Pro-life demonstrators hold signs during a candlelight vigil outside the Irish parliament in Dublin Dec. 4, 2012, calling on the government not to introduce abortion legislation. (CNS photo/John McElroy, The Irish Catholic)
coalition government is pushing ahead with controversial plans to legalize
abortion despite growing opposition from within the medical community.
campaigners have also dismissed claims by Prime Minister Enda Kenny that the
draft law is limited in scope, saying it will lead to widespread abortion.
Malta are currently the only countries in Europe where abortion is still
A draft of the
so-called Protection of Life in Pregnancy legislation was published after
protracted negotiations between the center-right Fine Gael and leftist Labor
party. It will now be debated before the parliamentary health committee.
furious because Fine Gaelthe senior party in Governmentmade a promise before
the 2011 general election not to legalize abortion. The Labor party, on the
other hand, has had a long-standing pro-abortion stance.
The draft law
provides for abortion when there is a substantial risk to the life, as opposed
to the health, of the mother. This would include situations in which a woman
says the continuation of the pregnancy leads to suicidal thoughts. The law
would also provide for jail terms of up to 14 years for those performing abortions
in circumstances other that permitted by the new law.
Enda Kenny has claimed that the legislation will not change Ireland’s law on
abortion in other circumstances. He said that an abortion can only be
legally permitted where doctors have unanimously decided that it is the only
treatment that will avert a risk to the life of a mother.
Caroline Simons, a spokesperson for the Pro-Life Campaign (PLC) dismissed the
claims. She says the Government has “been talking up the proposal as very
restrictive. But, in reality, these reassuring noises are empty and misleading.”
“What matters is
what’s contained in the bill and what’s in the bill is dangerous,” said Simons.
“For the first time an Irish Government is proposing to introduce a law that
provides for the direct intentional targeting of the life of the unborn child.”
Simons said that
“talk of the legislation being ‘life-saving’ is simply dishonest. There is no
evidence that abortion ever helps women’s mental health and in fact it may
psychiatrists have also dismissed claims that abortion can ever be a treatment
for suicidal ideation.
Casey, a consultant psychiatrist at the Mater University hospital in Dublin,
said there are “multiple flaws and diverse flaws arise from the proposals.”
“The first and
most obvious is that there is no evidence that abortion is an intervention that
reduces suicide. No textbooks of psychiatry or research papers suggest this.
There are treatments, psychological and pharmacological, to do this,” Prof.
Nearly one in
three of Ireland’s psychiatrists agree with Prof. Casey’s position. A group of
113 psychiatrists signed a statement to parliamentarians insisting that the legislation,
which would allow for abortion as a treatment for threat of suicide, has no
basis in medical evidence. Just 14 psychiatrists publically disagreed
with the statement.
McCabe, a consultant psychiatrist at Navan Hospital said she was “not surprised
that so many of our colleagues agree that the proposed legislation is flawed.
As members of the medical profession, we have a duty to our patients to adopt
best practice and an evidence-based approach to everything we do.”
“The fact is
that there is no evidence that abortion is a treatment for suicidality in
pregnancy and may in fact be harmful to women. The Government must take this
into account and reconsider its proposals,” she said.
Last month the
Irish Medical Organization, the body which represents the overwhelming majority
of Irish doctors, rejected a motion calling for the legalization of abortion.
abortion has been illegal in Ireland under legislation enacted in 1861. A 1983
constitutional amendment created an equal right to life between the mother and
unborn baby. However, a 1992 Supreme Court judgmentknown as the X Casefound
that there is a constitutional right to abortion where there is a substantial
risk to the life of the mother, including the risk of suicide, up to birth.
governments have not acted on the issue. However, the European Court of Human
Rights (ECHR) ruled in 2010 that Ireland must clarify when women can access
abortion under the 1992 ruling. The ECHR found that Ireland had a right to ban
abortion, but must clarify the 1992 ruling.
have agreed that the 1992 ruling is flawed, pointing to the fact that the
Supreme Court heart no medical evidence in the case. They want the
Government to respond to the ECHR judgment by issuing guidelines that make it
clear when pregnant women can receive life-saving treatment, even if this
results in the unavoidable and unintentional death of the unborn child. They
also was a referendum to overturn the 1992 ruling on suicide.
Minister John Bruton has weighed in on the debate over the current legislation,
warning that any plan to provide abortion in cases where a woman is suicidal is
wrong. Bruton said he knows of no other area of law where a threat of
suicide is “sufficient to make legal what would otherwise be illegal.”
He said the
draft legislation now being considered by the Government “would deny the
weakest human beings of all the right to live.”
are also stepping up their campaign against the draft legislation, describing
the plan as “morally unacceptable” and “unnecessary.”
In a statement,
the Irish bishops insisted that the draft would, if approved, “make the direct
and intentional killing of unborn children lawful in Ireland.”
“The bill as
outlined represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law and
is unnecessary to ensure that women receive the life-saving treatment they need
during pregnancy,” the bishops said.
The bill also
appears to impose a duty on Catholic hospitals to provide abortions. “This
would be totally unacceptable and has serious implications for the existing
legal and constitutional arrangements that respect the legitimate autonomy and
religious ethos of faith-based institutions,” the bishops said. “It would also
pose serious difficulties for the conscientious beliefs of many citizens.”
On the issue of
suicidal ideation, the bishops insisted that “abortion, in the sense of
directly killing the unborn child, is never a remedy for suicidal ideation and
therefore should never be cited as a justification for the direct killing of an
innocent human being.”
“It is a tragic
moment for Irish society when we regard the deliberate destruction of a
completely innocent person as an acceptable response to the threat of the
preventable death of another person,” the bishops said.
