That they may have life – A pastoral reflection by Bishop Brendan Kelly on the upcoming referendum

New life

At long last, spring is in the air, and with it, a new spring in our step.  All around us life is burgeoning again, new life.  We cannot cut hedges anymore this year. It is strictly forbidden until autumn: the birds are nesting.  Our laws are determined to protect them so that new bird-life be given every chance.  Every chance of life, and rightly so.

At the same time, as a people we are in the throes of a massive movement to abandon the protection given in our laws and as contained in the Constitution of Ireland to new human life.  The proposal is to entirely remove all legal protection from every single child in this country for the first twelve weeks of his or her existence, and for the full term in the womb in certain cases.  It is to this that we will be saying Yes if we put ‘X’ in the ‘Yes’ box at the Referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment from our Constitution.

D-day will be 25 May – this glorious month of the Dawn Chorus and beautiful blossoming thorn trees, against the backdrop of long lingering evenings and bright mornings, of increasing warmth and the welcoming of summer.  Life blooming, new life.  All around us, everywhere … except …?


Motherhood, and in particular carrying new life in the womb, is an incredible gift to humankind and society.  I am deeply aware that motherhood is something we men can never fully appreciate – a mystery we can never fully know.  There is no greater service ever rendered to society than that of child-bearing and rearing.  Our health professionals and services in Ireland, thankfully, provide care that is second to none, even if there are sometimes serious failures that cause great pain and anguish.  The facts show that in the matter of childbearing, this country is amongst the safest places in the world for mothers and their babies.  The care that can be expected here is as good or better than in any other jurisdiction, better than in many wealthier and more highly ‘developed’ countries.  Without mothers none of us would exist at all and there would be no future.  At whatever cost, therefore, we must cherish and care for expectant mothers.

Church teaching on this is very clear: A woman in pregnancy must be given any life-saving treatment she needs, even if the child she is carrying will not survive this life-saving treatment. When such a sad and tragic event takes place in this way, and the unborn child thus indirectly dies so that the mother can live, there is no moral or ethical issue.

This distinction between direct and intentional killing and the indirect and unintentional death of the baby in the womb is crucial.  Abortion is the direct and intentional killing (termination) of the embryonic or unborn human life and is always as such ethically/morally wrong.


Love is the fundamental law: love God and love one another.  Pope Francis reminds us that love is able to see good in the most negative situation.  He said this recently when speaking to parents of children with very rare diseases, and he went on: ‘Love knows how to safeguard the little flame in the midst of a dark night’.

Critical to this love is solidarity – the support of others: husbands and fathers in the first place, family and community, the whole nation gathering around the ‘little flame’ of new life, and gathering equally around any bewildered, suffering mother, parent or family.  In this year, when we in Ireland are focussing on the gift of family as we prepare to welcome thousands from all over the world to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in August, surely, we must not abandon the tiniest of human lives by removing from them the right to life in their first three months in the womb.

The right to life is not and never can be in the gift of any parliament or legislature.  It belongs to each of us simply as human beings, from our first moment of existence to the moment of natural death. The Eighth Amendment – Article 40.3.3 – puts words on this fundamental truth of our humanity in the Constitution of Ireland.

‘Do not be afraid’

No phrase appears more often in the Christian Scriptures than ‘Do not be afraid!’ or ‘Fear not!’  Above all do not fear being little and small, weak or vulnerable.  It is this very weakness that calls us to a love that is real and deep and true, calls us out of ourselves, out of isolation and into community, into family.  Is it not the very littleness and fragility of the baby that touches our heart and calls us to respond?  Our disabilities and our wounds have a unique power to humanise and bring us together to become a truly civil and civilised society.  Surrendering to fear does not lead to either happiness or freedom, but rather to isolation and conflict.  The constant call of God/Love is, ‘Do not be afraid’.


There is something scandalous about presenting ‘termination’ as a first or simple solution.  Unwanted and difficult pregnancy is a reality.  In the current debate, it often seems we have nothing but abortion to offer distraught mothers.  Does this ‘solution’ not let us all off the hook regarding the critical matter of being a truly caring and compassionate society?

The Challenge

Our challenge in Ireland today, at every level, is to build a society that truly cherishes motherhood and parenthood.  We must ensure that all the necessary supports for mothers and their children in the womb are put in place regardless of cost.  But it doesn’t end there.  We must work towards a society that values every single human life, young or old, able or disabled, weak or strong.


As people of faith in the God of Love, Creator and Father of all, I am asking that we all pray intensely at this time for the strength and courage to live that same self-giving love that Jesus Christ lived.  Let us bring that strong love and compassion to all our words and actions in this crucial life-and-death matter.  Let our listening be filled with heart-felt care, our words kind and clear and convincing.

In this month of Mary, let us confidently ask for her help, along with that of Joseph her husband and Jesus their child, that all we do personally and as a people will bring healing and life to all who are fearful, and especially to those who are entirely dependent and innocent.

May our votes be life-giving on 25 May.