Edmonton’s Irish community remains torn over a referendum in their homeland that could repeal a constitutional ban on abortion, which would make it available for the first time in 35 years.
“It’s going to be a very close vote, that’s my sense,” said Mike Fagan, adding Ireland has become more and more polarized over the issue since he emigrated in 1953. “My prayer is hopefully that the referendum goes according to the ‘No’ (to repealing the ban).”
Ireland’s eighth amendment to its constitution banned abortion starting in 1983. If the ban were to be repealed in the May 25th referendum, Ireland was expected to allow for abortions up to 12 weeks, except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk or the unborn child wouldn’t survive birth.
This is the sixth referendum on abortion in Ireland, currently the largest Western democracy to ban abortion.
Fagan says he’s concerned that repealing the amendment would leave the door open for even weaker abortion restrictions — or even none at all. There is no legal right to abortion in Canada. There has been no law at all since the Morgentaler decision three decades ago.
“Here in Canada, we don’t even have a time frame on when a person can abort a child,” said Fagan, who works at the Marian Centre in Edmonton. “If the Yes vote comes in Ireland, there might be more pressure for less restrictions on abortion.”
For Bridget Cahill, an Irish expatriate living in Edmonton, the referendum has been long overdue.
“It’s about time the eighth amendment was changed, because it didn’t do anything for anyone,” said Cahill, who has served as the Irish embassy’s honorary consul general for more than 17 years.
A nurse by profession, Cahill says repealing the amendment would allow doctors to save the lives of mothers with life-threatening pregnancies.
“The patient had to be at death’s door with the baby before (doctors) could intervene,” said Cahill, who has lived in Canada since 1970. “There’s been so many unfortunate deaths because of the eighth amendment.”
“The Irish Church is at a turning point. (The referendum) will gauge the credibility of the Church on matters of human life and give a clear signal to the Church about what sort of mission field she stands before once this weekend passes.” – Father Matthew Hysell
Father Matthew Hysell, a priest in the Edmonton Archdiocese, says legalizing abortion will ultimately hurt women the most.
“A large number of abortions take place because of pressure from the male partner who prefer to be more chauvinistic than chivalrous with regard to women,” said Hysell, who is of Irish descent.
Hysell said repealing the abortion ban would also challenge Ireland’s Catholic identity.
The official results of the referendum are to be announced on March 26.