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Abortion in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Wed Dec 19th, 2012 at 03:10:32 PM EST

In the 1980's and 1990's there was a lot of political turmoil in Ireland in response to the economic changes wrought by globalisation and the liberalisation of social mores in response to Ireland's membership of the EU. In what many interpreted as a rearguard action, the Roman Catholic Church and associated pressure groups sought to introduce constitutional "safeguards" to prevent future Irish Governments from legislating for abortion with very counter-productive results (from the perspective of their proponents).

The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution (7 October 1983) sought to introduce a constitutional prohibition of abortion by giving "the unborn" an equal right to life to the mother. However, the Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling called the "X" case (1992), found that the "equal right to life" provision of the 1983 amendment meant that Irish women had the right to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, and included the risk of suicide as a legitimate risk to the life of the mother. In addition, the Supreme Court found that the Government had a duty to legislate to vindicate that right but for 20 years Irish governments have run away from that "hot potato" issue and the almost inevitable confrontation with the Catholic Church that any such legislation would entail.

Anxious to close the suicide "loophole" in the 1983 Amendment, the Government, under pressure from the Catholic bishops, introduced The Twelfth Amendment Bill (1992) to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion further by stating that an abortion could not be procured to protect the health, rather than the life, of the woman, and specifically excluding the risk to the life of the woman from suicide as a grounds for an abortion. This was put to a referendum in November 1992 and was defeated by a resounding 65-35% margin.

However many anomalies remained. My late wife was forced to resign from her job as the administrator of the local community education centre when she refuse to remove leaflets from the community education information centre which gave advice on where further information on "options" for unwanted pregnancies could be obtained. The spectre of the police preventing pregnant women from obtaining information on abortion services abroad and from traveling to UK to have an abortion eventually resulted in two more amendments to the constitution being passed which further weakened the effect of the 1983 ban.

The Thirteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state (to have an abortion in abroad) and the Fourteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries. A second attempt to exclude the risk of suicide as a grounds for abortion was defeated in 2002 when the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution was rejected by the electorate.

In December 2011 the European Court of Human Rights (ABC v Ireland) ruled unanimously that Ireland's failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court unanimously found that Ireland’s abortion law violates women’s human rights and that Ireland must make life-saving abortion services available.

Coincidentally with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar (2012), an "Expert Group" reported on what actions the Government should take to legislate for the X Case judgement, and now, 20 years after the Supreme Court directed the Government to make legislative provision for abortion, the Government has finally committed to introducing legislation and regulation for abortion in 2013. Cue a histrionic reaction from the Catholic Bishops and associated pressure groups.


Rabbitte expresses 'surprise' at bishops' abortion statement

In a strongly worded statement, the church leaders encouraged "all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right".

The archbishops said "public representatives must consider the profound moral questions that arise" in relation to the decision "by the Government to legislate for abortion".

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly this morning said he was concerned the Government's plan would pave the way for a "liberal" abortion culture in the State.

"For the very first time in Ireland it would inevitably lead to the most liberal kind of abortion," he told RTÉ Morning Ireland. "This would be a radical change in the culture of life that we have had here in this country - and let's not make any mistake about it - it would be an irrevocable change, there would not be any going back."

The legislation would be the first step on the way "to a culture of death," Bishop O'Reilly said.

It looks like there is going to be another bitter battle to get any kind of provision for abortion in limited circumstances provided for in Irish law, which means that Irish doctors will continue to act in something of a legal limbo in those circumstances where the mother's health or life may be put at greater risk by the continuance of her pregnancy. Without wishing to prejudge the outcome of three inquiries into the Savita Halappanavar case, it seems at least likely that that legal uncertainty contributed to her death.

Personally I have a lot of tolerance for people of good faith having genuinely different views on the morality of abortion in various circumstances, but no tolerance at all for people trying to impose their moral or theological views on others by force of law. Consequently I have drafted the following - somewhat intemperate - Letter to the Editor for publication in Irish newspapers. I would welcome your advice on whether I should amend it or submit it as drafted.

No one seeks to deny the Catholic Bishops' right, as private citizens, to involve themselves in the debate on abortion. Furthermore, everyone would expect them to exhort their faithful to abide by Catholic teaching, and to impose any internal disciplinary processes they think appropriate for those Catholics who fail to abide by their teaching.  However when they seek to enforce Catholic theology by force of secular law on all, including non-Catholics, I have a very big problem indeed. I never voted for them or submitted to their authority and I would urge everyone to resist such theocratic imperialism up to and including civil disobedience towards any such laws they successfully manage to impose.

