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Catholic Bishops fighting losing battle in Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 17th, 2013 at 07:15:04 AM EST


In Abortion in Ireland I gave a brief account of the background to various attempts to make abortion illegal in Ireland in all circumstances by introducing a constitutional right to life for the unborn. These attempts failed when the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was lawful where there was a substantial risk to the life of the mother which could be alleviated by an abortion. Controversially, the Supreme Court included a threat of suicide in the definition of what could constitute a substantial threat to the life of the mother and this position was endorsed by two constitutional referendums (plebiscites) in 1992 and 2002.

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However many ambiguities in the law remained, and successive Governments avoided enacting legislation which would clarify the circumstances under which an abortion might be lawful for fear of incurring the wrath of the Catholic Church. This ambiguity was highlighted when Savita Halappanavar died of obstetric sepsis having been refused an abortion, which, according to the expert testimony of Obstetrician Prof Peter Boylan at the inquest, could have prevented her death. There were undoubtedly other factors which also contributed to her death - a delayed diagnosis and a failure to act on information in a timely manner, but the central problem was that her condition had become terminal by the time her doctors had concluded that her life was substantially at risk and that an abortion would be legally permissible.

Now the Government is finally publishing draft legislation (PDF) to codify the very restrictive circumstances in which an abortion is legal, and the forced pregnancy advocates are once again out in force arguing that abortion is never a treatment for suicidal ideation and that allowing the threat of suicide to be included in the grounds for an abortion will open the floodgates to what they describe as "abortion on demand".

The Catholic Bishops - in a final attempt to remain relevant and cling on to some political power in Ireland - have been threatening excommunication for any politician who supports the legislation and thereby endangers their immortal soul. However as the above opinion poll demonstrates, they have lost the support of the vast majority of their adherents who support the proposals of an otherwise unpopular Government by a margin of 75% to 14% and who would also support a much wider legal definition of when abortion should be allowed:

Poll suggests overwhelming support for proposed abortion legislation
Voters were also asked if abortion should be permitted in six specified circumstances. 89 per cent said it should be allowed where a woman’s life is at risk.

Asked if abortion should be permitted in cases where the foetus is not capable of surviving outside the womb, 83 per cent said it should.

Some 81 per cent said abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or abuse, while 78 per cent were in favour in cases where a woman’s health is at risk.

Asked if abortion should be allowed where a woman is threatening suicide 52 per cent said Yes, 29 per cent said No and 19 per cent had no opinion.

Finally, when asked if abortion should be permitted where a woman deems it to be in her best interest, 46 per cent said it should not, 39 per cent said it should and 15 per cent had no opinion.

Even though the legislation is very minimalist and restricted to providing clarity to the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case (1992), the passions aroused are typically apocalyptic:
Government to publish abortion legislation this evening

Mr Kenny told the Dáil he acknowledged the issue was sensitive but defended his position. "I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer. I'm going to have on my soul the death of 20 million babies. I'm getting medals, scapulars, plastic foetuses, letters written in blood, telephone calls all over the system and it's not confined to me".

He said he did not agree with many of the statements that had been made.

Mr Kenny said his job as Taoiseach "is not confined to any sector of the people, it is for all the people. Therefore I am proud to stand here as a public representative, who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach. I am a Taoiseach for all the people and that's my job".

His statement is in stark contrast to that of a former Fine Gael Taoiseach (Prime Minister)

On coming into office in 1948 the first inter-party government, led by John Costello, sent a message to the then pontiff stating: "On the occasion of our assumption of office and of the first Cabinet meeting, my colleagues and myself desire to repose at the feet of your Holiness the assurance of our filial and of our devotion to your August Person, as well as our firm resolve to be guided in all our work by the teaching of Christ, and to strive for the attainment of the social order in Ireland based on Christian principles."

Bishops object
In 1950 the then minister for health, Noel Browne, sought to introduce a mother-and-child scheme which had the following features: a free, non means-tested medical scheme for all mothers in respect of motherhood and children (children up to the age of 16); this to be provided in the main by dispensary doctors; the doctors would keep records of the illnesses of their patients; and the doctors would give health guidance to the mothers and children. The bishops objected in principle to the free-for-all scheme and to the proposal that doctors would provide health guidance on the grounds that this might result in doctors giving guidance on birth control and abortion. The government capitulated.

