ireland abortion referendum
Ethics & Morality

Ireland abortion referendum: what is a child when set against the demands of freedom?

This is a guest post by Carl Jacobs: a Christian by grace, a Calvinist by conviction, an American by birth. Husband of one, father of two, an Engineer by profession, proudly possessed of a military mind. You never actually take off the Uniform. Not really.


It’s one of those impossibly ignorant statements that passes for wisdom: ‘Violence never settles anything.’ In fact, violence will settle almost everything – quickly, efficiently, and with alarming finality. That is why we create so many laws against its employment. If violence didn’t actually settle anything, then people would not use violence to solve their problems and it wouldn’t need to be outlawed. In truth, the possibilities for solving problems with violence are almost limitless. Is the neighbor’s dog barking at 3:00 in the morning? A quick .22 calibre round into the dog’s head will put an end to it. Did a man damage his neighbour’s automobile? The application of a fist to the offending jaw (plus the removal of money from his wallet) should provide adequate recompense. Does a woman become pregnant when she would prefer not to be pregnant? There is a medical technician who can help. He will dismember the offending body, tear it to pieces, and then wash away the residue. Of those three examples, two will result in jail time. The third will earn plaudits from the Enlightened Assembly. The Enlightened care more for their dogs and their cars than they do for their children.

Ireland has joined the ranks of the Enlightened. It will soon dismember its constitutional protection for the unborn. The Referendum for Repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution produced a large majority of 66% in favour of overturning it. I know some had hoped in the image of Brexit and Trump, but this was not going to be a case of the polls being wrong. This is a consequence of secularisation. As religion declines, so does resistance to abortion laws. It’s a matter of anthropology: the absence of religion fundamentally changes how a man sees himself. When a man believes himself to be a random event instead of a purposeful creation, he will inevitably draw the same conclusion about those around him. He will suddenly find it possible to make distinctions between lives on the basis of utilitarian criteria. Consider this example from a website supporting repeal:

The amendment equates the life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus and has created an unworkable distinction between a pregnant woman’s life and her health.

Why should no such “unworkable distinction” be created? It proceeds from the assertion that a human being is a wholly material being whose humanity is recognised by the presence of certain features – consciousness, for example, or independence. It therefore follows that a certain level of material development must be achieved before the existence of human life will be recognised. It will be admitted that a foetus is alive, but the significance of that life will be immediately denied. Certainly no responsibilities or obligations will attach to that life. It will be considered alive in the same sense that a pancreas is alive, or perhaps a mosquito – but not a man.

Once this judgment has been made, then the violent solutions present themselves. However, men fear violent solutions as much as they appreciate them. The fear originates in the not unreasonable assumption that violence may be turned in unwanted directions – toward themselves, for example. So they try to use these material distinctions to protect themselves from unwanted consequences. They reason that if a foetus is not a human being by virtue of its insufficient material development, then it may be killed without creating risk to human beings who possess such development – like themselves, for example. Man by nature is selfish in his conception of morality. He is primarily concerned with protecting himself from the actions of others. He is, however, likewise interested in enabling his self-interested actions at the expense of others. His perceived fear will be juxtaposed against his perceived benefit, and he will judge accordingly. He will, for example, demand that murder be outlawed so that he need not fear being murdered. He will likewise demand the right of abortion lest he be saddled with obligations he does not want to carry. The man who may be murdered will look too much like himself. The unborn child, however, will bear him no resemblance.

It is precisely in this area that Christianity finds itself in such conflict with the modern world. Much of the morality that Christianity brings into the public square is intended to restrict an individual’s ability to act in his own legitimate self-interest at the expense of those around him. Those boundaries we bring would enforce obligations that he would just as soon cross with impunity. And because human sexuality has such great potential to cause collateral harm, many of those boundaries involve sex. But our modern world will not hear it. A man will not keep his marriage covenant merely because he made it: he will divorce as he wishes. A man will not raise his children merely because he has conceived them: he will leave and start a new life if he so desires. A man will not discipline his sexual desire within a relationship: he will objectify whomever he chooses in order to satisfy himself, for he is the focus of his own world. His gratification is penultimate. And when unwanted ‘consequences’ intrude into this life of sexual selfishness, he will appeal to the technician who provides the ultimate guarantee of his sexual freedom and does so with violence. He seeks out the abortionist and his blood-soaked trade. For what is a child when set against the demands of his freedom?

The Irish Constitution was written to establish in perpetuity the rights of the unborn. Man, however, is incapable of establishing anything beyond the reach of his own right arm. What was done yesterday may be undone today. Likewise what may be undone today may be redone tomorrow. It is not man who sits in heaven and watches to see that his word is fulfilled. Man is a vapour and his words are vapour. Nothing will be final until the Last Day. Still, this is a terrible outcome. Men will cheer the result without even realising what they have done. They will declare their freedom even as they are delivered into the chains of their own judgment. For when men sin, God gives them over to sin that they may be consumed by it. They pour the drink into the cup with gladness, but do not yet realise that they will be made to drink it, every drop.

If there is a temptation to find sectarian advantage in this outcome, then resist it. This is neither a Catholic problem, nor a Protestant problem. Neither is it the time to engage in such disputes. This is a time to mourn for the innocent blood that will soon be splattered on the ground, and the judgment that has already been visited.

For God is just and men do not have the sense to tremble. But they will.