Why, literally, every vote counts

Read, as we have it today, article 40.3.3, which will be amended in toto. (We will be repealing, as superfluous, the thirteenth and fourteenth constitutional amendments too.) For practical purposes, it secures a right of abortion already, in “another state”. It was passed by 62% of voters in 1992, on the same day as 65% of voters rejected a horrible proposal, called the twelfth amendment, to outlaw abortion in cases of a suicide risk.

There was a high turnout for those referendums, because they were held the same day as a general election. 68% of the electorate voted on those proposals. By stark contrast, 53% of the electorate voted on the eighth amendment.

These referendums arose because of the X case, where the government had obtained an injunction to prevent a rape victim, now pregnant, a 14 years old, who was suicidal, from travelling for an abortion in England. The public had been sensitised by this. So yes, pretty natural that a proposal to ban abortion when there is a risk of suicide was rejected; and that a right to travel was guaranteed.

What gets me is the following: the right to travel was an acknowledgement of personal autonomy; or bodily autonomy if you prefer. My guess is, what was going on in voters’ minds was pretty visceral: you don’t tell a person where they can and can’t go. You don’t trap them in a country.

Tomorrow’s vote is an extension of that acknowledgement: you don’t trap a person in a situation, which, knowing their own mind, they know they do not want, and which they wish to change. It ought to be as visceral as the right to travel.

“Acknowledgement”, “a person”… this is a deliberate use of some of the No campaign’s language. I notice they say to read article 40.3.3, but they never quote the acknowledgements put there by a high proportion of Irish people in 1992 (which in theory they must want some day to repeal). “The baby in the womb is a person too.” Arguments from etymology are slippery; I would not want to rely very heavily on this… but person comes from the Latin persona, the actor’s mask… A large part of morality happens face to face, between people of complex interests, and different views (given artistic expression on stage). That’s what makes it personal. Having the No campaigners look those seeking the acknowledgement of their autonomy in the eye, and say they know there is a better option for them, has been the most chilly, impersonal element of this process.

(I’ve been keeping track about lies too, and while there has been some Yes fibbing, the No people are much bigger, ballsier liars.)

In 2002, a second attempt to outlaw abortion on the grounds of a suicide risk was defeated very narrowly indeed, by 10,500 votes. And the turnout was low: 42%. Because the “pro-life” people were split on that amendment, they all later claimed there was a “pro-life” majority in the country.

So there is a trend here. A large turnout calls forth people with a respect for autonomy, a sense of the personal, and a knowledge of real life. A small turnout brings out the ideologues. That’s one reason to vote.

The other is that a strong majority for the amendment will send a signal that the Oireachtas should legislate in line with its proposed Bill on termination of pregnancy, which is a reasonable piece of proposed legislation. Even if we could be 100% sure of a Yes vote, when it comes to the legislation to follow, every vote literally counts.


One thought on “Why, literally, every vote counts

  1. ‘Person,’ then, should be replaced with ‘Being’; in this case Human Being.
    I think that acknowledgement that there should be a right to free movement (though taken with the intention to procure an abortion) can’t really be extended as an argument that the condition of carrying a child is in some way cognate or related to this right.
    There are two of these ‘Beings’ involved, interwoven in far more complex ways than an overlapping venn diagram. The vote was about denying one of these Beings its recognition, which was voted for by most people in the hope that the termination procedure which will follow the eventual legislation will only occur under the duress of heavy straits upon the mother.
    The rights we try to ensoul in our laws have no viscerality without reference to these Beings, in this case the duration of symbiosis of two Beings, Mother and Child. Their viscerality is indeed the least part of them, but it is the outermost threshold of which the law must treat.

    If the actions of an Omnipotence to re-route the spirits of these children to another existence can be invoked to ameliorate our consciences here, then the same can be done with the post birth killings of disabled babies that is today carried out in the Netherlands.
    But the lawmakers today believe their rules to be the arbiters of reality, perhaps therefore person in the sense of ‘mask’ is apt enough for their purposes, an idol for reality. They have placed a space for the thrust of a knife into the constitution, in their scheme of things it cannot kill.


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