It matters not a whit that many non-Catholics also take a dim view of abortion: They are also free to abide by and to exhort others to abide by their principles. The issue is the proper scope of secular law,  and the intrusion of such law on the human rights of women whose health and life is imperiled by their pregnancy. The "unborn", particularly those in the first 24 weeks of gestation, are not recognised as persons in either state or church law, and this is for good reason: They are entirely dependent for their lives on their mother. It is for the mother, and the mother alone, to decide what risks she is prepared to take in order to bring her pregnancy to term. No one has the right to impose a pregnancy on her against her will. The gift of life is just that, a gift, to be accepted or refused, not a sentence to be imposed.

It is utterly repugnant for the Catholic Bishops to seek to label all those who disagree with them as purveyors of "a culture of death" -  just as it is insulting, for the "pro-life" movement, to portray themselves as more "pro-life" than anyone else. The truth is that they are religious fanatics intent on imposing their theology on others by force of secular law  when they cannot do so by force of persuasion or evangelisation. The Irish state is not, and should not be, an instrument for enforcing Catholic or (or indeed fundamentalist protestant) theology.  It is a state which depends on the willing consent of the vast majority of its citizens to the laws which it enacts. We do not need another civil war on moral issues with all the strife and discord that that entails before the basic human rights of mothers are recognised.

The Bishops, too, rely on the state to enforce their right to practice their religion freely within the state. For them to interfere in the basic human rights of a pregnant women is tantamount to my campaigning to make Catholic teaching and practice illegal within the state. I expect the Catholic Bishops to have as much respect for the freedom of pregnant women to make the best choices regarding their pregnancy as I have for their right to practice their religion and to advise their faithful within the state. My respect for their right to practice their religion will decline in direct proportion to their lack of respect for the rights of pregnant women to follow their own conscience.

Has it really come to the point where people of principle and regard for human rights must oppose the very continued existence of the Catholic Church in Ireland?

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Why do you add Fundamentalist to Protestant? It implies that the Irish State should enforce non-fundamentalist Protestant theology.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 03:04:29 AM EST
Fair point. I added it because fundi prods - mostly of the Northern Unionst/Loyalist variety, are often as anti abortion as conservative Roman Catholics are. In fact there is a growing rapproachment between fundi prods and conservative Catholics against what they see as the growing liberalisation/seculariastion of Irish society, North and south.

Both point to their "friendship" with the other as evidence that theirs is not a sectarian agenda and that they have nothing against each other - when the fact is that both are engaged in a conspiracy against "liberals" who want to keep the state out of moral affairs.

Non-fundamentalist protestants may have a variety of views on abortion, but they consider it a private matter and not something the state should seek to criminalise. I'm cool with that. If you add them to "liberal" Catholics who have rejected their own church's teaching and authority and contraception/divorce/child protection/gay rights/abortion plus non-religious people you probably have a small if poorly organised majority for liberalisation of laws on Abortion.

The question is which side is going to have more influence with the Government? I suppose my letter is a thilyn veiled threat that the "liberal" side are not going to take government by theocrats lying down, and that they risk damaging their authority within the state even further by going down the fundi route.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 06:39:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 07:44:41 AM EST
Good letter. I would be tempted to reply to the bishop's "culture of death" remark by pointing out that there is already a culture of death surrounding the issue of abortion, but it's hard to frame that without referring to Halappanavar.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 10:38:40 AM EST
In your first sentence, "Bishop's" should be "Bishops's" (or without the final "s" depending on where you stand on that.)

That is all.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 11:10:00 AM EST
Many thanks. Those apostasies/apostrophes always get me!!!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 11:23:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not especially inclined to be polite to the bishops on this one.  Add more bad language.

I hope Rabbitte was being politic when he said he was surprised by the Bishops' statement. Otherwise he's just not paying attention.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 12:21:02 PM EST
Whatever small chance the letter has of being published in whole or part, it would have none with bad language included...

Pat Rabbitte was just drawing attention to the fact that the Bishops are shooting from the hip before the legislation and regulation is even published. He is painting them as the bullymob they are.

BTW - I have also sent it directly to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. I wonder if he will respond...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 12:28:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're no fun.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 12:58:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the abortion rate in Ireland or among Irish women?
by santiago on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 12:47:49 PM EST
Between January 1980 and December 2011, at least 150,000 women travelled from the Republic of Ireland for safe abortion services abroad.

Here.

Hard to tell though, since there are various reasons women wouldn't show up in statistics.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 12:59:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'd revisit the whole 3rd paragraph. Calling the Bishops "religious fanatics" may be both cathartic and true, but it undermines the temperance of the rest of your letter

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 01:11:24 PM EST
Already omitted from letters sent.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 01:55:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Bishops, too, rely on the state to enforce their right to practice their religion freely within the state.

