It is not easy to speak about the up-coming referendum. But it is absolutely necessary. We will not get this chance again. It is about life and death. Every one listening to or reading this letter started life in the womb of his or her mother. We are reminded of this by our belly-button! – like all human beings, we were attached by a lifeline to the womb of our mother. I praise God for my mother. May you praise God for yours. May God bless all mothers.
We are social beings, always connected to others. The little baby in the womb, no matter how many weeks old, how feeble, or how he or she was conceived, is one of us, of our flesh, our brother or sister, a child of God. She or he shares the same humanity and human rights as all of us. The only difference between them and us is their tender stage of development. The first few weeks of pregnancy are the most rapid in terms of development. The heart starts beating just 21 days after conception. By week 8, the nervous system is responsive. A baby can kick and leap about in the womb and suck its thumb by week 12. All this happens before the mother’s bump is showing!
In our native language the word ‘unborn’ is translated as ‘beo gan breith’, which literally means “alive but not born”. The genius of our own native tongue sums it up: alive but not yet born. The baby in the womb is alive and no one has the right, and can never have the right, to end this little human life. It is always wrong to intentionally do so. The command of God is crystal clear, “You shall not kill.” Nor do we have the right to vote to take a life. It is undemocratic. It is not fair.
I know that some of you listening to or reading this may have personal experience of abortion. My heart goes out to you. Please do not think that you are being judged. We all make mistakes and do things we regret. I do too. Let us learn from the hurts of the past. The healing and mercy of Jesus is always available. Since 1977, the staff and volunteers of Cura have been helping those in crises to find inner peace, courage and healing.
Our modern technological culture is becoming more and more individualistic and we risk becoming desensitised to the rights of the very old, the severely disabled and the baby in the womb. There is an old Jewish saying, “He who saves one life, saves the whole world”. Either every life counts or no life counts. To deliberately take one life is to undermine respect for every human life. In a recent survey, 70% of GP’s stated they are opposed to being involved in carrying out abortions. It is a fact that maternity care in Ireland is one of the best in the world, better than in countries like the US and UK where abortion is available on demand. Our Constitution protects mother and baby equally. Can we love and show compassion to them both and not pit a mother against her child? The baby deserves our compassion too.
I believe there is a silent majority, including many young people, who instinctively know this. We all need to speak up for the truth.
Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland is now the only defence against the ruthless introduction of the deliberate and awful taking of innocent human life as happens in Britain and elsewhere. Today, in England and Wales 1 in 5 pregnancies are aborted. Over 185,000 abortions were performed in 2016. If the Eighth Amendment is repealed abortion legislation will follow and, within a few short years, we can expect Ireland’s abortion rate to rise rapidly as it has in Britain and many other European countries. We will have abortion on demand. Let us not make the same mistake here.
In the ballot box in this referendum on 25 May your vote will determine whether many Irish babies live or die. This is the stark and uncomfortable reality. This referendum is about the kind of Ireland we want to live in. Will we continue to be a country that welcomes and protects all human life, born and unborn, mother and baby alike? Therefore I am voting ‘NO’.
We did not create ourselves or give ourselves life. Life is a gift from God and comes into being through our parents. In the womb of our mother we were ‘beo gan breith’ – alive but not yet born – craving more life and the chance to play our part in the world. Every baby deserves the same chance as ourselves: to live.
- Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan is Bishop of Waterford & Lismore. The Diocese of Waterford & Lismore consists of 45 parishes and includes County Waterford and parts of counties Tipperary and Cork. The pastoral message will be distributed at all Masses in the diocese over this weekend. The patron saints of the diocese are Saint Otteran, Saint Carthage and Saint Declan.