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Irish Church: proposed abortion law will lead to ‘direct killing of unborn’

By on Thursday, 20 December 2012

Pro-lifers at a vigil in Dublin earlier this month (Photo: PA)

Pro-lifers at a vigil in Dublin earlier this month (Photo: PA)

The Irish government has announced plans to legalise abortion in limited circumstances.

Minister for Health James Reilly said his plans would take “full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child”.

The announcement contradicts a 2011 campaign promise by the prime minister, Enda Kenny, that his government would not introduce abortion in the predominantly Catholic country.

In a statement, Ireland’s four top Catholic churchmen said everyone should be concerned by the announcement.

“If what is being 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. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances,” said their statement.

It was signed by Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel and Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam.

They said human dignity depended on “our respect for the right to life of every person from the moment of conception to natural death. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. It is the very basis for every other right we enjoy as persons.”

They also urged that, when the legislation is introduced, lawmakers be allowed to vote according to their consciences.

“All involved, especially public representatives, must consider the profound moral questions that arise in responding to today’s announcement by the government. We encourage all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right,” they said.

In practice, abortion has been illegal in Ireland under 1861 legislation. However, a 1992 Supreme Court 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.

Successive governments have not acted on the issue. However, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Ireland must clarify when women can access abortion under the 1992 ruling.

After a Cabinet meeting, Mr Reilly announced that the government would introduce legislation to allow abortion where there is a risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide. He also confirmed that the government intends to decriminalise abortion in these circumstances.

He said the legislation would clarify “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 all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child,” he said.

However, Dr Ruth Cullen, spokeswoman for Ireland’s Pro-Life Campaign, said that “any legislation for the X case would blur the distinction between life-saving medical interventions in pregnancy and induced abortion, the sole aim of which is to intentionally end the life of the baby.

“Once it is conceded that some human lives may be directly targeted, there is no going back. Inevitably over time the grounds for abortion would be widened,” she said.

The Irish parliament will debate the proposed legislation in early 2013. Several legislators from Mr Kenny’s Fine Gael party have indicated that they would oppose the legislation.

Pro-life campaigners are calling for a rally on January 19 to express opposition to legislation.

  • David Lindsay

    In the case at the heart of all of this, an abortion would already have been legal in Ireland, under a law in accordance with Catholic Teaching.

    This is really an institutional land grab by the State. Its true targets are the schools.

    The only part of Ireland where both the Catholic schools, and the sanctity of life in the womb, are now safe, is the part within the United Kingdom.

  • Mchicha

    What are they protesting? Their failure to teach and catechize
    their people? If you cannot keep the Church faithful in its native lands of
    Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc, you need to stop protesting, and look yourself
    in the mirror.


    Ask yourself, What have I been doing to convert the faithful
    as an apostle.


    Dude, its time to leave your comfortable office , stop
    issuing CEO statements and get out to the world on foot if necessary and teach,
    in your cassock. Spread the Gospel by Example.

  • mark startin

    As I understand it the law change in Ireland is intended to give the existing Irish code of medical ethics the force of law.  Since the recent statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference on the Savita case said that she could have been treated under that ethical code I fail to see why the Archbishops are now protesting.

  • mark startin

    The Principle of Double Effect would not have allowed the termination of the pregnancy of Savita Halappanavar.  The only effective actions in a case like hers would involve the direct procuring of a termination for a living but non-viable foetus; this is forbidden by Catholic teaching.

  • savvy

    In cases, where there is a danger to the mother’s life, it does not matter if the fetus is non-viable. They could still treat the mother.

  • mark startin

    I agree that in some cases treatment can be allowed, for example a hysterectomy can be used to remove a cancerous womb even if a foetus is present.
    A real dilemma arises, for example. where the only medical treatments for the mother’s condition involve a D&C or bringing on an early labour.  It is illicit directly to target the life of the baby even if there is no medically apparent prospect of both mother and child surviving.

  • savvy

    “A real dilemma arises, for example. where the only medical treatments for the mother’s condition involve a D&C or bringing on an early labour.  It is illicit directly to target the life of the baby even if there is no medically apparent prospect of both mother and child surviving.”

    Yes, but that is not the intention.

  • mark startin

    It is a tough call.  Intention alone is not enough.  All four conditions for the application of the Principle of Double Effect have to be met.

  • Parasum

    It sounds as though the details of Catholic moral theology are in danger of obscuring the facts of the case as a whole. What should be done (surely ?) is whatever is best in the particular case – not what the abstract detail of a particular moral outlook requires.  The danger of the abstract approach is that people will be blinded by theory and principle to the needs of the actual person before them. That kind of casuistry (itself a noble & necessary science) is what Jesus ignored, but the Pharisees observed. If their morality makes people callous in the name of moral principle, something is wrong.

    STM the PDE is unimportant, compared to real suffering. If a POV or a principle is not big enough to cope with the realities of life, it should be adjusted until it is. 

  • mark startin

    I agree the the PDE has limitations when we look at cases in real life.  We can only identify those limitations if we fully understand what it means. 

  • Dique_john

    BOTH mother and child have a right to life. Neither has a right to be the reason that the life of the other be extinguished. This means doctors must act to preserve the lives of both mother and child. Selfishness was unknown in Ireland until legalisation of abortion arose recently. The mother of an executive director of Macquarie st business ethics Sydney Australia, upon being told she would die if her pregnancy were to be taken to full term replied that her child had a right to life, and her pregnancy was taken to full term. She died, and her child survived. She was an Irishwoman…