More than 25,000 people gather for a pro-life vigil outside the Irish parliament in Dublin Jan. 19. The massive turnout appeared to take politicians and the mainstream media by surprise. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
weeks, hospitals in Ireland could, for the first time, begin performing
abortions. It comes after Irish President Michael D. Higgins signed a
controversial piece of legislation that the government insists allows for
abortion only in limited circumstances, but that pro-lifers argue permits an
extremely liberal abortion regime.
statement from Higgins July 27 confirmed that the president had signed the
so-called Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill. Ironically, his endorsement of
the law may well prove to be a blessing for pro-life advocates. Under the 1937
Irish Constitution, the president is vested with very little power and is
virtually obliged to sign laws that have passed parliament. However, in a
little-used constitutional provision, the president does have the power to
refer laws to the Supreme Court to test their constitutionality before signing.
Had Higgins opted to refer the law to the Court, this would’ve delayed the
passage of the bill. However, if the Supreme Court ruled that the law was in
keeping with the Constitution, the bill would be forever immune to challenge.
President Higgins’ decision to sign without reference to the Supreme Court clears
the way for those opposed to abortion to challenge the law.
Minister Enda Kenny, whose claim that he supports abortion in some
circumstances because he is pro-life
have led some pro-lifers to accuse him of verbal acrobatics, has not survived
the passage of the law unscathed. A number of his government legislators were
expelled from his center-right Fine Gael party for refusing to support abortion,
which may weaken Kenny’s overall position at the head of the country’s
pro-life campaigners describe the passage of the law as a dark day for Ireland.
But, in a country where a ban on abortion was sometimes taken for granted, the
campaign may also have emboldened and united opponents of abortion as never
before. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to campaign in favor of
protecting the unborn and more than 100,000 people signed pledges saying they
will never again support the Prime Minister’s party because of his breaking a
pre-election promise not to legalize abortion. Prominent obstetricians and
psychiatrists have also voiced their opposition to the controversial proposals.
Church leaders, after almost 20 years of virtual silence on moral issues due to
the clerical abuse scandals, have also appeared to regain their voices.
debate has been politically divisive, and many voters have found themselves
struggling to find the balance between the need for mothers to receive
lifesaving treatments during pregnancy and the necessity of upholding the right
to life of the unborn child in the womb.
traditionally been illegal in Ireland under the provision of the
pre-Independence 1981 Offences Against the Person Act. In 1983, the people
voted by a two-to-one margin to insert a specific article in the Constitution
outlining the existence of an equal right to life for both the mother and her
unborn child. However, less than a decade later this article was interpreted by
the Supreme Court to include the right to an abortion in certain circumstances.
That judgment, known as the “X” Case, found 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 insisted that the 1992 ruling is flawed, pointing to the fact that the
Supreme Court had no medical evidence in the case. They also insist that there
is no medical evidence to show that abortion ever helps in cases of suicidal
Minister John Bruton weighed into the debate over the proposed abortion law
last spring, warning that any plan to provide abortion in cases where a woman
is suicidal is wrong. Bruton said there was no other area of law in which a
threat of suicide is “sufficient to make legal what would otherwise be illegal.”
the government pushed the legislation through, insisting that it was necessary
to save women’s lives, a claim rejected by pro-life campaigners as well as many
in the medical community.
new law, a woman will be able to have abortion if there is considered to be a
real and substantial risk to her life. This has caused widespread confusion,
with many voters concerned that pregnant Irishwomen faced with a
life-threatening conditions may not receive essential treatments. However,
pro-life campaigners and medical experts have pointed out that Ireland ranks
among the best in the world when it comes to maternal health. This confusion,
often aided and abetted by a largely pro-abortion media, reigned supreme
following the death of a pregnant woman late last year, with pro-choice
campaigners blaming the lack of legal abortion for the woman’s death. Savita
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, 2012,
complaining about back pain. A week later she had died from septicaemia, a
A report published
on June 13, 2013 identified three key factors behind Halappanavar’s death:
inadequate assessment and monitoring; failure to offer all management options
to a patient; and non-adherence to clinical guidelines related to the prompt
and effective management of sepsis. But, by this stage, abortion laws had been
drafted and many believed them necessary to save the lives of women in similar
Ronan Mullen, an independent member of the Upper House of Parliament and
longtime pro-life advocate, believes there was a need to provide legal clarity
to medical personnel, but says this could have been achieved without legalizing
direct abortion. He argued the government should have prepared appropriate
guidelines, saying, “We are going to provide to guarantee all necessary
interventions for physical conditions that a mother may have.”
Mullen pointed out that of the almost 200,000 abortions in Britain every year,
95 percent take place on mental health grounds. “This is an extremely dangerous
place that Ireland may be going,” he said.
the government abortion bill moves away from the traditional “two patient model
of care” currently available in Irish maternity hospitals for pregnant women
and their unborn children.
new law, the procedures for assessing the risk to the life of the mother differ
depending on the woman’s condition, Mullen said. One doctor will be able to
make a decision about whether to terminate a pregnancy in an emergency
situation in which a mother’s life is in danger. Where there is the risk of
loss of a woman’s life from physical illnessbut where the situation is not an
emergency and suicidal intent is not a factortwo doctors will be called upon to
make the decision. However, in cases of suicidal intent, the woman will be
interviewed by a panel of three doctorstwo psychiatrists and one obstetricianwho
must agree unanimously.
Simons, a legal adviser to the Pro-Life Campaign, has described the passage of the
abortion bill as “a very sad day for our country.” Simons told Catholic World Report that the law “for
the first time in our history makes it legal to deliberately target the life of
an innocent human being.”
dismissed claims by Prime Minister Enda that the law is about saving women’s
lives. “The new law is life-ending, not life-saving,” Simons said. “The
Government brought forward this law in the full knowledge that abortion is not
a treatment for suicidal feelings and ignored all the peer-reviewed evidence
showing that abortion has adverse mental health consequences for women.”
that the Irish pro-life movement “will now devote its energies to the repeal of
this unjust law. We will give very careful consideration in the coming weeks on
the best way to bring this about.”
legislator who has won rich praise for her stance is former Minister for
European Affairs Lucinda Creighton. Creighton’s decision to oppose the law
provoked the ire of Prime Minister Kenny to such a degree that he convened a
hastily-arranged Cabinet meeting in the middle of the night to fire her from
ministerial office. Creighton was among seven legislators who lost their jobs
because of their pro-life stance.
late-night dismissal, an emotional Creighton told reporters: “I never wished or
expected to be expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party. This is the
party I have worked for unstintingly since I was 18 years old.”
deeply and strongly that aspects of this bill are based on flawed logic and
absolutely zero medical evidence. I could not vote for it, particularly in
light of Fine Gael’s clear commitment not to introduce abortion prior to the
last election,” she said.
later elaborated on her stance, insisting that “promises matter in politics,
particularly in relation to matters of life and death. This is a promise I could
not renege on in any circumstances.”
It is a
stance not lost of pro-life activists. Dr. Ruth Cullen, a medical adviser to
the Pro-Life Campaign, is in philosophical mood after the signing of the bill
into law. “When the chips were down we saw men and women of the highest moral
caliber vote against the bill.”
“They may be
few, but the effects of their historic witness should not be underestimated.
They kept their word. Democracy rests on this. We won’t forget them. We salute
you for your conviction, your courage and your character,” she said.
The role of
the mainstream media in cheerleading the legislation has come in for much
scrutiny. John Waters, a prominent author who has chronicled his journey from
liberalism to conservatism and Catholicism, believes things were stacked
against the pro-life side.
“In the past
30 years there has been a handful of real-life public controversies in which
the issue of abortion was critical in the life of an actual woman. And yet, the
pro-choice [movement], building on this handful of cases, and augmenting its arguments
with a series of creative hypotheses has, in effect, changed Ireland from being
a nation inflexibly opposed to abortion to a society on the cusp of giving the
nod to one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world.”
Waters, the recent debate on abortion “confirms that this is going to happen,
and there is no point in sticking our heads in the sand.”
conditions in which these ‘debates’ occur, this is inevitable and cannot be
prevented,” he said. “For one thing, the ‘debates’ are almost invariably hosted
by ‘liberal’ journalists, and, for another, the skewed dynamics of the ‘debates’
ensure that these are really dramas in which traditionalist forces are pitted
against liberals in a manner than ensures only the liberal argument can win.”
“It is not
so much a question of testing both sides of an argument as dramatizing the
victory of ‘truth’ over ‘error,’” Waters insisted.
gloom, opponents of abortion can take some consolation. In recent months the
pro-life community has become electrified and united in Ireland as never
before, prompting the massive vigils and rallies that allowed the pro-life movement
to see itself publicly for the first timeits youthfulness, its commitment, and
bishops have also shown a determination to lead that has been absent for quite
some time. The new coadjutor archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, who will soon
take over as Primate of All-Ireland from Cardinal Sean Brady, is widely
credited with being a competent media performer on the issue. His media outings
appear to have emboldened other bishops and Church spokesmen to speak out
decisively. The Irish-American papal nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, has also
played a pivotal role. Whereas in the past, papal nuncios have preferred to
keep out of political debates, Archbishop Brown has been forthright in his
criticism of the new law.
So for these
and other reasons, opponents of abortion remain determined. Referring to recent
rallies against the legislation that saw tens of thousands of people take to
the streets, Caroline Simons insists that “the pro-life movement is mobilized
and growing. We have seen the biggest-ever gatherings of pro-life people in
“The passage of this bill into law marks a new
beginning, not an end, for pro-life activism,” she said.