If nothing else, conservatives and libertarians can admire the sincere socialist belief in improving the material conditions of the working class. Whilst we (the former) may show a preference towards private ownership as well as a justified apprehension towards state control over the economy, it would be wrong to doubt the good faith position from which many socialists argue — motivated in many instances by conditions of poverty and injustice found in Ireland — even if their methods are misguided.
From this understanding one finds absurd the near unanimity by which the Left, either through political parties or affiliated organisations, champion the repeal of the Eighth Amendment protecting the unborn child. Far from overthrowing reactionary norms and liberating women, abortion plays fully into the hands of the neoliberal capitalism which the left seeks to replace. It is contrary to the stated goal of the left of protecting the most vulnerable in society, but is also at odds with a long history of social conservatism within the general left.
Abortion advocacy is inherently bourgeois
The statistical overrepresentation of working-class women having abortions is a well-documented phenomenon. In advocating for abortion many Irish socialists advance what could be the most harmful policy for working class children imaginable — that of prenatal termination. Similar to the demographic role played by emigration since the foundation of the state, abortion could very well be another get out of jail free card for the lacklustre Irish establishment, allowing for a prenatal reduction in low income children rather than any real reform regarding the welfare of children.
People Before Profit activists claim to be anti-system radicals; however, they are in effective alliance not only with big finance but with the increasingly state financed and self-organising consensus that is Irish media. The latter, in pursuit of toppling Ireland’s pro-life amendment, are acting as mere shock troops for the system. Lobbying for abortion in no way challenges large capitalists; in fact, it only furthers the creation of their desired world of atomized consumers free of tradition and at the mercy of the market.
The Left for the most part appears to have seriously given up on cultivating socialism, instead preferring to dominate in the sphere of culture, getting corporations to kowtow to social but not economic pressure. In part from this compromise the horrible spectre of the Social Justice Warrior emerges, tailored to perpetuating leftist dominance in the cultural sphere. Despite mouthing left wing rhetoric SJWs are entirely indifferent to the working class. The middle-class nature of the Repeal campaign has already been perceived by some commentators on the left, who are beginning to comprehend some of the inherent contradictions within the movement.
Similar to the Yes vote in the same sex marriage referendum of 2015, should the Repeal vote pass in May Irish leftists may find themselves scratching their heads, pondering why they are no nearer to socialism. The “neo-liberal” consensus they despise will become further entrenched with the energy that could have been used in a campaign around an issue like housing rights.
Left wing social conservatism
Often forgotten now is the strong historical tendency towards left wing social conservatism. Whilst the Soviet Union was officially the first nation to decriminalise abortion in 1917 it later recoiled from this, even promoting pro-natalist policies as the decades progressed. Trade unions, often informed by notions of Christian solidarity, have often shown a remarkable degree of social conservatism, not to mention apprehension towards policies around uncontrolled immigration.
Prominent cultural and literary figures from Orwell to Christopher Hitchens have expressed objections to abortion despite their Trotskyist credentials. In the case of Orwell his strident brand of Christianity (very often carrying anti-Catholic undertones) played a part of his politics. Hitchens, an avowed atheist, drew scorn from many on the left during the 1990s for his pro-life views and understanding that, despite his materialistic outlook, a foetus existed as much more than a clump of cells.
Much further back, figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft expressed views regarding abortion as being morally reprehensible and at odds with female liberation that would have found them ostracised by the modern left. Even Germaine Greer, for all her sexual radicalism, saw through the institutional interests propping up “abortion rights”.
Closer to home the Anglo-Irish comedian (and in his early days anti-fascist activist) Spike Milligan shocked many with his stridently anti-abortion poem “Unto Us” morbidly penned from the perspective of a discarded foetus.
This author and this journal wear their political views on their sleeves. Despite this, one can still observe a noble history of social conservatism that the modern left is forgetting at its peril, and which, if embraced would be far more radical against the current order than anything so far mustered by all the Repeal marches combined.
“All of the children of the nation equally”
Irish Republicanism presents conservatives with a great deal of awkwardness with its tendency towards Marxist struggle and general embrace of left wing politics since the 1960s. Notwithstanding, the movement has played host to a variety of pro-life voices both at an intellectual as well as an activist level.
The republican intellectual Desmond Fennell has cited attempts at abortion liberalisation as being part of the “consumerist liberalism” overtaking Ireland, and very much the continuation of the work done by British elites in Ireland during the years of occupation.
Sinn Féin TD [MP] Peadar Tóibín has been outspoken in his pro-life views, regardless of the conflict it brings him into considering his party’s stance. Despite the many issues that conservatives hostile to the republican movement may have, it is evident that there still exists a strong pro-life element hidden within the movement that may be relevant come May, similar to the way disgruntled Labour voters tipped Brexit over the line in 2016.
Pro-lifers of the world unite?
The social and political conditions from which the Eighth Amendment emerged in the early 1980s have largely evaporated with the effective implosion of political Catholicism in the interim 35 year period. Any pro-life electoral coalition that seeks to retain the amendment ought fully to comprehend this reality and endeavour to reach out to new constituencies otherwise unreached by social conservatism.
In Ireland where the right-left paradigm never fully solidified post-1922 there are many people traditionally unresponsive to social conservative causes due to the manner in which campaigns have been fought in decades gone past – that is, based solely on religious arguments. Yet there exist left-wing arguments against abortion on secular, pro-natalist grounds.
The upcoming referendum presents us with a frankly odd opportunity whereby people from across the political spectrum can engage in a common struggle in the fight to retain the Eighth Amendment. Considering what we know is at stake, it would be unfortunate to miss it.
Tomás Ó Raghallaigh is a contributor to The Burkean Journal, a recently established online political and cultural magazine in Ireland that promotes conservative thought and ideas. This article is republished with the permission of the editors.