Martin, coadjutor archbishop of Armagh, urged Catholics to continue to lobby
lawmakers on the draft legislation.
the “massive effort” being put in by politicians to legalize the deliberate
killing of unborn children.
“If a similar
effort was redirected towards establishing with the relevant professional
bodies clear medical guidelines, together with robust support structures for
medical personnel, towards supporting mothers who have very real anxieties or
fears about their pregnancy, towards improving professional development,
training, and support structures for doctors, nurses, and other professionals
who are faced with these complex and very difficult dilemmas on the ground,
then it is still possible to preserve Ireland’s reputation as one of the safest
places in the world for mothers and babies during pregnancy,” Archbishop Martin
The death of a
young pregnant woman thrust the issue of abortion center-stage late last year,
with pro-choice campaigners blaming the country’s ban on abortion for the woman’s
death. However, even a quick perusal of the facts reveals a much more complex
scenario. Pro-life advocates insist the tragic case is being used by those
trying to overturn Ireland’s pro-life legislative framework.
Halappanavara native of India who moved to the west of Ireland some years agowas
17 weeks pregnant when she went to the hospital on October 21, complaining
about back pain. A week later she had died from septicaemia, a blood infection.
Dr. Peter Boylan,
an obstetrician, told the inquest into her death that if Halappanavar had been
given a termination she would, “on the balance of probabilities,” still be
“It is highly
likely she would not have died” if she had been given a termination earlier, he
Boylan’s testimony has been challenged by a group of leading consultant
obstetricians and gynaecologists. The group noted that “much of the
public attention appears to have been directed at the expert opinion of Dr.
Peter Boylan, who suggested that Irish law prevented necessary treatment to
save Ms Halappanavar’s life.”
suggest that this is a personal view, not an expert one,” the senior medics
said in a letter to the Irish Times.
They said “it is impossible for Dr. Boylan, or for any doctor, to predict with
certainty the clinical course and outcome in the case of Savita Halappanavar,
where sepsis arose from the virulent and multi drug-resistant organism, E.coli
insisted that Irish law is clear on the issue of when medics can intervene to
save the life of a pregnant woman. “What we can say with certainty is that
where ruptured membranes are accompanied by any clinical or biochemical marker
of infection, Irish obstetricians understand they can intervene with early
delivery of the baby if necessary.”
the inquest shows that in Galway University Hospital the diagnosis of
chorioamnionitis was delayed and relevant information was not noted and acted
upon,” they said.
Dr. Ruth Cullen,
a medical adviser to the Pro-Life Campaign, said “it is deplorable that those
who want to see abortion available here are exploiting Mrs. Halappanavar’s
tragic death when the Medical Council Guidelines are very clear that all
necessary medical treatment must be given to women in pregnancy.”
“It is also
vitally important to acknowledge at this time that Ireland, without induced
abortion, is recognized by the UN and World Health Organization as a world
leader in protecting women in pregnancy and is safer than places like Britain
and Holland, where abortion is widely available,” Dr. Cullen said.
health-care ethics do allow for actions to be taken to save the life of the
mother, even at the risk of ending the life of the unborn child. Pope Pius XII
in 1951 told the Italian Union of Midwifes that, “if, for example, the saving
of the life of the future mother, independently of her pregnant condition,
should urgently require a surgical act or other therapeutic treatment which
would have as an accessory consequence, in no way desired or intended, but
inevitable, the death of the foetus, such an act could no longer be called a
direct attempt on an innocent life.”
conditions the operation can be lawful, like other similar medical
interventions,” Pope Pius insisted.
and pro-life campaigners are determined to keep up the fight against the draft
“The right to
life is such a natural and inviolable right that no individual, no majority,
and no state can ever create, modify, or destroy it,” Archbishop Eamon Martin
“How can it be
argued that it is for the ‘public good’ to legislate for the direct and
intentional taking of human life? How can it be claimed that this is the
will of the Irish people, who had enshrined in the Constitution the protection
of the life of both a mother and her unborn child?” the archbishop asked.
He also urged Catholics not to be ashamed to bring
their faith to politics: “None of us can leave our faith ‘outside the room’
when we are considering these matters.”
“We must face
the challenge of putting faith into practice in our lives, and have the courage
to follow our informed conscience, no matter what the consequences might be,”
Archbishop Martin said.
All-Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady called on Catholics to “mobilize” and make
people aware of the very important issues at stake in the debate on abortion.
He repeated a
call for voters to lobby their elected representatives to oppose any change to existing
There is some
evidence that the message may be getting through. Several Government
legislators have vowed to oppose the draft legislation, even though this means
they may be expelled from their political party.
Minister Lucinda Creighton, who is opposed to allowing abortion, is hopeful
there may be a change of heart. “It’s a long way until this legislation will be
finalized and we have to go through the process with the committee,” she said.
number of ministers have made it clear there would be a willingness to look at
amendments to the legislation, so it’s a long way to go and I’m not going to
predict or pre-empt the outcome,” she said.
There has been
talk of excommunication of politicians who support the legislation. Prime
Minister Enda Kenny is frequently at pains to point out that he is a practicing
Catholic. The overwhelming majority of Irish legislators identify themselves as
Catholics. However, such is the climate of anti-clericalism in Irish politics
at the moment, talk of excommunication may well prove counter-productive with
some even seeing the move as a badge of honor. Asked about the issue of
excommunication, Cardinal Brady said “that is down the line at the moment, as
far as we are concerned.”
“We know what
the law is about excommunication, about abortion, that’s a fact” the cardinal
the cardinal’s remarks, Kenny replied: “Well, I have my own way of speaking to
my God and it’s not for me to comment on that.”
For opponents of the
draft, the issue is clear. If the legislation is passed, Caroline Simons of the
Pro-Life Campaign insists “it will mean that ideology has been allowed to win