This is of course true, although only to an extent, and it is certainly part of the Catholic Bishops' narrative in the US, for example, regarding the new requirement of employers to provide free birth control to employees. But the Catholic Church has only come around to accept the concept of "freedom of religion" since Vatican II, and it was controversial even then.  The mental framework that puts the Church above the state and that makes the state's institutions subservient to the teachings of the Catholic Church, even in states where Catholicism is not the majority religion, remains quite strong among many, even in states, such as Mexico, which formally renounced any institutional connections and went to the trouble of rounding up and killing priests to make the point.

I predict it will be a long time before Ireland gets comfortable with the concept of a true separation of church and state -- in practice as well as just nominally -- based on other Catholic countries' experience.

by santiago on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 02:23:27 PM EST
Yea, I thought we had gotten past that point, but the current controversy raises those ghosts all over again. Hence my somewhat intemperate response.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 02:28:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the Catholic Church has only come around to accept the concept of "freedom of religion" since Vatican II, and it was controversial even then.

That sounds like an excellent argument for denying the Catholic Church recognition as a protected religion.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Dec 21st, 2012 at 10:36:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Gift of Life

Dear Archbishop,

No one seeks to deny you your right, as a private citizen, to involve yourself in the debate on abortion. Furthermore, everyone would expect you to exhort your faithful to abide by Catholic teaching, and to impose any internal disciplinary processes you think appropriate for those Catholics who fail to abide by your teaching. However when you seek to enforce Catholic theology by force of secular law on all, including non-Catholics, I have a very big problem indeed. I never voted for you or submitted to your authority and I would urge everyone to resist such theocratic imperialism up to and including civil disobedience towards any such laws you successfully manage to impose.

It matters not a whit that some non-Catholics also take a dim view of abortion: They are also free to abide by and to exhort others to abide by their principles, although the Anglican Communion (Church of Ireland) has long recognised the right of women to have an abortion where their lives are at risk. The issue is the proper scope of secular law, and the intrusion of such law on the human rights of women whose life is imperilled by their pregnancy. The "unborn", particularly those in the first 24 weeks of gestation, are not recognised as persons in either state or church law, and this is for good reason: They are entirely dependent for their lives on their mother. It is for the mother, and the mother alone, to decide what risks she is prepared to take in order to bring her pregnancy to term. No one has the right to impose a pregnancy on her against her will. In cases of rape, the forced imposition of continued pregnancy makes you complicit in that rape.

The gift of life is just that, a gift, to be accepted or refused with free will and good grace, not an act to be criminalised, or a sentence to be imposed and endured.

It is utterly repugnant for the Catholic Bishops to seek to label all those who disagree with them as purveyors of "a culture of death" - just as it is insulting, for the "pro-life" movement, to portray themselves as more "pro-life" than anyone else. The truth is that they are intent on imposing their theology on others by force of secular law when they cannot do so by force of internal discipline, persuasion or evangelisation. The Irish state is not, and should not be, an instrument for enforcing Catholic (or indeed protestant) theology. It is a state which depends on the willing consent of the vast majority of its citizens to the laws which it enacts, and citizens are free, as citizens if not as adherents, to dissent from the teaching of their religious superiors.

We do not need another civil war on moral issues with all the strife and discord that that entails before the basic human rights of women are recognised. The Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling called the "X" case (1992), found that the "equal right to life" provision of the 1983 amendment meant that Irish women had the right to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, and included the risk of suicide as a legitimate risk to the life of the mother.

The Irish people have now voted in four referendums to underscore that right: The Twelfth Amendment Bill (1992) intended to restrict the availability of abortion by stating that an abortion could not be procured to protect the health, rather than the life, of the woman, and specifically excluding the risk to the life of the woman from suicide as a grounds for an abortion was defeated by a resounding 65-35% margin.

However other anomalies remained. My late wife was forced to resign from her job as the administrator of the local VEC Community Education Centre when she refuse to remove leaflets from the community education information centre which gave advice on where further information on "options" for crisis pregnancies could be obtained. The spectre of the Gardai preventing pregnant women from obtaining information on abortion services abroad and from travelling to UK to have an abortion eventually resulted in two more amendments to the constitution being passed which strengthened the rights of women to access to information and abortion services.

The Thirteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state (to have an abortion in abroad) and the Fourteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries. What is the moral difference between a woman having an abortion in the UK or in Ireland? A second attempt to exclude the risk of suicide as a grounds for abortion was defeated in 2002 when the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution was also rejected by the electorate.

And yet, for 20 years, under pressure from yourself and your colleagues, the Government has done nothing to vindicate these rights or to safeguard health care workers caught up in unenviable life and death situations in a legal vacuum created by the failure to legislate as the people and the Supreme Court decided. In December 2011 the European Court of Human Rights (ABC v Ireland) also ruled unanimously that Ireland's failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and so finally, now, out of shame and embarrassment, the Government has been forced to act.

