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Ireland is at an abortion crossroads

The ‘threat of suicide’ represents a slippery slope towards abortion on demand

By on Friday, 11 January 2013

A Vigil For Life

Before Christmas LifeSiteNews carried the story that the Irish Republic had announced “legislation would be brought forward to “clarify” under what circumstances abortion is allowed under Irish law. James Reilly, the Irish health minister, stated “We will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at the same time taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child. He added, “The legislation will be drafted in accordance with the 20-year-old Supreme Court ruling on the X case, which allows for abortion when a woman’s life is in danger – including the threat of suicide.”

It is this last phrase “the threat of suicide” which is giving rise to the greatest unease among Irish pro-life groups. It would leave the way open for a lax interpretation and thus widespread and routine abuse – as happened in the UK with the Abortion Act of 1967. This allowed abortions up to 24 weeks if two doctors decided “that the risk to a woman’s physical or mental health…would be greater if she continues with the pregnancy than if she ends it.” In addition, the Act decided there would be no time limit on abortion where two doctors agree that a woman’s health or life “is gravely threatened by continuing with the pregnancy or that the foetus is likely to be born with severe physical or mental abnormalities.”

The Irish Republic’s announcement was immediately followed by a statement from the four Catholic archbishops of Ireland, who pointed out that “if what is proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed. It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children.”

Now LifeSiteNews reports that a group of medical experts has told the Irish government this week that “saving a mother’s life never requires the direct and intentional killing of her unborn child.” The group also commented that suicide in pregnancy was “extremely rare” and that to legislate for abortion under such circumstances would not help any Irish woman. The experts add that in their experience during the last 20 years, “Not one woman had committed suicide…because they could not obtain an abortion.”

The Irish Republic is at a crossroads: will it continue to defend the “equal right to life” of both mother and unborn child as stated by James Reilly, or will it slide gradually towards the position of “abortion on demand”, made on the vague grounds of maternal mental distress. As the Youth Defence spokeswoman, Clare Molloy, stated, “It’s clear that legislating for abortion on the grounds of suicide would open the floodgates and usher in a liberal abortion regime, such as was seen in Britain. That’s not what the Irish people want.” Let’s hope the people make this loud and clear to their politicians.

  • paulpriest

  • Guest4000

    It is said that, if a fetus has a right to life, then abortion is immoral and should not be permitted; if not, then it isn’t immoral and should. But surely this is wrong. I have a right to free speech, but it does not mean that I have the right to cry “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Other people have rights, too, and their rights can sometimes out-weigh mine. The same is true in the case of abortion. The mere fact that the fetus has a right to life is compatible with a pregnant woman’s having other rights that might out-weigh the fetus’s right to life in some cases. For example, the woman herself has a right to life, and I for one have a very hard time seeing why that right should not trump the fetus’s similar right if the pregnancy is endangering the women’s life. Similarly, a woman has a right not to be made pregnant against her will, and it is the central point of Judith Jarvis Thomson’s classic paper “A Defense of Abortion” that, when that right is violated, then, even if the fetus brought thus into being does have a right to life, even one as strong as that of the mother’s (a claim Thomson concedes for the sake of argument), that fact does not make aborting that fetus impermissible. Thomson’s argument for this claim has always struck me as absolutely compelling. But if so, then abortion is morally permissible at least when the life of the mother is threatened or in cases of rape, and that means that the mere fact that a fetus has a right to life does not make abortion morally impermissible.That said, if the fetus does have a right to life, that might well imply that abortion, even in cases where it is morally permissible, nonetheless has moral costs or is morally regrettable. The difficult question is what rights women have in this regard, and how those rights interact with whatever rights the fetus has. Are there other cases in which a woman’s rights might outweigh the fetus’s? Are unintended pregnancies such a case? Does it matter if the woman and her partner were responsibly using birth control, which failed (as sometimes happens), or were being irresponsible and simply ignoring the possibility of pregnancy? These are all good questions, even if, as I’d be inclined to argue, abortion’s being morally impermissible in some such cases does not imply that it ought to be illegal. (I really do not want courts trying to make such fine distinctions under severe time pressures.)
    But we can’t even have this kind of discussion until we recognize that simply saying “The fetus has a right to life!” doesn’t end it. It only begins it, because the women carrying these fetuses have rights of their own. It is because so-called “pro-life” advocates flatly refuse to recognize this fact that they continue to be vulnerable to the charge of sexism and, frankly, to have no decent response to that charge.

  • paulpriest

     You’ve cut and pasted Richard Heck…how about providing your own argument?

