Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
Just weeks after a lopsided, groundbreaking vote struck down Ireland’s constitutional ban on legal abortion, the country’s Taoiseach signaled the broader moral and legal implications of this sea change in a once deeply Catholic nation.
“It will not … be possible for publicly funded hospitals, no matter who their patron or owner is,” Leo Varadkar told the Dáil, “to opt out of providing these necessary services which will be legal in this state once this legislation is passed by the Dáil [the lower house of the Irish legislature] and Seanad [senate].”
Britain’s Catholic Herald reported today that two large hospitals in Dublin are owned by religious orders: the Sisters of Charity’s St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and the Sisters of Mary’s Mater Hospital. Both, along with other Catholic medical institutions, will soon confront the full reality of abortion on demand.
In a June 14 column for National Review entitled, “In Ireland, What’s Legal Is Now Mandatory,” Michael Brendan Doughterty noted that NRO had “predicted in its editorial on the referendum that victory for Repeal would be swiftly followed by attempts to coerce Catholic institutions to provide abortion. Now Varadkar has promised as much.”
At present, the Irish government is preparing legislation to allow abortion on demand for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy — and in special cases, for up to 24 weeks.
Varadkar clarified the broader impact of legal abortion on Irish hospital systems while fielding a question from a socialist member who complained about the power of “church-controlled hospitals.”
Varadkar offered words of reassurance, making clear that every publicly funded hospital, whatever its ethos, would have to adapt to a new reality.
The upcoming legislation, said Varadkar, “will allow individuals to opt out based on their consciences or their religious convictions but will not allow institutions to do so.”
Varadkar said the legislative language dealing with religious exemptions will be modeled on similar provisions outlined in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. According to the BBC, the legislature allows for terminations in extreme medical circumstances, and allows individual medical personnel to refuse to participate in the procedure.
"So, just as is the case now in the legislation for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, hospitals like for example Holles Street, which is a Catholic voluntary ethos hospital, the Mater, St Vincent's and others will be required, and will be expected to, carry out any procedure that is legal in this state and that is the model we will follow."
NRO’s Dougherty makes a critical point: Ireland’s Catholic health care system is woefully ill-prepared to confront and resist the demands of legal abortion.
“Irish history has allowed Ireland little practice in pluralism,” said Dougherty.
“Now, Ireland has a legacy of Catholic institutions administrating in health and education, even as the official culture and the state adopts the liberal norms of the rest of Western Europe and the Anglosphere.
“Ireland, like America, is discovering that the legalization of abortion is not the end of a debate, but the beginning of another.”