Cynthia M. Allen

Ireland's pro-life experiment may be a road map for Texas

A pro-life demonstrator at the U.S. Supreme Court after the court struck down the Texas abortion law.
A pro-life demonstrator at the U.S. Supreme Court after the court struck down the Texas abortion law. TNS

Imagine a place where the unborn and their mothers have an equal right to life under the law.

Where maternal mortality rates are consistently low.

Where despite the dire claims of pro-choice proponents, women are not dying in the streets or being butchered in back-alleys to obtain the so-called "health care" available to women on demand in many other progressive nations during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

That place exists. It's called Ireland.

More than three decades ago, the unmistakably Western nation deliberately chose to buck the liberalizing trends of its neighbors and ban abortions, except in narrow cases involving the life of the mother.

It was an audacious move in its time that has no doubt saved countless lives.

All of that could change Friday when the people of that island nation vote to repeal or preserve the Eighth Amendment to the country’s constitution, thus giving the government the go-ahead to legalize the procedure and provide abortions as an on-demand service.

While the polls (which can seldom be trusted) suggest a victory for the repeal side, there's a good chance that loosening restrictions on abortion won't transform Irish society into the progressive paradise many repeal proponents claim. That's at least in part because present-day Ireland is a far-cry from the Handsmaid's Talesque nightmare invoked by abortion proponents, who tend to view access to the procedure as the singular gateway to female empowerment and freedom.

Ireland is not a backward, right-wing dystopia where women are second-class citizens. Its restrictive abortion laws aside, Ireland is widely recognized as a modern, Western, liberal (its prime minister is openly gay and the son of an Indian immigration) nation that boasts many family-friendly and women-friendly policies.

In the World Economic Forum's rating of countries with the lowest gender gap on income, Ireland comes in a respectable sixth, well above nations with more liberal abortion laws like the United Kingdom and the United States.

As further evidence of Ireland's progressive record on gender, the World Economic Forum's latest comprehensive report rating a number of global gender gap measures, including educational attainment, health, political empowerment and economic opportunity, Ireland placed eighth-best in the world, not far behind the Northern European utopias of gender parity — Sweden, Norway and Finland.

As a frame of reference, Canada, where abortion is legal in all stages of pregnancy, ranked 16th. The United States came in 49th.

Irish law also entitles women to 42 weeks of maternity leave — an exceptionally generous benefit when compared to other European nations — and offers women one of the longest periods of paid maternity leave in Europe.

And while the female workforce participation rate is slightly lower than similarly-situated Western countries, the New York Times' Ross Douthat points out that Irish women are just as likely to be in managerial positions as their counterparts in Norway and Switzerland.

All of this matters because it dispels the myth that women are empowered only when they have unfettered access to legal abortions.

Still, repeal supporters cite women like Savita Halappanavar, who died in a hospital shortly after being denied an abortion, as evidence of the law's deadly consequences. Halappanavar's case is undeniably tragic, but also exceedingly rare. Maternal mortality rates in Ireland are not only low but comparable to those of surrounding nations with few restrictions on first trimester abortions.

And repeal proponents argue that the law hasn't stopped Irish women from obtaining abortions. Many women travel, usually in the U.K., to access the procedure. Still, plenty of women do not. Ireland still has one of the lowest abortion rates in Europe, contrary to the farcical notion that countries with liberal abortion laws have fewer abortions.

The law hasn't caused Ireland's out-of-wedlock birthrate to spike, either — it's too high, of course, but notably lower than many European nations and the U.S. And Ireland's divorce rate also is remarkably low.

Indeed, Ireland's great social experiment of the last 30 years proves a nation can be both pro-life and pro-woman and challenges those who argue the two cannot coexist

Ireland offers a practical example to social conservatives for how to successfully marry strict abortion laws to truly pro-family policies. Take note, Texas.

What a remarkable affirmation it would be for the people of Ireland to continue to prove the rest of the West wrong about abortion.