The debate over the 8th Amendment has featured much discussion about the issue of disability and abortion. While some advocates of abortion say that repeal will not lead to abortion on disability grounds, others within the Together for Yes camp are openly calling for this precise outcome.

Currently, the constitutional protection which is afforded to unborn children by the 8th Amendment means that no law could be introduced allowing for the targeting of unborn babies with disabilities.

Yet if the only legal protection which unborn children have left is stripped away, we will have to hope that our politicians will not follow the example of other jurisdictions.

Abortion on Disability Grounds in the UK – a Sign of What’s to Come?

Minister Simon Harris and other Yes campaigners are understandably nervous about addressing the realities of abortion in the UK, as they eagerly try to convince us to follow Britain’s lead by allowing abortion-on-demand.

In Britain, abortion is legal right up until birth in cases where there is a “risk that the child would be born ‘seriously handicapped.’”

As ultrasound scanning and screening technology has improved, more and more disabilities and health conditions are being identified in utero, and this is taking a grim toll on disabled unborns.

In 2016, according to the Department of Health statistics for England and Wales and the NHS statistics for Scotland, there were 3,422 abortions on disability grounds in the UK.

While children with Down Syndrome accounted for many of these abortions, babies with plenty of other conditions are also being targeted. Foetuses with heart problems are being aborted, as are many with spina bifida, or cystic fibrosis.  

Many of these conditions are not life-threatening at all, and the names are commonly known due to high-profile people who live with them, not to mention the various charities which exist to help such people to live better and more fulfilling lives.

Growing numbers abortions are now taking place as a result of unborn children being diagnosed with a cleft lip or palate – a condition which alters facial appearance slightly and which is easily fixed through surgery.

Statistics from the UK’s Department of Health showed that 30 babies were aborted between 2013-2015 for having this minor condition. By 2016, abortions due to cleft lip or palate had nearly tripled in just five years.

Given the scale of the abuses taking place, it is perhaps surprising that British lawmakers have not acted to amend the legislation now on the books, and to provide some protection for those with disabilities.

Part of the reason why this has not happened can be attributed to how politicians – and ordinary citizens – have become inured to such statistics.

This has happened elsewhere too, and whole societies now turn a blind eye to the practice of widespread abortion for babies who are deemed imperfect. What should be scandalous has become routine.

Another reason why the situation persists is the lobbying efforts of abortion activists and the international abortion industry, which have been fighting hard to resist any legislative moves to protect disabled people.

Late last year, for instance, the American state of Ohio passed a law banning abortions being performed solely on the basis of a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. A lawsuit to overturn this legislation has since been filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood and other leading abortion providers in Ohio, so eager are they not to lose out on this portion of their lucrative overall business.

A World Without Down Syndrome?

Indeed, Down Syndrome has been the focus of much discussion in this area. In contrast with other conditions which are used to justify abortions, Down Syndrome is comparatively well-known.

People with this condition are instantly recognisable. Many attend mainstream schools and even universities, and large numbers of people with Down Syndrome live independently, and have their own careers.

Having an extra chromosome does not define a person with Down Syndrome, and it does not prevent those with the condition from living long and happy lives.

None of this has prevented a worldwide process taking place which has resulted in countless thousands of babies with Down Syndrome being aborted, a process which recent technology has enabled and which could soon result in entire societies becoming virtually Down Syndrome-free.

Whereas in the past, parents only found out that their children had Down Syndrome when they were born, the development of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) has meant that tests can now be carried out early in pregnancy, with 99% accuracy.

The numbers are chilling. As a recent fact check from confirmed, statistics from England and Wales show that 90% of pregnancies with prenatally diagnosed Down Syndrome are terminated.

Britain is not an outlier in this respect: the percentage of parents choosing abortion in such cases is rising internationally. According to The Washington Post, the figure in the US is estimated at 85%, while in Denmark it stands at around 98%.

