parents if they get a diagnosis of disability. In Britain, 90
percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted, and with no time limits. What
does that say about the value of disabled people in our society? It is really
worrying — we have got to prevent that happening.”

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