Costello, in the ensuing Dáil debate, said: "I, as a Catholic, obey my church authorities and will continue to do so . . . There will be no flouting of the authority of the bishops in the matter of Catholic social or moral teaching." The minister for external affairs, leader of one of the coalition parties and former leader of the IRA, Seán McBride, said: "Those of us in this House who are Catholics, and all of us in the government who are Catholics, are, as such of course, bound to give obedience to the rulings of our church and our hierarchy". Noel Browne said: "I, as a Catholic, accept unequivocally and unreservedly the view of the hierarchy on this matter."

Little wonder that Northern Ireland Unionists considered any prospect of Irish Unification as the prospect of being ruled by Rome and sought to reinforce their suppression of Catholic Nationalists in Northern Ireland.

But let us be clear: This is a very minor piece of legislation providing clarity and regulatory effect to a previous Supreme Court ruling and two referendums which will permit an abortion only in very limited circumstances where the life of the mother is at risk. All the medical experts testifying at public hearings in Parliament agreed that such circumstances are very rare. The vast majority of Irish women will continue to travel to Britain to have an abortion in other circumstances. About 150,000 have done so in the past 30 years.

Indeed even those who might qualify for an abortion in Ireland under this proposed legislation (perhaps on the grounds of suicide) may wish to avoid the very rigorous medical and psychiatric scrutiny they will be subjected to should they seek an abortion in Ireland. It is even conceivable that a psychiatrically ill women feeling suicidal and requesting an abortion could be forcibly detained in an Irish hospital under the provisions of the 2001 Mental Health Act and thus prevented from traveling to have an abortion in Britain.  A women in such a position would be well advised to be careful about which doctor she went to, but unfortunately the doctors who would make such decisions do not always advertise their "pro-life" moral or religious positions.

So we will, as usual, continue to export the vast majority of our "crisis" pregnancy issues to Britain. So why all the fuss? The fuss is primarily political and not really about abortion at all. Abortion is but the battleground chosen by the Catholic Bishops to try to shore up their increasingly marginal position in Irish political and social life. It is a power struggle with the forces of secularism and evil as they see it. Nobody ever "wants" an abortion: It is at best an awful choice sometimes forced onto people by awful circumstances, and the Catholic Church is seeking to exploit this awfulness by branding all who oppose their position as promoting a culture of death in Irish society. But it is also possible their strategy has back-fired: Not only have their own adherents rejected their leadership, but even those who might be personally opposed to abortion have to ask themselves whether they really want to go back to the days of Rome rule in Ireland.

In the end it is about rejecting theocracy and the rank hypocrisy of the Catholic Hierarchy which spent most of the last few decades protecting child abusers from the law. That they should now seek to present themselves as the prime defenders and representatives "of the unborn" must rank as the very definition of hypocrisy and chutzpah on a biblical scale.

Display:
"Voters were also asked if abortion should be permitted in six specified circumstances. 89 per cent said it should be allowed where a woman's life is at risk." Presumably the other 11% would rather both mother and foetus died rather than attempt to save the mother... It must be God's will?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 12th, 2013 at 07:17:45 PM EST
Actually that's pretty good. Imagine if you asked that question in the US.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:24:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Still, what explains this?

Finally, when asked if abortion should be permitted where a woman deems it to be in her best interest, 46 per cent said it should not, 39 per cent said it should and 15 per cent had no opinion.

Is that the remains of the Church's power, or a more general pro-lifer cultural view?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:24:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"because the woman deems it in her best interest" sounds like "on a whim" to the 46%.

Finance is the brain [tumour] of the economy
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:29:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought that was pretty good too. Or at least a great improvement over twenty years ago.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:37:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wonder how the numbers would have fallen if it was phrased as the woman being unable to give the child a decent quality of life or something like that?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:39:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The standard Catholic answer to that is giving the child to adoption.

Finance is the brain [tumour] of the economy
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:47:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, but I wonder how it would have polled.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:47:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wonder how these things would poll if people were asked not about "a woman" but about "you" or "your wife/sister/daughter"...

