Statement of the Irish Episcopal Conference on the proposed Abortion Referendum

12 Dec 2001

Statement of the Irish Episcopal Conference on the proposed Abortion Referendum

1. It is the clear and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church that human life is sacred from the moment of conception. In his 1995 Encyclical Letter The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae) Pope John Paul II re-stated the teaching that “the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception…Therefore from that same moment his or her rights as a person must be recognised, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life”(#60). Nothing can ever justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.

2. The basic right to life is a natural and moral right which does not depend on legal or political recognition for its value. However, the Church has always insisted that a primary function of law is to protect the most needy and vulnerable human beings, including the unborn.

3. For these reasons, it is the responsibility and the entitlement of the bishops of Ireland, in communion with the Universal Church and its Supreme Pastor Pope John Paul II, to offer guidance to our people regarding the proposed Constitutional amendment as set out in the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy) Bill, 2001.

4. At present, the law in Ireland concerning the right to life of the unborn is determined by Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the “X Case”. It remains our conviction that the judgement in that case is profoundly flawed. It is for this reason that we have called on many occasions for a new referendum which would effectively overturn this judgement and restore adequate protection for the unborn.

5. We welcome and support the new proposal as a significant improvement on the current unsatisfactory situation. In particular, this proposal would appear to set aside deficient aspects of the “X Case” judgement, including the acceptance of the risk of suicide as a legitimate ground for justifying abortion.

6. We are satisfied that, on any reasonable interpretation, the specific and particular protection offered to the unborn by the new proposal does not dilute or weaken the general protection already afforded by Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

7. But even if this new proposal is enacted, outstanding issues remain which require the ongoing attention of our legislators. We believe that the existing rights of the unborn from the moment of conception under Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution need to be reinforced by precise legislative measures.

8. In particular, we are concerned that adequate and clear legal protection be offered to the unborn prior to implantation. This is particularly urgent in view of what is happening and what is likely to happen in the area of cloning and research on human embryos, and also in the area of assisted human reproduction where particular problems arise regarding the storage and disposal of human embryos. It is of vital importance that embryos are never treated other than as human persons whose inherent worth and dignity are valued and vindicated.

9. In this regard, we are about to make a substantial submission to the Government Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction setting out in detail our moral concerns in this area.

10. The issues raised and addressed by the proposed referendum are crucial and merit the serious attention of all voters. In recognising the proposed legislation as a significant anti-abortion measure rather than a comprehensive pro-life amendment, we see the proposed referendum as an opportunity to ensure that more secure protection is offered to the unborn. We believe that this is an opportunity that should not be lost, as a rejection of this measure would effectively leave the X-Case judgement as the authoritative legal interpretation of Article 40.3.3.

11. We share the concern of many groups and individuals that the new proposal strengthens legal protection for the unborn only after implantation in the womb. We understand the reluctance of many who are opposed to abortion to vote for a measure which does not seem to vindicate the right to life of the unborn from the moment of conception. However, it is our conviction that the new proposal represents a considerable improvement on the existing situation, and that it does not in itself deny or devalue the worth and dignity of the human embryo prior to implantation.

12. In dealing with what appears to be a limited or imperfect measure, we believe that, in the context of The Gospel of Life (#73), Catholic voters should feel free in conscience to support this measure, even if it is viewed as less than might have been desired.

13. We are of the view that a clear legal prohibition on procured abortion, as set out in this proposal, represents an important step towards ensuring adequate protection for the life of the unborn. However, we are aware that legal measures alone will never suffice, and that ultimately we must always be guided by the moral law, which forbids deliberate abortion and demands that we do everything in our power to cherish and support life at every moment of its existence.

14. Abortion, in the moral sense, “is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth” (The Gospel of Life #58). Any intentional destruction of human life once begun, whether by experimentation, so-called therapeutic cloning, chemical means, such as the morning-after pill, or by medical intervention is contrary to the moral law.

15. We wish to express our continuing commitment to supporting any woman faced with an unwanted pregnancy. In particular, we want to express our pastoral concern for those women who feel that abortion is the only option available to them. We warmly endorse the work of CURA which was set up to ensure that any woman unhappily pregnant has easy access to the help she needs.

16. At the same time, we are reminded by Pope John Paul II that “often the woman is the victim of male selfishness, in the sense that the man, who has contributed to the conception of the new life, does not want to be burdened with it and leaves the responsibility to the woman” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope p.206).

17. In conclusion, we encourage all our people to vote in the forthcoming referendum, and we ask that these coming weeks be a time of special prayer for God’s guidance. As the great feast of Christmas approaches we rejoice at the birth of the Christ-child who came into the world that we “may have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10)


12 December 2001

Further information:

Catholic Communications Office: (01) 601 6700
Fr Martin Clarke (087) 220 8044
Ms Brenda Drumm (087) 233 7797