  • IssacClarke

    “It’s clear that legislating for abortion on the grounds of suicide would open the floodgates and usher in a liberal abortion regime, such as was seen in Britain. That’s not what the Irish people want.” 
    Simply wrong!

    35% of Irish people support the government plan to propose a law to legalize abortions for life-threatening cases including suicidal women. Some 29 per cent say they want the government to go farther and legalize abortion on demand,similar to the law in neighbouring Britain.

    Just 8%  want Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion kept intact with no exceptions. 26% said they wanted the government to make a third attempt to reverse the 1992 Supreme Court decision.

    But facts and actual public opinion rarely appear on Youth Defence’s radar. 

  • Lazarus

    That some pro-life advocates stop at ‘the unborn child has rights’ is no more a necessary indication of a weakness in the principles of their arguments than the fact that (most) pro-abortion supporters stop at ‘a woman’s right to choose’: there is undoubtedly more to be said on both sides, but, in a political debate, you would expect both sides to rest at what they consider in practice to be the key stage of the argument. And to regard the right of a child to live as trumping the right of a woman to control her body strikes me as intuitively correct rather than ‘vulnerable to the charge of sexism’. In essence, we’re dealing here with the rough and approximate language of fighting talk rather than philosophical nuance: and, at that level, to assert the supreme importance of human life and the avoidance of deliberately taking it strikes me as absolutely right.

    Turning to philosophical nuance, you disregard the fact that there is a wide academic literature critiquing Thomson’s paper. For me, the key problem with her analysis is the drawing if an analogy between the essentially parasitic relationship of the violinist to the woman and a baby to its mother. But whatever you make of that, it is simply untrue to assert that pro life advocates (or simply critical philosophers), in the appropriate academic forums, have not responded to Thomson’s arguments. 

    You are moving from the fact that some pro-life advocates on some occasions do not use philosophically full arguments to the conclusion that such arguments have never been offered and thus do not exist at all. An invalid inference to a false conclusion.

  • GratefulCatholic

    Rubbish. The unborn baby you would kill had no part or guilt in any of the convoluted scenarios you invent. The mother is pregnant, if she cannot or will not proceed to parenthood the right and Christian thing to do is to adopt the child to some good family that will. Job 31:14-18.

  • Toddpearsonsf

    pure cllaptrap

  • Benedict Carter

    Enda Kenny was present in the front row some time ago at a Papal discourse (I don’t know which one). Someone watching this noted how he was sending SMS’s while the Pope was speaking. 

    Just shows me that these liberal buffoons (of which Kenny is surely one) have no discernment in the small things, and therefore of course cannot have any in the big things. 

    It is at the moment as if hell’s acolytes are ruling the world. 

  • Mark Mcintyre

     You are totally wrong. Stop getting your nonsense from skewed so called opinion polls. The majority of Irish people have always voted Pro Life without compromise but we are not being allowed a vote now. These opinion polls are set up by the pro choice groups who will say something like “the life of the mother” and twist and confuse everything to get what the answer they want. Anyway, what is a pro death person like you reading a Catholic website for???

  • Mark Mcintyre

     “Without the right to life, all other rights are meaningless” – Pope John Paul 2
    An unborn baby or what you like to call a “fetus” has a soul and is designed by God no matter what the circumstances. Abortion is murder, pure and simple.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Guest400: If a
    pregnancy is endangering a mother’s life then it is seems probable
    that both mother and baby will die unless there is medical
    intervention. It is not abortion to intervene to try and save the
    lives of both. If as a result of that intervention the baby dies
    that is not abortion because there is no intention to kill the baby.
    It is intention that makes the wrongness of the act and provided
    there is no intention to kill the baby but one acts in the hope of
    saving the mother and the baby, however improbable saving the baby
    may be, it is entirely licit to do so in the eyes of the Church.

    As to Judith Jarvis
    Thomson (JJT) I find her analogy so far-fetched as to be absurd. The
    analogy she suggests is that of a woman who wakes up one morning to
    find herself attached to a famous violinist as a means of giving
    dialysis to help his kidney failure. She has been kidnapped by a
    Society of Music Lovers (SML) who have arranged this bizarre affair.
    To unplug the violinist would be to kill him. The SML insist that
    she must stay with this affair for the rest of her life.

