DUBLIN, Ireland — The Irish bishops’ conference is insisting that almost all the options recommended by a recent report for changing the country’s abortion laws are unacceptable, since allowing abortion cannot be morally justified.
“Of the four options presented by the Report, three involve abortion — the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child. This can never be morally justified,” the bishops wrote in their Dec. 5 initial response to the report.
The Irish government is debating a 58-page report on abortion that advocates abortion legislation and abortion regulation, the Irish newspaper The Independent reports.
The report was released Nov. 27 after its preparation by a group of 14 experts who debated abortion regulation in the Republic of Ireland.
The expert group was formed in response to a Dec. 2010 decision by the European Court of Human Rights that Irish law is unclear about the legality of abortion.
An 1861 law, still in effect in Ireland, bans abortion, and the 1983 constitution recognizes unborn children’s’ right to life “with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother,” which the European court upheld.
In 1992, the country’s Supreme Court, in its “X case” decision, ruled that abortion was lawful if there was a significant risk to the life of the mother as a result of her pregnancy.
Yet in the 20 years since the ruling, lawmakers have refrained from revising Irish abortion law.
The European court’s 2010 ruling was in response to a suit filed by three women in Ireland who traveled elsewhere to procure abortions.
The Irish bishops’ conference said Dec. 5 that society’s duty is to “defend and promote the equal right to life of a pregnant mother and the innocent and defenseless child in her womb when the life of either of these persons is at risk.”
The bishops distinguished between abortion, “the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby,” and medical treatments for a pregnant woman “which may put the life of her baby at risk.”
Those procedures include treatments for ectopic pregnancy, preeclampsia, or cancer in cases where a woman is pregnant.
But the bishops took issue with the expert group’s report because it “put forward options that could end the practice of making this vital ethical distinction in Irish hospitals.”
They found it worrisome that the report “provides no ethical analysis of the options available,” given that abortion is “first and foremost a moral issue.”
Another concern raised by the report is that it presents a false legal dilemma, omitting viable options such as a constitutional prohibition on abortion, a constitutional amendment reversing the 1992 “X case” judgment, or the adoption of guidelines clarifying when life-saving treatments may be provided.
Pro-life groups were similarly alarmed by the report. Ide Nic Athuna of Youth Defence told EWTN News Nov. 28 that adoption of the recommendations could “basically lead to abortion on demand.”
The bishops advised that “a matter of this importance deserves sufficient time for a calm, rational and informed debate to take place before any decision about the options offered by the Expert Group Report are taken. All involved, especially public representatives, must consider the profound moral questions that arise in responding to this Report.”
“Abortion is gravely immoral in all circumstances, no matter how ‘limited’ access to abortion may be,” they said.
Vigil For Life
On Dec. 4, thousands of Irish pro-life demonstrators packed the street outside of the Dáil Eireann in Dublin for a Vigil for Life, calling on the legislature not to pass any laws that would allow abortion.
“We need to ensure that both our mothers and babies are best protected by banning abortion,” said Niamh Ui Bhrian of the Ireland pro-life group Life Institute.
Attendees at the candlelight vigil included adults, children, college students, clergy and church groups, who asked the government to protect both mothers and their unborn babies.
Some carried signs asking Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny to “keep his pro-life promise” which the Fine Gael party leader made in the 2011 election.
Lawyer Caroline Simons, a member of the vigil organizer Pro Life Campaign, told vigil attendees there is “no going back” once the government implements legislation.
“Any reassurances that you’re going to be given over the next two months that abortion won’t be introduced and they’re going to talk about medical intervention on limited grounds is false,” she said.
Ui Bhrian said such legislation would make Ireland follow the British approach to abortion, a system “anathema” to most Irish people.
Several Catholic bishops attended the rally, including Archbishop Michael Neary of Tuam.
Mother’s Death Misrepresented?
While the Irish government has considered changes to abortion law since January, controversy erupted after the Oct. 28 death of Savita Halappanavar in a Galway hospital. She died of an infection following a miscarriage after reportedly asked for an abortion.
Although an investigation into the case is ongoing, pro-abortion-rights advocates have contended that an abortion would have saved her life.
However, The journalist who broke the news about Halappanavar’s death has admitted that the first reported version of the story may be based on faulty recollection on the part of the woman’s husband.
Kitty Holland’s Nov. 14 story for The Irish Times suggested that Savita Halappanavar died because elective abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland. It was headlined “Woman ‘denied a termination’ dies in hospital.”
Halappanavar’s autopsy has revealed that she died of blood poisoning and E. coli ESBL, an antibiotic-resistant strain of the bacterium.
Uí Bhriain said the vigil “remembered Savita and her baby, and we mourned the loss of their lives.”
However, she said vigil participants ask that “the media and the political establishment now look at the cynical exploitation of this tragic death of a young mother, and seek to find the facts.”