DUBLIN — The Catholic bishops of Ireland say a proposed abortion law would “make the direct and intentional killing of unborn children lawful” in the country and could force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions in violation of their consciences.
“The gospel of life is at the heart of the message of Jesus; the deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of life is always morally wrong,” the bishops said in a May 3 statement.
They explained that the right to life is “the foundation of every other human right” and urged the protection of this right for both a mother and her unborn child “in all circumstances.”
Their statement comes amid continued debate over the Irish Parliament’s proposal to legalize abortions considered necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman, including cases where a woman threatens suicide. The bill would also reduce the penalty for procuring or performing an abortion from life in prison to 14 years.
The bill would allow one doctor to authorize abortion in cases where a woman’s life is perceived to be in immediate danger from a continued pregnancy, two doctors if a pregnancy creates a potentially lethal risk, and three doctors in case of the threat of suicide, The Associated Press reports.
It has the backing of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny of the Fine Gael Party, who had previously campaigned on the promise he would not introduce abortion legislation.
The Catholic bishops said the bill “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 echoed other critics of the suicide-threat exemption for abortion, noting that abortion is not considered a medical cure for suicidal thoughts.
“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,” they said.
They also noted that, in addition to legally allowing some abortions, the bill appears to require Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. This would be “totally unacceptable” and would undermine existing laws that respect religious institutions and individual conscience, they said.
In 1992, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that abortion was lawful if there was a significant risk to the life of the mother as a result of her pregnancy, including in cases of suicidal threat.
However, lawmakers had refrained from revising Irish abortion law. In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Irish law is unclear about the legality of abortion, but the Irish Parliament took no legislative action in response to the decision.
Pro-abortion-rights groups have long targeted Ireland’s abortion laws, but, recently, they have particularly focused on the October 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital. Halappanavar died of an antibiotic-resistant infection following a miscarriage. She reportedly had asked for an abortion.
A coroner’s inquest ruled that the woman contracted blood poisoning from ruptured uterine membranes and died of massive organ failure after the unborn baby died.
The inquest jury was not tasked with recommending any changes to Ireland’s abortion laws. It ruled that the coroner may recommend exactly when a doctor can intervene to save the life of the mother in similar circumstances. It also recommended working to eliminate errors in blood testing and test reporting while improving communication and training among medical staff.
Opponents of the abortion law have held rallies and prayer events. The Irish Catholic bishops on May 4 observed a Vigil of Prayer for Mothers and Their Unborn Babies at Our Lady’s Shrine in Knock.