    But just try and
    imagine how this would work out in reality. First of all kidnapping
    someone and performing an operation without consent is a criminal
    offence – this takes place in the USA so the SML would be in a spot
    of bother with the authorities particularly if the SML continue to
    insist on continuing the arrangement thereby nullifying any hope of a
    plea in mitigation. Further the woman might decide that she will go
    along with the situation but at the same time sue the SML for loss of
    earnings, quality of life etc etc. The action of the SML would be
    ultra vires any statutes it had and the members who performed the
    kidnapping would be personally liable for the damages which in the
    USA would be astronomical. In reality the members of the SML, faced
    with prison and financial ruin, would be at her bedside screaming for
    the violinist to be unplugged as soon as their lawyers informed them
    of their crime and the possible claim for damages. JJT then suggests
    that the hospital might inform the woman that she will be dead within
    a month if she is not unplugged. Why the violinist cannot be
    unplugged and be put on a normal dialysis machine is not explained by

    Yet JJT puts this
    ridiculous fable forward as a justification for abortion where the
    mother’s life is endangered. But as I have explained above this is
    based upon a misunderstanding of the Church’s position. She goes on
    about cases where the mother’s life is not in danger but I think this
    comment is long enough without that.

  • IssacClarke

    Please show me where I expressed my view on the subject.

    But you are correct, I based my statement on opinion polls about this particular issue. I didn’t make an unfounded claim on behalf of millions of people. I won’t apologise for trying to learn what people actually think, rather than just claiming they think the way I want them to think.

    “The majority of Irish people have always voted Pro Life without compromise but we are not being allowed a vote now.”

    Not quite true, again. 

    A “referendum was held in 1992, in which two amendments were passed that established the ‘right to travel’ and the ‘right to information’. A third proposal, the proposed Twelfth Amendment, would have further restricted abortion laws in Ireland, but was defeated.A further referendum was held in 2002 on the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which would have removed the threat of suicide as a grounds for legal abortion, but it too was defeated.”

    The rights to travel and information, threat of suicide certainly seem like compromises to me. 

  • James

    Thank you for your article Francis.  However I think Ireland is no longer at the crossroads – the road has already been chosen by the government – the road to abortion on demand.  Politicians won’t admit it either because they have not thought it out, or because they do not want to frighten the people – the “limited” route is the first step.  At the moment the government is engaging in a theatrical display, a meaningless prologue. 

    The people are unable to stop it because the Irish political system is build on clientism and local politics, and is corrupt. Every five years the TDs reappear, but people vote the same people back in, just as long as the TD got something for the local community.  The lives of the unborn Irish are not nearly as important to many as potholes, the local hospital, the promised community centre, the few strokes a TD can pull to get Johnny a job.  For example, Mayo is pretty much pro-life, their TD is Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach who wants to push this legislation through, imposing the party whip so one dissents: this should be the end of Enda Kenny’s political career, yet pro-life Mayo will re-elect him next election.  Why?  He’s the local boy and he got them a few things.

  • OldMeena

    “…. some time ago at a Papal discourse (I don’t know which one).”

    A Papal discourse?  Do you mean where he said one thing and then the Pope, if he agreed, said “Oh Yes, I know”, or if he disagreed said something like “That’s all very well, but….?”
    How on earth can there BE such a thing as a Papal discourse (about anything important)? The Pope can only try his best to put his guest “right”.

    Perhaps Enda was not being so dumb with his mobile phone as some might think. His actions remind me of those of Mikhail Gorbachev at the very last big military parade in East Berlin (a few months before the wall came down) when he annoyed Erick Honecker and the Politburo by constantly looking at his watch.

  • OldMeena

    “The people are unable to stop it because the Irish political system is built on …….local politics”

    “Clientism” is a bit ambiguous, but I wish the UK system was based more on “local politics” – -  that could be the road towards a more healthy democracy.

  • IssacClarke

    I heard another Irish politician did even better this week. While listening to a catholic bishop speaking during a consultation on possible abortion legislation, he tweeted 
    ” the more I hear of this, the more I lapse.”

  • IssacClarke

    The Irish parliamentary system is based on the British system, with one difference, ballots are carried out on a limited PR system. The main result is that coalition governments are the norm. This is not inherently bad, single vote systems can lead to coalitions too! Also Blair had a “strong government” and look how he was able to force through unpopular policies. Cameron is facing a similar problem to Kenny with gay marriage. But I’ve yet to read the suggestion that he’ll be losing his safe tory seat.

    Local nepotism in politics is not an Irish thing, it’s common in all democracies. The Americans call them “Pork Belly Bills”. Many important federal bills are garnished with smaller sub-clauses on local issues, there to guarantee support from congressmen.  

  • Nicolas Bellord

    OldMeena:  I think the word “discourse” was being used with reference to a speech by the Pope rather than a conversation.  You ought to try reading one or two of them as they are usually brilliant.  Playing with your cellphone in an ostentatious manner is just  a sign of discourtesy and lack of respect.