The normalisation of abortion in cases of Down Syndrome has been so striking that in 2016, a BBC documentary made by the Bridget Jones’s Diary star Sally Phillips focused on the real-world implications of new screening technologies for the condition.

A trip to Iceland – where virtually 100% of Down Syndrome diagnoses had ended in abortion over the previous five years – was a particular highlight of the documentary, entitled ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome.’

Phillips discovered that a local photographer has even taken portrait shots of some of the remaining Icelandic citizens with the condition.

The segment featuring a young woman with Down Syndrome looking at pictures of those like her, in the full knowledge that they might be the last generation of Icelandic people with Down Syndrome, makes for chilling viewing.

This is a worldwide problem now. In February, The Irish Times published an article which focused on the prevalence of abortion in cases of Down Syndrome in Germany (a country which really should know better when it comes to this sort of thing).

The journalist Derek Scally noted that about 0.07% of the German population have Down Syndrome, in contrast with Ireland where the rate is 0.15%.

That means that in proportional terms, there are more than twice as many people with Down Syndrome in Ireland than there are in Germany.

This is not an accident, but a direct consequence of the fact that Ireland’s abortion laws, as they currently stand, prevent Down Syndrome pregnancies from being terminated, while many other countries do not.

In a very brave move considering the known leanings of his employer, Scally even referred to the  method by which the lives of these unborns are ended. “For late-term abortions after 20 weeks, not uncommon in Down Syndrome cases, a lethal injection of potassium-chloride is used to stop the heart before labour is induced,” he wrote.

The mass ending of unborn lives. Lethal injection. Potassium-chloride.

You can choose to look away, but these are the facts of what widespread abortion has done to disabled people elsewhere.

Brave New World

Even with the 8th Amendment, Ireland is showing dangerous signs of embracing the culture of eugenics which has grown rife in Britain.

The master of Holles Street and leading Repeal campaigner Dr. Rhona Mahony recently spoke about the popularity of screening tests for Down Syndrome which can now be done from as early as 9 weeks into pregnancy: well before the Government’s proposed cut-off time for abortion access.

“The screening test is 99% predictive,” Dr. Mahony explained, adding that large numbers of expectant parents are availing of Down Syndrome screening services in Holles Street annually. “It looks like 50% continue and not continue.”

Not continue.

Mahony, like many on the Together for Yes side, is no stranger to reaching for euphemisms when the facts prove difficult to justify.

Worrying though this is, screening for Down Syndrome and other disabilities has not become as routine here as it is elsewhere.

This is quickly changing though, and the HSE has set October of 2019 as the target date for providing full access to foetal anomaly scans nationwide.

Technological advancements in healthcare are most welcome in virtually all cases, and finding out whether an unborn child has a medical condition can have great benefits. For instance, life-saving surgery can now be performed in utero: a true wonder of our modern age.

Yet this rush to introduce foetal anomaly scans is not solely being driven by a desire to treat pre-born patients. Something more sinister is also afoot.

In November, a leading obstetrician at Cork University Maternity Hospital Dr. Keelin O’Donoghue called for the Irish health authorities to speed up their plans to offer all pregnant women a routine fetal abnormality scan. She didn’t shy away from addressing the elephant in the room.

“There is no doubt that one of the reasons why you offer anomaly scanning is to facilitate choice around the termination of pregnancy,” she said. “That is just a fact.”

Indeed it is. And should all constitutional protection for the unborn be erased, this new legal environment will come into being at the precise moment when it has become easier than ever to identify which unborn children suffer from which disabilities.

At the outset of the debate on the 8th Amendment, many politicians – Lisa Chambers of Fianna Fáil for one – attempted to persuade voters that Down Syndrome testing could not be done before 12 weeks, in spite of the availability of such tests being public knowledge.

Details of the Irish Maternal Fetal Foundation’s NIPT service for Down Syndrome and other conditions from 9 weeks of pregnancy can be accessed here: not that a clarification is likely to be issued by Deputy Chambers, or increasingly discredited Dr. Peter Boylan, who tried to dismiss such fears back in January.

