Ireland abortion vote ignites global debate

Religious objections: Marked in yellow are nations than ban abortion.

Should abortion be illegal? Today, Ireland holds a historic referendum on that issue. The vote, which looks set to be close, tackles what is arguably the world’s defining moral controversy.

Today, the eyes of the world are on Ireland as voters go to the polls to decide on one of the most divisive issues in the world: abortion.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless it is necessary to save the mother’s life. In most of the continent it is legal.

At its heart, the referendum is a struggle between the old-fashioned, strongly Roman Catholic, rural Ireland and the country’s younger, urban and more liberal side.

Initially, polls were heavily in favour of a repeal, but the gap is narrowing.

The debate comes down to these intractable questions: is a foetus a human being? And at what stage does it become one?

Pro-abortion advocates argue that it is not. A foetus cannot survive on its own, they say. It is fully dependent on its mother’s body, unlike born babies.

The problem with this argument is that it becomes a question of where to draw the line. Due to medical advances, babies born earlier and earlier can survive outside the womb. Opponents say that there is one clear line where life starts: conception.

There is also the question of a woman’s right to decide what happens to her own body.

If a foetus is considered a human, should its right to life trump a woman’s right to choose?

Culture war

Abortion should be illegal, say some. If you do not want to raise a child you can always put it up for adoption. Find an image of an aborted baby and any pretence that abortion is not the killing of a human crumbles instantly. All life is sacred, including that of an unborn baby.

It should be legal, reply others. It is unreasonable to compare a handful of cells one month after conception to a human being. And even if a foetus is alive, the “right to life” does not imply a right to use somebody else’s body. Banning it will only force women into dangerous illegal abortions.

You Decide

  1. Should abortion be legal?


  1. Divide into groups. Each group should research the attitude to abortion in one major world religion, then report back to the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“[Abortion is] the only form of violence which is never shown on TV.”

Peter Hitchens

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Today, Ireland is voting on the Thirty-sixth Amendment of the Constitution Bill. A “Yes” vote would mean that abortion becomes legal in Ireland, as it is in most European countries. We know that, in general, the world is becoming more liberal in its attitude to abortion.
What do we not know?
How the country will vote. Bookmakers make the “Yes” campaign favourites.

Word Watch

Thousands of Irish expats have travelled home to vote in the referendum. Most live in either the UK or the US.
Abortion is illegal
Malta and Vatican City are the only European countries where abortion is totally illegal.
Roman Catholic
This vote is also a test of the Catholic Church’s power in the country following years of revelations about child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests.
People who oppose abortion object to the term “foetus”, as they feel using a Latin medical term dehumanises the unborn child.

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