European Union

Ireland's Abortion Controversy Highlights the European Establishment's Fetish For Centralized Power


It is often said that one of the goals of the political project that is the European Union is to establish a "United States of Europe". This analogy is misleading. While the United States has become increasingly centralized at least on paper the states are granted some established rights and responsibility.

The federal government is too large and its influence too prominent, but states still set their own laws on some of this country's most contentious issues such as abortion and gun rights. Were Europe to emulate such a model the constituent parties (nation states) would retain local authority over at least some of their affairs. However, as recent cases demonstrate, European federalism is far from the federalism of the United States.

Over in Ireland, like the United States, abortion is a hot topic. Ireland is alone in Europe when it comes to the severity of its restrictions on abortion. Abortions are illegal under all circumstances except in the case pregnancy endangering the life of the mother.

While the abnormally religious Irish do have some unorthodox legislation relating to abortion you would think that the sort of federalism European officials say they are practicing would allow for the Irish to make their own laws on abortion. After all, the European Union has an open border policy and Europeans can vote with their feet when it comes to policies. Thousands of Irish women already do this every year, travelling to England to have abortions.

The European Court of Human rights, which has one Irish judge out of the forty seven on the court, ruled in 2010 that a woman with cancer had her rights violated when she was unable to get an abortion in Ireland. The court is set to report on its findings next month. Depending on the findings the court might demand the Irish revise their abortion laws.  The current government has vowed to oppose any suggestion from the court.

The European Union has done a poor job at implementing federalism. As a political entity it is highly centralized. It ignores referendums and locally supported policies. The truth is that American-style federalism is not really what the European political machine wants. As the current euro-crisis has been demonstrating, the European political establishment has no respect for democracy and a fetish for centralized control, whether it is economic, political, or judicial.  

Nigel Farage MEP from UKIP outlines the EU's political and economic treatment of Greece below:

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  1. Huh. I could have sworn that Ireland legalized abortion a few years ago. Must have been thinking of something else.

  2. Alright, we’ll give some land to the niggers and the chinks, but we don’t want the Irish!

  3. states still set their own laws on some of this country’s most contentious issues such as abortion and gun rights.

    Well, within parameters established by one branch or another of the federal government.

    1. And they used to set their own laws on contentious issues like public schools for whites only, too.

      There’s no simple answer to this, and “federalism” is a practical system, but hardly a governing philosophy — nor should it be!

      1. Indeed. Federalism is a good thing, but only for practical reasons. In my opinion, one of the few things thatthe federal government should be doing is to guarantee some basic rights against intrusion by the states. Now the trick is figuring out which rights those should be. Some are obvious (at least to most of us), but others are a bit harder.

        1. Yup.

          We will always have to sort these things out, and questions will be moral and philosophical ones.

          By no means does this imply forcing our personal philosophies on others at gunpoint, but one legitimate purpose of government is to prevent others from doing the same.

          It’s never going to be 100% easy to implement…

  4. God created whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world. Who needs abortion?

  5. Nonsense, a one-size-fits-all legal structure will work superbly well, at least as well as the one-size-fits-all monetary structure has.


    Abortion is also illegal in Poland and very severely restricted elsewhere in the EU. It’s not hard to imagine that Abortion laws in the US would look the same if they were set by legislatures.

    1. …especially legislatures worried about the viability of their entitlement ponzi schemes!

  7. My experience with upper class europeans has left me with the impression that they are all authoritarian fucksticks who will tell you whats for supper and that you are gonna eat it and like it.
    I got nothing for ’em.

    I find the Irish ban on abortion as reprehensible as the EU’s assault on Ireland’s sovereignty. Fuckem both, they deserve each other.

  8. Good for Ireland. But exactly how is being “pro choice” a libertarian necessity?

  9. Huh? This seems to be a pretty bad example for showing that “European federalism is far from the federalism of the United States.” I’m pretty sure no US legislature would be able to adopt a law to make “Abortions … illegal under all circumstances except in the case pregnancy endangering the life of the mother” because…wait for it…the US Supreme Court said that violated women’s rights. So, how does your example show that that “European federalism is far from the federalism of the United States?”

  10. Lazy ill informed rubbish. The European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe, which is a completely different body from the European Union, including non-EU countries like Turkey and Russia. The same mistake is made a the bottom of the article which refers to Court of Human Rights decision on prisoners’ voting rights.

    The Farage rant is a slightly different issue, posting it does not involve gross errors of fact. However, there is an equally poor judgment involved for the following reasons.

    1. Though Farage likes to call himself a libertarian, he does not have a coherent libertarian stand. One of the main pillars of UK?P is anti-immigration. In general their polices are an incoherent populist grab bag.

    2. Farage is an MEP for the UK, he is not an MEP for Greece and does not represent anyone in Greece. If Reason wishes to represent Greek objections to the EU may I recommend finding a Greek MEP, or at least a Greek citizen to do so.

  11. 3. His ranting about dictatorship is feebly grounded and grossly inappropriate with regard to a country which has suffered real dictatorship in living memory (Colonels’ Junta which collapsed in 74) with torture, murder, censorship and so on.

    4. Greece is free to leave the Euro and/or the EU. Of course such a decision would not be popular with other EU countries, but no force would be used against Greece. If outsiders visit Greece to intervene in policy making, this a matter of choice for Greece. People are perfectly free in Greece to vote for a government which would default on debt and leave the Euro, which would be the alternative to outside intervention. They do not do so, and have had the opportunity to do so in two elections this year. 2 elections. So where is the justification for Farage in saying there is dictatorship instead of democracy in Greece?

    There are of course libertarians in Europe who intensely dislike the EU, however I would hope that even they would be embarrassed by the factual errors in this article, and at least a little embarrassed by the hysteria and disproportion of Farage’s claims. It is not the case that all European libertarians are agains the European Union, I’m a UK citizen of libertarian views who wishes the EU well, though of course I also wish it would be much more libertarian.

  12. Exactly the same applies to the national governments, they are not very libertarian but I don’t wish to see them abolished. Ditto the USA. I am not the only European libertarian who thinks like this. If Reason wants to provide a blog of reasonable standard, and balance, it would do well to acknowledge this on occasion, and Reason would certainly do well to refrain from posting items with the gross factual errors of this one.

  13. I am against EU meddling with the exception of liberating women’s uteri. Because the EU is right on this issue, they should win. If Ire’s don’t like it, they should’ve voted to leave.

  14. Soon it’s gonna be a year since I moved to Ireland, so just a little perspective from this side of the pond. Abortion and other religious issues are actually very hot topics here for the past few years. Due to the pedophilia cases in the Irish Catholic church, in which even the current Cardinal Sean Brady is involved (as a direct enabler of at least one priest who raped little kids), the mood in the country has been swinging decidedly against organized religion. The “abnormally religious Irish” have the highest growing share of atheists in the world, and the ongoing cultural changes because of this are enormous. Ireland is currently experiencing pretty intense cultural war: on one end people calling for very liberal abortion and marriage policies, on the other the church and fringe groups calling for even more restrictive policies in this area. The way I see it, though, Brady and his church are so discredited at this point that their involvement will be actually counterproductive for them.

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