  • OldMeena

    A lack of respect not for the person as a civilised human being, but rather for what he was saying.
    I agree with the likely meaning of the word “discourse” that you proffer in this situation: the Pope speaks and others listen. After all, what else could it possibly be?  

  • CullenD

    So christian a thing to do that catholic authorities would force women to have babies adopted, if they were deemed unsuitable mothers. Or kidnap them from jewish families if a catholic “baptised” them with a splash of water and a mumbled prayer. Or even tell the mother the baby died, and then produce a frozen baby body from a freezer as proof.

    Of course the child went to some good family… most often after that family had made a “voluntary contribution” to church coffers.

  • teigitur

    Many Irish politicians are way passed lapsing. But of course not beyond redemption.Yet.

  • teigitur

    Cameron is toast. He may yet lose his seat. I shall remain dry-eyed.

  • teigitur

    People forget, understandably in some circumstances, that in every abortion, a child dies. This must alway be kept in mind.

  • teigitur

    Damo! Belated Happy newish year. I see your still not great at sleeping. I thought perhaps your electricity had been cut off, its so long since you were on here.
     Your above post would take all day to unravel  and dissect,making almost no sense. Too much sauce??

  • CullenD

    If they are using Twitter I think they deserve hell.

  • CullenD

    Don’t be a “mean girl”, I’d wouldn’t be reading the CH at 3am if I’d been out all night!

    Points 1 and 3 were common in Ireland and Spain up until the 60′s. 2 wasn’t common, but it was the practice in any catholic run country up to the 40′s (I think, but maybe 30′s or 50′s). 

    There’s a simple reason I’m here less often. One can only argue against 2000 year old beliefs for so long before getting bored! I’ve done my best to be the token atheist but in the end it’s the same old arguments. 

  • teigitur

    The arguments are indeed the same, though I would prefer “timeless” as opposed to old. I did notice, though, that you rarely. if ever, comment on “faith” per se, ie The Mass, saints, liturgies of various descriptions. Preferring  the “moral” aspects of belief. Or indeed the lack of them.Interesting.
     Do you have a short attention span? I certainly do. I think our world of soundbites does not help.

  • CullenD

    I never comment on those things because, to me, it would be like getting into an argument about what unicorns smell like. No point when it’s based on a false assumption. The real actions of religious people and groups, well that affects us all.

    Short attention span… that made me giggle! My ex would have said the exact opposite. I tend to be dogged. She used to get annoyed because I’d be quiet while digesting a new point, then restart an argument hours later, when I’d have figured things out.

  • teigitur

    I can see how that would be annoying………lol
     Anyway perhaps spread your wings? If you look on “big pulpit” you will find a much larger choice of discussion material, much American, but not all, and plenty on the moral issues.
    ………………… On a totally different plane and perhaps it will help your boredom, have a look  at youtube”sminky shorts” fat rabbit particularly funny. I recommend it if you have not already seen it. Coarse, but terribly funny.,

  • CullenD

    You really are a naughty boy! You got modded again. I will check out pulpit, but there are two problems. First, I find most American christian sites simplistic, to be kind. Many tout Pascal’s Wager as a new and true idea. Other’s don’t even know what an atheist is, often insisting atheism = socialism = communism = marxism. Some are even dumb enough to insist atheists are Satan worshippers. They don’t even know that if you think God doesn’t exist Satan can’t exist, as God created Satan.

    Second, I’ll be anything but bored from next week. There are three new games coming out that I’ve been waiting for. As I’m OCD about games I like, that will occupy my free time for months.

    Sorry but the odds are I won’t check utube, it’s just not my thing. I don’t do myspace, facebook, reddit or twitter either. It’s just a taste thing.

  • teigitur

    But its Oirish, more specifically Corkish, the devils own county, The youtube I mean…lol. I know what you mean about US sites, but they are not all like that. Games eh? If you look at youtube you ll know why I was modded…lol…. its naughty, but not vile.

  • parepidemos

    If Ireland goes down the road of legalising abortion, it will be a truly tragic moment. However, I wonder how much the horrendous abuse scandal, perperated by Irish clergy and religious (and the attendant cover ups) has contributed to Ireland coming to this moment; the two are, I believe, quite connected. The Church in Ireland has been terribly discredited. We can only pray that those in politicla and judicial authority will hold fast to the right to life.

  • Michaelmcgovern999

    enda kenny is the irish prime minister. the pope is the head of a foreign country, namely the vatican. in ireland, irish law is the only law that matters. the pope needs to stop interfering in irish law & in the irish judicial. he also needs to stop protecting irish child rapist priests from the irish authorities. if he interfers again the irish “garda siochauna”(irish police) should seek the popes extradition to ireland to face charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice.