National Catholic Register


Ireland’s Moment of Truth? Two Views on the Abortion Referendum

Dana Rosemary Scallon: Vote No

BY Jim Cosgrove

March 3-9, 2002 Issue | Posted 3/3/02 at 1:00 PM


Throughout the past years, I have joined in the many calls for a new referendum that would effectively overturn the Supreme Court judgment in the “X” case and restore adequate protection for the unborn.

However, it is my belief that the current referendum not only does not afford protection for the unborn between the times of conception and implantation, it in fact removes the current protection of the pre-implanted unborn found in the Offences Against the Person Act, 1861, which has been interpreted to protect the unborn child within the woman's body from conception onward. Instead, the proposal provides criminal sanctions only for those abortions committed after the unborn child has implanted in the womb.

And while the proposed wording removes the mother's threatened suicide as a justification for abortion, it creates a situation where the justification for abortion would come down to “the reasonable opinion” of one medical practitioner. This could be open to wide interpretation, particularly if medical guidelines and ethics were to change in Ireland, as we are advised they may.

As well, I stated previously that the government's proposed wording of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution could not be judged in isolation from the European Union's decision to permit public funding of research using pre-implanted child embryos up to 14 days old. It is my understanding that the topic of protection of the pre-implanted and un-implanted child embryo was not discussed in the soundings prior to publication of the proposed wording of the 25th Amendment. However, legislative decisions have moved rapidly within the EU in the area of embryo research.

Sadly there is a majority within the EU institutions that supports public funding for destructive research on the child embryo. This is in spite of it being unconstitutional, or illegal, in four member states, of which Ireland is one. This is contrary to normal EU procedure, whereby public funding is not allocated to any project that is illegal in one member state.

The Irish government's declaration to the European Research Council, on Dec. 11, 2001, stated that our Constitution, under Article 40.3.3, protects the unborn embryo; even when artificially created, however, research on human embryos in Ireland is not regulated by law. The embryo is therefore entirely reliant on Article 40.3.3.

Within this article the term “unborn” is undefined. It is therefore a matter of deep concern to me that the Government Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, the body that will make proposals to the government in this area, has suggested that if the embryo were held to enjoy the protection given to the unborn “this would have very serious implications for current practice,” such as replacement of unviable human embryos and other considerations such as disposal of stored embryos, and screening for certain conditions.

The proposed constitutional amendment fails to address these issues and leaves the artificially created embryo without statutory, and perhaps possibly Constitutional protection.

While it would be politically easier for me to accept a proposal that protects the embryo after implantation rather than from conception, I believe that there are certain principles that are non-negotiable for me. I feel that I cannot lend support to a measure, which in my opinion, creates in embryo development, an artificial line before which less protection is given to human life.

I cannot lend support to a measure that creates an artificial line before which less protection is given to human life.

I also believe the we must guard against dividing lobby groups into two camps so that those who vote Yes will be seen as pro-life and all those who vote No will be labeled as pro-choice. This polarization will not be accurate or fair, as I am aware of many people who share the same concerns as outlined above and believe they must vote No.

In reaching my decision I have taken into account that the only statutory protection afforded the pre-implanted embryo in Ireland will be repealed by the proposed amendment, and I have received no assurance that there are plans to introduce legislation to replace this protection.

Justification will rely on the “reasonable opinion” of one medical practitioner — this could be open to wide interpretation.

While the proposed wording strengthens legal protection for the unborn only after implantation in the womb, it does not vindicate the value of life from conception in a consistent measure from a legal point of view.

My conclusion has been reached after serious deliberation, which has taken into account and been respectful of the many opinions put forward on the subject. As a matter of conscience, and of my own integrity, my position must remain the same as it has always been — that I uphold the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.

Singer Dana Rosemary Scallon is a Member of the European

Parliament. (Excerpted from a Feb. 15 statement)