This falsehood from the Repeal side was so blatant that we are hearing less of it these days.

A more important point needs to be made though.

Screening technology is rapidly advancing. In time, many more conditions will be able to be diagnosed in utero.

We are not just voting on what the abortion law should be in 2018. We are voting on what the abortion law should be in 2028, 2038, and 2048 as well.

Before we decide to remove the constitutional right to life and entrust our legislators with absolute power to deal with life-and-death issues, we should closely examine what has happened in other jurisdictions, and what could happen as vulnerable human beings are made instantly identifiable – and targetable.

Can We Trust Politicians to Protect the Disabled?

‘Trust’ can be an overused word in politics. Irish politicians like Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris – who together bear much of the blame for the recent crises endured in our health service – are quick to ask for it, but their track record of rapidly embracing abortion-on-demand after having publicly opposed it suggests that their current opposition to abortion on disability grounds might not be long-lasting.

Varadkar has been on a journey, he likes to say, but there is no indication that he has yet stopped.

More important than Varadkar’s political pliability is the growing support for abortion on disability grounds within the Irish pro-choice movement.

The Abortion Rights Campaign – a driving force within Together for Yes – openly supports abortion-on-request in cases of disability right up until birth. “If a woman feels unable to raise a child with a serious illness or condition she should be entitled to an abortion if she feels that is the right choice for her,” they state.

Pro-repeal politicians tell us repeatedly that the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment voted against advocating abortion on disability grounds.

True enough, but what they fail to add is that not one, but five members of the Committee did vote to legalise abortion in cases of “non-fatal foetal abnormality without gestational limit” – in layman’s terms, abortion on disability grounds, up until birth.

The five included Deputy Kate O’Connell, a rising star within Fine Gael, as well as the co-leader of the Social Democrats, Deputy Catherine Murphy; whose vote may be needed to form the next coalition government.

Simon Harris’ attitude towards the issue of people terminating pregnancies after finding out that their unborn child is disabled has gone from outright denial, to something that verges on acceptance: Irish women choosing abortion after a Down Syndrome diagnosis are “not doing it lightly” he says.

Advocates of a UK-style abortion regime for disabilities can be confident of winning him around before their legislation is introduced into a future Oireachtas.

Varadkar’s supine nature should ensure that he too will be an advocate for change when the time comes: perhaps he can assure us then that abortions for disabilities will be “safe, legal and rare”.

And it will be a cold day in Hell before that other failed health minister Micheál Martin stands up for the right to life of any unborn baby, disabled or otherwise.

Most pleasantly of all for those pushing abortion as a solution to physical or mental disability will be the fact that with the 8th Amendment gone, all that will be necessary will be a Dáil vote: because if the 8th is repealed, the Irish people will never be consulted about this issue again.

The Greatest Moral Issue of Our Time

This is why this debate is more important than any other, and why May 25th will arguably be the most consequential date in the history of our democracy.

If we choose to remove constitutional protection from the unborn, we are absolutely certain to follow the path which has already been trodden by many others: where more and more disabled people are deemed undeserving of life, and where fewer and fewer disabled people are born because of the choices which have been made by others.

Some say it won’t happen in Ireland. They’re wrong.

Nations are unique, but no nation is uniquely virtuous. The culture which leads to 90% of British pregnancies with prenatally diagnosed Down syndrome ending in abortion was not always present within that decent and noble nation.

Instead, it came to exist as a result of laws which allowed the ultimate injustice of the destruction of the weak by the strong to not only occur, but to become routine. So will it here, if we do not save the 8th on May 25th.

The world which advocates of abortion seek to create is one in which the value of a person’s life is established based solely on the worth which is assigned to it by others.

It may be a world without disabilities, but it will be a world without mercy and compassion as well. Think about this before you vote.

For once we walk down this road, there is no going back.