Former Taoiseach John Bruton has urged the people of Ireland to vote No in the upcoming referendum on the Eighth Amendment on 25 May. Writing in today’s Irish Independent, Mr Bruton wrote, ‘The idea that a constitution should protect human rights is, in fact, fundamental to our Western civilisation.’
The former Taoiseach wrote, ‘What human rights should be protected in our Constitution? Is a right to life not the primary human right, in the sense that without it other human rights could not be exercised? If a baby before it is born is a human being, should it not have human rights? These are the issues at the heart of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment.’
He continued, ‘The idea that a constitution should protect human rights is, in fact, fundamental to our Western civilisation.
‘Without a right to life, one cannot exercise any other constitutional rights. The right to life is thus the primary human right. For example, the Irish Constitution also explicitly recognises a right to freedom of expression, to one’s good name, to property and to elementary education. But none of those constitutional rights can be exercised if one had not first had the right to be born.
‘The Irish courts have gone further and have decided that the Constitution creates other rights, not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, so-called “unenumerated rights”. These unenumerated constitutional rights include a right to marry, a right to procreate and a right to bodily integrity. Again, it would be impossible to exercise any of those rights if one had not first had a right to be born.’
He added, ‘The Supreme Court has decided recently that a child in the womb has no rights at all, except the basic right to life contained explicitly in the Eighth Amendment. Now even that may be taken away if a majority vote Yes on May 25.’
Mr Bruton went on to say, ‘Abortion ends a life. Once it has happened there is no going back, no recovery. It is final.
‘Yes, there are tragic pregnancies, and difficult consequences flow from them. But at least there is some possibility to remedy, or alleviate, some of those consequences. But no remedy is open to the unborn child whose life is ended. It is over before it has properly begun.
‘The taking of the life of another, without its consent, can never be a private matter, for a woman or for a man. It is inherently a matter of public policy. Indeed, if human rights are to mean anything, any denial of the human rights of another person is necessarily and always a matter of public policy.’
He continued, ‘I have to say I have a real difficulty understanding the concept of human rights espoused by the proponents of abortion legislation. It seems that some of them believe a baby, before birth, is not really human at all. Thus, it would not have human rights, including a right to life. The idea here seems to be that, because an unborn baby is totally dependent on its mother, it is therefore not yet human, and has no human rights.
‘But dependency is part of life, and not a sound ground for denying the humanity of anyone. Babies after birth, and older people at the end of their lives, are deeply dependent, too. They could not survive on their own. But, to date, no-one is suggesting they should not have human rights. If a two-day-old baby is human, and has a right to life, why not little girls and boys three months before they are born?
‘What is the ethical and scientific basis for saying one has human rights, and the other does not?’
Mr Bruton concluded, ‘Without such a discussion, the referendum is premature. As a society, we must agree amongst ourselves on the basis and scope of human rights in Ireland before making a decision to withdraw the most fundamental of all human rights from a section of our people. We have not done that.’
‘That is why I urge people to vote No on May 25.’