Finance is the brain [tumour] of the economy
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:57:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That too.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 07:00:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"The woman you just got pregnant"?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 07:47:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect the question was intended to poll the numbers who would support "abortion on demand" - also a somewhat pejorative phrase phrase as it implies the mother just has to say "I want..I want..I want.." and every wish will be met no matter how whimsical. The reality, of course, is that no one undertakes an abortion lightly and for most it is an extremely painful decision to have to take. I remember how upset my wife was at two very early miscarriages at a time I had barely got my head around the fact that she was pregnant.

A better way to pose that question is perhaps to ask who should have the right to make the final decision:

  1. The pregnant women
  2. Her doctor or a panel of doctors (as proposed), or
  3. The catholic Bishops,

Savita Halappanavar was told by a senior midwife that "this is a Catholic country" so there was no doubt in her mind where the final decision lay.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 07:29:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Abortion is metaphorically too close to infanticide for comfort, and a large fraction of the population just doesn't do nuance.

Finance is the brain [tumour] of the economy
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:27:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nuance is dangerous in a world where your supposed opponent will just bludgeon you (if only ideologically) when you let your guard down in that way.

From a different angle I think PR has evolved to an end game where most people (at least in the Anglo world) have been worked into a mental state where the belief is that every issue on the table is a matter of life and death - for everyone.

And we've got the additional baggage of Christianity where the body itself is almost sinful by definition (as it can't live up to the "pureness" of God), much less the hostility towards sex for the purposes of pleasure.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sun Jun 16th, 2013 at 10:47:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'Inadequate assessment' in Halappanavar's care - RTÉ News

The report says the risk of infection increased with time and after the spontaneous rupture of Mrs Halappanavar's membranes in the early hours of Monday 22 October, the day following her admission to the hospital.

The report also refers to termination of pregnancy and concludes that there was a failure to offer all clinical management options for a patient experiencing inevitable miscarriage early in the second trimester and where the risk to the mother increased with time.

It says the Oireachtas should look at providing legal guidance in this area to clinicians.

There was a failure to follow up blood tests, a lack of accountability and a failure to adhere to clinical guidelines on the management of sepsis.



Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:16:29 AM EST
So why all the fuss? The fuss is primarily political and not really about abortion at all. Abortion is but the battleground chosen by the Catholic Bishops to try to shore up their increasingly marginal position in Irish political and social life. It is a power struggle with the forces of secularism and evil as they see it.

I don't know: it may simply be looking out for their own careers. In the current environment in the Church I don't think that bishops who fail to rail against any sort of legislation  on abortion are likely to get promoted. I'm not sure they really expect to have any political effect outside of people who are going to be against it anyway.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 06:23:32 AM EST
Yes, but remember that being a Bishop many years ago meant having power and status equivalent to a cabinet minister. Now being a Bishop is to be a largely marginal figure sometimes subject to abuse by irate catholic and ex-catholics alike. "Right to Life" is about the only issue where Bishops can still raise a media storm, rally the faithful and get a large demonstration together. It's down to confirmations and first communions after that - ceremonies that are more about having a big party rather than anything else for most people.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 07:37:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Abortion - very very bad.

Child abuse - let's just cover that up, shall we?

I think they're on to a loser here. The brainwashed old guard are dying out, and the kids know what the Church really stands for.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Jun 13th, 2013 at 08:42:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Going off on a tangent, here is a relatively recent news from Hungary, where things are going backwards on the state-church separation front under the right-populist government of PM Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party.

Orbán and his circle, who used to be progressive liberals, first cozened up to historical churches (that is above all the Catholic Church) so that they lend credibility to their conservative makeover. (Religiousness will work as a direct vote-getter only among villagers and old people.) Later the neo-conservative idea of religion as a necessary tool to control the ignorant masses got added in. Now, what do the churches want most? Money. Thus, the most significant government support given to the historical churches was attempts at increasing state subsidies.

For most of the past two decades, these state subsidies were based on income tax declarations: every citizen could specify a religious community (and a limited number of non-religious initiatives) to receive 1% of her tax, and the state would divide an additional sum in the ratio of taxpayers. The main change Fidesz implemented (and already wanted during its first government a decade earlier, when election loss prevented implementation) was to scale and divide subsidies according to census figures. The trick is that people are more likely to declare themselves "Catholic" in reply to a census question than to voluntarily grant the church their tax money, because they don't like the church or their confessional identity is nothing more than personal/family history.