As an Archbishop, you will never have to face the risks of a crisis pregnancy, but you too rely on the state to enforce your right to practice your religion freely within the state. For you to interfere in the basic human rights of a pregnant women as decided by the people and the Courts is tantamount to my campaigning to make Catholic teaching and practice illegal within the state. How righteously outraged would you be then? In past centuries Catholicism was persecuted in Ireland. Must you now persecute those do not recognise your authority or obey your teaching? Has it really come to the point where people of principle and regard for human rights must oppose the very continued existence of the Catholic Church in Ireland in order to preserve their most basic freedom and human rights?

Kind regards...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 20th, 2012 at 03:31:57 PM EST
Calm down, dears, and have a rational debate on abortion - The Irish Times - Fri, Dec 21, 2012
Hysteria is historically seen as a peculiarly female failing: mad talk caused by our wandering wombs. Like many ancient beliefs, it still lurks in the back of people's brains: women are much more likely than men to be labelled shrill, or strident, or sexually frustrated, or emotionally unstable.

"Calm down, dear": the classic put-down to a little lady who's got herself in a tizzy. But men - especially those with an avid interest in shoring up their dwindling political or religious authority - are just as prone to indulging themselves with wild, emotive, irresponsible language. The only difference is that we don't tend to call it hysteria. We should.

The importunate intervention of the Catholic archbishops, following the Government's announcement of its intention to introduce legislation for abortion - in extremely limited circumstances - is a case in point.

The words were barely out of Minister for Health James Reilly's mouth when the robed quartet popped up, invoking the prospect of "the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb". Later, Leo O'Reilly, the Bishop of Kilmore, weighed in. He described the proposals as "the first step on the road to a culture of death", adding that "once you say one human life can be directly destroyed, no human life is safe".

Nobody was surprised by the sentiments, of course. Bears behave in the usual way when they go into the woods. But the urgency and the extremity of the rhetoric, even by customary standards, was striking.

Anti-abortion campaigners, in general, are known for their gruesome, accusatory language, yet this was positively operatic: state-sponsored killing of the innocents, widespread forcible euthanasia, the grim advent of the ill-defined but all-consuming "culture of death".

Let us remind ourselves, we are speaking about protecting a woman's right to continued existence when a crisis pregnancy puts her life in danger. Only that. It is the absolute minimum she deserves, and is entitled to expect; hardly the gateway to inexorable evil.

No need for histrionics. Calm down, dears.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 21st, 2012 at 09:41:49 AM EST
Calm down, dears, and have a rational debate on abortion - The Irish Times - Fri, Dec 21, 2012

Meanwhile, Rónán Mullen was ramping up the emotional pressure in the Seanad. He warned his colleagues not to fall into "double-think" by condemning the school shootings in Connecticut while supporting the introduction of a new legal framework for abortion here. He urged Senators not to "forget a whole category of children in our own country".

Drawing a moral equivalence between the murder of a class of six-year-olds and the termination of a pregnancy which is threatening the mother's life is repugnant on so many levels: the absolutist logic; the casual rhetorical opportunism; the blatant disrespect for grieving families.

Curiously, there is a coldness, a heartlessness, that often accompanies such emotive arguments. We also saw it when John Larkin - in remarks made before he became the North's Attorney General -- said that destroying a highly disabled foetus in the womb was akin to "putting a bullet in the back of the head of the child two days after it's born".

When it comes to arguing the anti-abortion case, the frequent assumption is that the end justifies the means, no matter how aggressive, inflammatory and distasteful those means appear to be.

Whatever their beliefs, there is an onus on political and religious leaders to use temperate, considered language, in accordance with the dignity of their public role. They have a greater responsibility than the rest of us to rise above the heat of the immediate situation.

---snip---

The bishops and their like are not simply giving vent to heartfelt emotion. In that sense, this is not wild talk at all. Their statements are intentionally, and strategically, freighted with fear and hostility, aimed at evoking an emotional, rather than an intellectual, political reaction.

They also serve to perpetuate still further the deep sense of guilt around this issue, so that many people feel they are invoking something evil simply by uttering the word "abortion". In short, they are continuing their attempt to frighten and shame us, in a visceral manner, rather than rationally persuade us.

But the intensification of their rhetoric in recent days may be telling. The use of excessively emotive language is often the hallmark of a group that knows it is losing the battle, resorting instead to increasingly hysterical claims. The position they cling to is archaic, abstruse and culpably inhumane. No amount of disingenuous emotional incontinence can disguise that.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 21st, 2012 at 09:46:06 AM EST
You can only hope so, but I fear that Ireland's elites are wholly in the grip of the irrational urge to genuflect to some bloke in a scarlet dress, and progress in this regard will be glacial at best

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Dec 21st, 2012 at 10:15:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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