Abortion, Ireland, and Constitutions

From The National Catholic Register:

As of this writing, Irish voters are preparing to head to the polls to cast their ballots May 25 for something once considered utterly unimaginable in the Republic of Ireland: whether to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution, which would effectively legalize abortion across the predominantly Catholic country.

The Eighth Amendment was passed in Ireland in 1983 by a national vote of 67%. It recognizes the equal right to life of the mother and the unborn child, which means that abortion in Ireland is illegal unless the mother’s health is endangered … Thirty-five years later, there is massive pressure from both inside and outside of Ireland to repeal a law that has historically been supported by the Irish people.

A “Yes” vote in the referendum … will unleash a process that abortion advocates openly say will lead to unlimited access to abortions up to 12 weeks. And it will not end there, as there are plans to include a legislative provision for abortion up to approximately 24 weeks… The United States is one of seven countries that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks. (my emphasis).

In these United States, we have the 14th Amendment, passed in 1868 to address the protection and rights of former slaves, essentially declaring the former slaves to be “persons”, biological human beings with the same protections under the laws as any other biological human beings. The relevant clause is that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” (my emphasis) Former slaves were now persons in a juridical sense, and now protected under the Constitution.

There is, of course, a difference between biological “personhood” and juridical “personhood”. A biological human being is, in a natural or common-sense use sense, a “person”. Most of us do not refer to our dogs, chickens, tractors or paint brushes as “persons”. I said, most of us don’t. Those who do are, wittingly or not, giving human characteristics to (anthropomorphizing) their tractors and paint brushes, a topic beyond the confines of this little post. Be that as it may, in what is still majority usage, a person is a biological human being.

I suspect the same was true for the framers of the 14th Amendment. They didn’t discuss unborn children; neither did they discuss the mentally ill, the aged, the terminally ill, the severely handicapped, the tax-paying fully employed adults, or any other categories of biological human being (besides former slaves). They did, I think it is fair to say, simply assume that all human beings were persons, and clarified this in a juridical sense: the framers of the 14th Amendment equated juridical personhood with biological humanhood. After all, prior to the Amendment, slaves, although considered human beings by most (not all) folks, were nevertheless not equally protected under the law. They were not fully persons in a juridical sense. That was the problem the Amendment sought to rectify; that’s why it came into existence.

In making abortion legal, the task before the Supreme Court with Roe v. Wade was to get around this little problem in the 14th Amendment. They did so by simply proclaiming the unborn human being an unperson. There is precedent, of course; after all, the Court in Scott v. Sanford had upheld the assertion that slaves were chattel, and in that sense both the rationale slavery and the rational abortion are exactly the same: there can be classes of biological human beings who do not have full protection under the law. Reflecting in detail on the implications of juridical personhood is beyond the bounds of this little post, but briefly consider this: if the Supreme Court of the United States can decide who, for legal purposes, is a person, and who is not, who else, besides unborn humans, might one day find themselves in the category of unperson? Anyone, or anything, may, or may not, be a declared by the Supreme Court a legal person depending on the whims and passions of the moment.

We have already pretty much fouled up our own Constitution. May God help the Irish on Friday, to know and understand exactly what it is that they may be doing to theirs.


PS: In these United States, of course, the slog against abortion continues. The most recent iteration is the Trump Administration’s rule to “prioritize abstinence education over contraception distribution in family planning funds.” According to Life Site News, some 20 attorneys general are suing to block this. Unsurprisingly, the Maine Attorney General is one of the twenty. I thought you might be interested.