However, in spite of expensive ad campaigns run by the churches and support from a government still near the height of its popularity, data from the 2011 census (released in March this year) showed massive losses for the historical churches (diagram adapted from this article):

("No allegation" in the above includes explicit atheists. Total population was 9.94 million in 2011.) In fact, those losses are more massive than between 1949 (last census with a religion question) and 2001. Then again, the numbers are still higher than of those giving their 1% to churches (just 1.01 million out of the 3.34 million income tax payers in 2011).

Meanwhile, in spite of the elimination of most small congregations and the non-religious alternative for the 1% tax declarations, that part of the churches' income dropped by more than a quarter last year. The number of people doing the tax declarations fell by much less (-2.8%).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 17th, 2013 at 04:12:36 AM EST
It sounds like Fidesz are trying to raise the Catholic Church to official state church status with a range of direct and indirect subsidies and supports. The protection of religious freedom then becomes the freedom to be religious (in only a few approved ways). It's as if Christ did a deal with Caesar to save his own life and get official recognition as the approved religious leader for Jews (in opposition to the Pharisees) in return for support for the Roman occupation of ancient Palestine.

The use of institutional religion to underpin conservative and reactionary political forces is probably the main reason for the long term secular decline of organised religion in Europe.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 17th, 2013 at 06:54:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Little wonder that Northern Ireland Unionists considered any prospect of Irish Unification as the prospect of being ruled by Rome and sought to reinforce their suppression of Catholic Nationalists in Northern Ireland.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a legitimate concern.  Even here in the US, there are problems.  When JFK ran for president, the knock on him was he'd take his orders from Rome.  Fortunately, there was a sensible pope at the time who knew better than to pull such a stunt, but there hasn't been one such since.  For at least the last decade, we've had Catholic bishops threatening to withhold communion from senators and congressmen who don't vote correctly.  In a place like Ireland, culture and practice make the threat that much greater, however "secularized" the population may now consider itself.  I may be in the US, but I live in Utah, which is de facto a theocracy, and the results are not pretty.

The issue goes well beyond law and politics.  When I was small, I came down with appendicitis.  There were to hospitals in our area.  One was a research hospital our small-town doctor could not get privileges for.  So off we went to the Catholic hospital.  The surgery was tricky (for the time), and our doctor wanted his senior partner to perform it.  The partner, though, was in the middle of a boycott against the hospital.  It seems the nuns had interfered with his delivery of a baby, forbidding a C-section, and he lost the baby.  At the last minute he broke his boycott to cut me open and probably save my life, but why a bunch of ignorant old crows with their thighs stitched together should have any say over a birth procedure was beyond any of us who were not of the papal persuasion (Please note these nuns were not medical personnel, just administrators.)

Fortunately, I have been able to watch the Catholic Church get largely sued out of the medical business as the malpractice costs for such idiocies became prohibitive.  Unfortunately, the penguin-and-dog-collar folks seem to be getting back into that game, although as they apparently have learned nothing in the interim, I expect to see them sued right back out.

by rifek on Mon Jun 24th, 2013 at 11:15:30 PM EST
Unfortunately, this is far from just a Catholic issue. I watch continually the appalling efforts of local politicians in Arkansas pass legislation that shortens the window during which ANY abortion could be performed. Fetal heartbeat issues. They are hardly playing to Catholics alone, though there are a substantial number. Southern Baptists are the most numerous and I expect that a majority of Arkansan Christians are fundamentalist to one degree or another. The other area that social-religious views strongly impacts is sex education. Arkansas has a very high rate of teen pregnancy. Que stereotypes.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 24th, 2013 at 11:47:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The creation of the statelet of Northern Ireland is often portrayed as the British Empire trying to hold onto some of its territory, but the reality was very different. Any other "solution" would have been a very bloody civil war, although the actual border drawn was very unfair to Catholics who were actually in the majority in border counties.

However, for all the Republican rhetoric about fighting for a United Ireland, the truth is that Protestants in the North and Catholics in the south very quickly became very comfortable with having their own little statelets reflecting their own religious beliefs, and none too concerned about the minorities of both religions stranded on the wrong sides of the new border.

Times have now changed and demographics may soon indicate a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland. That does not mean they will automatically vote for a united Ireland especially as the south is in such economic and financial difficulty at the minute. On the plus side, relationships north and south have much improved at almost every level. Ironically Conservative Catholics and Protestants are much more likely to make common cause against "atheistic secularists" on issues like abortion than they are to fight each other.

