From a Church of Ireland perspective, what were the ethical issues to be considered at the time of the passing of the Eighth Amendment in 1983, and now, in 2017? Several points can be made:
The last 50 or so years have seen a welcome gradual integration of Church of Ireland people into wider society in the Republic of Ireland as that society has become more pluralist, less monochrome, and more willing to embrace all forms of diversity. Church of Ireland people today express a similarly diverse set of perspectives on a wide variety of social, political and moral issues as others in the local community or wider society. They are often, however, perceived as being more liberal on social issues, and this is generally accurate.
The word ‘liberal’ is often bandied about, and in this context it refers to values and views which emphasise the importance of the individual as distinct from, though not over against ‘community’ or ‘society.’ This liberal or person-focussed approach is rooted in reformation theology, where the emphasis was on the centrality of the individual’s relationship with God, or conscience, and personal freedom to express that faith, if necessary, against a consensus in church or social teaching. Liberal in this sense is not synonymous with ‘radical’ or ‘favouring change’ nor is it always the opposite of conservative.
In 1983, then, Church of Ireland people, shared the same general opposition to abortion with the majority of Irish people at the time, and that was stated time and time again by church spokespersons. On this issue, they were opposed to the use of the Constitution which can often be seen as inflexible, in contrast to legislation which has the potential to respond to unforeseen situations more readily. Church of Ireland opposition to the proposed amendment centred on the exceptions, out of concern for the individuals who might be
affected. There were concerns that if the amendment was passed it would rule out any possibility of termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, or conception after rape or incest – situations where many Protestants out of concern for the life and well-being of the mother, would consider to be situations where termination might have to be an option.
There was also concern that some forms of contraception might be outlawed, and also that the newly emerging eld of assisted reproduction might be curtailed in some of its techniques. Some of the
high profile cases which emerged in subsequent years, the ‘X’ case and the ‘C’ case, for example, or many
other situations which didn’t reach the headlines, showed that such cases can arise.
Allowing for difficult situations
It is reasonable to expect that Church of Ireland people continue to share the same approach to abortion in 2017 as others in Irish society – i.e. that probably a majority continue to be opposed to abortion, and that Protestant emphasis on the need to allow for difficult situations which can arise, is still an important factor in forming an opinion.