My Catholic faith suggests I ought to have a reserve about referendums, the New York Times has a similar view. Referendums “distill complex issues into a simplistic choice, stoking a harsh type of populism.” They are particularly difficult in relation to social questions where opinion is nearly evenly divided. If pollsters are to be believed, in our forthcoming referendum there is a real likelihood that the result will be come in by little over 50% of those who vote. When a vote is split 51-49, society cannot move on, and we are stuck with a significant minority of disaffected people. As a Catholic and a citizen I fear a “Brexit impasse” on abortion when the dust of this campaign settles.
My Catholic faith leads me to the conclusion that abortion is never the appropriate response to a crisis pregnancy. It also asks “What are appropriate responses?, and “What support do women need that they won’t feel so desperate as to reject them?” The referendum wording reduces these complex questions to a simplistic choice, at best. A saved 8th, without post referendum energy channelled into the struggle for better support for woman will do nothing to change the current reality of abortion in Ireland. A repealed 8th without a commitment to better services for women, only streamlines the process by which termination becomes the response to the absence of essential support systems. Improved support for woman in Irish society is the essential complement to whatever outcome on May 25th.. Will our legislators enact laws mandating such support when the dust of this campaign settles?
My Catholic faith demands that I always leave room for bridge-building with those who disagree with me. Sadly, the trench warfare nature of a referendum campaign doesn’t allow for much “football in no man’s land”. After a narrow victory/defeat, will a harsh kind of populism have make cooperation difficult in areas of common interest? Can we imagine a future where those who worked so passionately to Save/Repeal the 8th will work together to create choices that can actually reduce the incidence of abortion in Ireland? My Catholic faith tells me both to pray now for such cooperation and, equally, to work later to make it happen……. when the dust of this campaign settles.