Religious schools tend to be elite schools catering for the more privileged in both communities, and thus religion is becoming as much a class as a nationalist issue for the older generation. Control of hospitals and schools is also their last play at retaining secular power.


Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 25th, 2013 at 07:55:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
demographics may soon indicate a Catholic majority in Northern Ireland

Indeed but against a new trend of increasing non-religious and other, and influenced by immigration.

Now the detailed data from the 2011 census is out, and, confirming the trend in the 2001 census, and boosted by immigration, Catholics dominate Protestants and other Christians in all age groups below 37 (see religion or religion brought up in by age – there is religion by age too, but I consciously use the wider definition of religious identity here). For the total population, the ratio is 45.1% Catholics vs. 48.4% Protestants and other Christians. It would take mass Catholic emigration, apostasy or a drop of birthrates way below that of Protestants for Catholics to not become a comfortable relative majority once the current children have children.

However, the trends aren't monotonic:

The crux is that, even though Protestantism is in terminal decline, Catholics may stop just short of becoming an absolute majority.

That does not mean they will automatically vote for a united Ireland

Indeed if you look at the census results for the national identity question (see national identity by religion or religion brought up in), you'll see that of all people, against 39.9% who take on a British-only identity, only 25.3% take on an Irish-only identity. Among Catholics, that figure is 52.6%, while another 26.8% take on a Northern-Irish-only identity, and another 10.6% a British-only identity(!).

Protestants aren't all that hardcore Unionists, either (66.5% British-only, 15.5% Northern-Irish-only). Among those with no religion or religion brought up in, 45.4% are British-only, 22.3% Northern-Irish-only.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 25th, 2013 at 10:53:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with the Good Friday Agreement is that it provides for an all or nothing referendum as to whether people want to remain within the UK or join a united Ireland. the reality is that neither option will be entirely satisfactory to most people very soon. Most would probably prefer NI remaining a separate administrative Unit with closer ties to the Republic but without entirely severing the link to Britain.

There are already some cross border institutional arrangements - joint tourism and trade bodies, a British and Irish parliamentary Assembly and a lot of joint Ministerial meetings on issues like security, agriculture and joint infrastructural development which could be built on.

If Britain were to leave the EU, the whole situation could be destabilized, as NI interests withing the EU are often much more closely aligned with the Republic rather than with Britain. However in the short/medium term I cannot see any change in the fundamental issue of Sovereignty and the core state functions of Finance, Defense, and Foreign policy unless there is a truly remarkable change of heart amongst protestants in the North.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jun 25th, 2013 at 08:41:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
see religion or religion brought up in by age - there is religion by age too, but I consciously use the wider definition of religious identity here

But having the data downloaded already, I can post this as well:

(The overall Catholic to Protestant-and-other-Christian ratio narrows to 40.8% to 41.6% in this comparison.)

If the difference between "None" in this and the other dataset can be taken as the measure of apostasy, then it peaks at just above 7 percentage points for thirty-somethings.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jun 26th, 2013 at 03:39:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As you can well imagine, religion got quite a bad name as a badge of identity during the troubles, and many people simply refuse to identify themselves by religion whatever their private religious beliefs. As elsewhere, many were also put off by the child abuse scandals the religious attitudes to contraception, abortion and homosexuality. This often translates into disdain for political parties with clear religious identification or disaffection from the political process whatsoever. Thus whilst the more extreme Democratic Unionist (Paisleyite) and Sinn Fein (Republican) parties became dominant within their own tribal groupings and voting trends appear reasonably stable, this masks changes in political attitudes and social mores more generally and particularly those within previously relatively monolithic religious communities.
Politics of Northern Ireland - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Religious Affiliations in Northern Ireland 1961-2011[14] Religions 1961 1991 2001 2011 Roman Catholic Presbyterian (Protestant) Church of Ireland (Protestant) Other Religions (including other Protestant) Not Stated None
34.9% 38.4% 40.3% 40.8%
29.0% 21.4% 20.7% 19.06%
24.2% 17.7% 15.3% 13.7%
9.3% 11.5% 9.9% 19.6%
2.0% 7.3% 9.0% 6.7%
0.0% 3.8% 5.0% 10.1%
.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 26th, 2013 at 04:32:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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