Even by to the New York Times’ current standards, the lead sentence was a headspinner.
The topic was Ireland’s abortion vote, a matter on which the Times team had written exhaustively (google “Ireland abortion vote New York Times” and you get at least 19 stories) before last week’s vote to change the country’s constitution to allow abortion up to 12 weeks.
But do take a second look at that first sentence, then keep reading for a few more lines.
DUBLIN -- Ireland voted decisively to repeal one of the world’s more restrictive abortion bans, sweeping aside generations of conservative patriarchy and dealing the latest in a series of stinging rebukes to the Roman Catholic Church.
The surprising landslide, reflected in the results announced on Saturday, cemented the nation’s liberal shift at a time when right-wing populism is on the rise in Europe and the Trump administration is imposing curbs on abortion rights in the United States. In the past three years alone, Ireland has installed a gay man as prime minister and has voted in another referendum to allow same-sex marriage.
But this was a particularly wrenching issue for Irish voters, even for supporters of the measure. And it was not clear until the end that the momentum toward socially liberal policies would be powerful enough to sweep away deeply ingrained opposition to abortion.
Was there any editor on duty when this no-holds-barred editorial arrived at the copy desk? Can all opposition to abortion in Ireland truly be reduced to “generations of conservative patriarchy?”
Here at GetReligion we call this Kellerism; a term named after former Times executive editor Bill Keller that means a media outlet that has made up its mind on a certain hot button issue to the point where there is no legitimate other side to the story. Thus, only one point of view needs to be included in the coverage. Click here to read a tmatt "On Religion" column that includes the crucial Keller remarks on this subject.
Compare the Times’ treatment to the Associated Press’s take.
In the end, it wasn't even close.
Irish voters -- young and old, male and female, farming types and city-bred folk -- endorsed expunging an abortion ban from their largely Catholic country's constitution by a two-to-one margin, referendum results compiled Saturday showed.
The decisive outcome of the landmark referendum held Friday exceeded expectations and was cast as a historic victory for women's rights. Polls had given the pro-repeal "yes" side a small lead, but suggested the contest would be close.
There are some parts of that lede I’d change (ie sub in “abortion rights” for “women’s rights”), but it’s a lot better than what the Times offered.
For those of us across the pond who haven't read up on this issue, one rallying cry was "Repeal the 8th," referring the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution, instituted in 1983, that barred abortion from the land.
The Times had a lot of obvious emotional capital invested in the election results and employed a small army of reporters to ferret out angles to it all, even running one story about Ireland’s fashion industry taking sides in the drama.
But their reporting wasn’t just about the election, it was about the obviously fading Catholic Church. In a May 27 piece, a Times reporter all but wrote the church’s obituary:
In August, Pope Francis will return to Ireland for a World Meeting of Families event attended by the church’s most committed anti-abortion activists. But they will find themselves, after Saturday’s historic repeal of an abortion ban in a landslide vote, in a country that is clearly part of Europe’s secular sprint out of the Roman Catholic fold.
Across Western Europe, the church’s once mighty footprint has faded, in no small measure because of self-inflicted clerical sex abuse scandals and an inability to keep up with and reach contemporary Catholics. Church attendance has plummeted, parishes are merging, and new priests and nuns are in short supply. Gay marriage is on the rise, and abortion is widely legal.
And yet, Francis is not sounding the alarm or calling the faithful to the ramparts. He seems resigned to accept that a devout and Catholic Europe has largely slipped into the church’s past.
The Times wasn’t the only publication to declare the end of the rule of Catholicism in this country. The Guardian did likewise by twinning the vote with the rise of its prime minister, Leo Varadkar.
Neither Varadkar nor his party have a track record as long-term champions of women’s reproductive rights. Less than a decade ago, Varadkar was describing himself as anti-abortion.
But that was a different country and perhaps a different politician. He came out as gay publicly in 2015, before Ireland’s landmark referendum on marriage equality.
The popular vote for gay citizens to have the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples in Ireland was a remarkable repudiation of Catholic doctrine, and a sign that the church’s once unbreakable grip on the country had loosened.
In another piece, the Guardian pointed out that even Ireland’s bishops were throwing in the towel.
Two Irish archbishops have acknowledged the dramatic reversal of the Catholic church’s domination of Irish society after the results of the referendum on abortion.
Eamon Martin, the archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland, said Irish culture had changed and that people had drifted away from the church.
Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin, told a congregation that the results would be seen as a sign of the marginal role of the church in today’s society.
This point of view was echoed in unlikely quarters on the opposite side of the spectrum at the American Conservative, which ran a piece by a Belfast writer agreeing that “Catholic Ireland is Dead and Gone.”
Not every media managed to express what Politico did; that many citizens were more voting against one thing than for the other. As this article said:
Proponents for repeal argued Ireland’s existing laws punish women, and they noted several thousand Irish women already travel to Britain each year for abortions while others order illegal pills online. Cases such as the 2012 death of 31-year-old Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar remained a rallying cry to remove the abortion ban, which has been in place since 1983.
“I’m not voting for abortion, I’m voting for the repeal of this amendment and I think they get confused,” said a 71-year-old female voter who preferred to remain anonymous. “Why should women have to go to England to get an abortion?”
Disappointingly, I found very little coverage of the Catholic laity’s reaction to it all.
ABC-TV was one of the exceptions by talking with a number of disappointed parishioners in Dublin. One wonders what might had happened had the national Catholic Church not been so mired in scandal. Would the vote have been less lopsided?
Stay tuned for similar efforts to change laws in Northern Ireland and for legislation that will pry away Catholic influence on the country’s health and education systems. If the church there is as dead as both sides are saying it is, that won’t take long. And you can bet the Times will be there, happily covering it.