Legislating for these issues is a complicated affair, complicated not least by the painful and traumatic situations in which pregnant women sometimes find themselves. We as a nation need much compassion, wisdom and courage as these complex matters are faced and dealt with. I would like to offer some thoughts that I have gleaned from various sources...
- There is a need for clarification in Ireland’s legislation. The European Court is correct to criticise Ireland for our lack of clarity in the matter. For the sake of pregnant women or mothers who find themselves in, or women who contemplate the possibility of, difficult circumstances in pregnancy, for the sake of the medical profession who struggle with what is or is not acceptable practice in the various scenarios that present themselves, and for the sake of the unborn children many of whose fate is bound up in the outcome of any legislation proposed, clarification is to be welcomed.
- It is of concern that this legislation is being made in the milieu of the tragic Savita Halappanavar death. We should remind ourselves of the old legal adage that ‘hard cases make bad law.’
- There are those in our society who despite the various referenda on the topic have an interest in bringing about change such that abortion becomes very much easier than it is at present.
- There is the concern is that any ‘clarification’ in law may not satisfactorily uphold the result of the 1983 referendum in recognising the right to life of the unborn child equal to that of the mother. While there are sometimes complex medical emergencies where difficult decisions have to be made, they have to be made recognising what is at stake – both the life of the mother AND the life of the child.
- So while we should affirm the need for clarification, we should also be deeply concerned that a path of least resistance may be adopted and that we will deal with some of the complicated moral decisions that parents and doctors face by paying less attention to the life of the unborn person making his or her welfare something of a secondary concern.
- Care needs to be taken such that in drafting legislation it is not so impractical or so clumsy in balancing the rights of the unborn with the rights of the mother as to make a revision to the legislation necessary such that “legislation part 2” results in the rights of the unborn being less protected than if the legislation had been drafted with more care in the first place.
- It should be borne in mind that, although the situation as pertained in the last decade or so was less than perfect and needs clarification, the balance between the life of the mother and the life of the unborn would appear to have been reasonably well struck with maternal mortality being thankfully very rare.
Legislating the ‘threat of suicide’ to be grounds for a lawful abortion is of particular concern and is in direct conflict with the 1983 referendum that affirmed the unborn child’s right to life. If as a result of this legislation we can have a pregnant woman claim that unless the baby is removed from her she will commit suicide and as a result being facilitated by the State and by the medical profession to have a termination of the pregnancy, we open up the possibility of being dragged into territory we never meant to go. The following should help clarify our point:
- What if this request for a termination happens later on in pregnancy where if delivered the baby has a significant chance of survival? Do we induce labour and place the baby in an incubator?
- What if the mother then states that actually it is the idea of her baby’s continued existence that is causing her distress such that she is threatening suicide – does the State in all future cases perform the termination in such a way that the baby is guaranteed not to survive the procedure (such as performing a partial birth abortion as in the USA) and does it in this instance conceivably remove the baby from the incubator so that it dies.
- Is there any real difference here between having a mother with post partum depression stating that she cannot cope with the idea of her baby’s continued existence and is as a result suicidal – would the State participate in the destruction of that newly born child? This is of course unthinkable. Yet under the terms of possible suicide by the mother in these circumstances there is going to have to be some decision made as to when this threat of suicide is sufficient to trigger an abortion.
- We are then faced with the possibility of a graduated scale of importance being attached to the unborn human life from being relatively unimportant nearer to conception to having the importance of a birthed baby near the end of pregnancy. This surely flies in the face of the 1983 referendum where the life of the unborn has equal protection to the life of the mother with that protection going right back to the time of conception.
- It does not seem possible to consistently uphold the 1983 referendum decision to affirm to right to life of an unborn child and at the same time affirm that a suicidal mother has the right to abort. The 1992 X-Case ruling and the 2002 referendum failing narrowly thus allowing the threat of suicide to remain as a legitimate threat to the life of the mother cannot stand side by side with the 1983 referendum affirmation of the right to life of the unborn child – they are simply incompatible.
- By definition, if a mother is genuinely suicidal, she has gone and is going through such trauma and emotional distress that she is no longer making reasonable decisions; the pain she has and is suffering is causing her to become emotionally and mentally unstable. In no other circumstance would we give someone going through such turmoil the right to choose whether another person lives or dies. We need to pour compassion on these mothers and particularly victims of rape like the young girl at the centre of the X-Case. These women need counselling and treatment, not open doors to abortion.
- I am unaware of any convincing research or study indicating that abortion would be in any way helpful to the emotional and mental stability of a victim of rape or indeed of anyone going through deep depression. It does not seem like a measured response to allow the taking of an innocent life in the hope that it may cure a victim of suicidal tendencies.
- The fact that the mother may believe that having an abortion would be beneficial to her should not be considered a legitimate reason to take the life of another. In no other circumstance would the State not examine carefully every circumstance where a life is taken as a result of a wrongly held belief.
- It is understood that there is evidence of a greater risk of suicide among those who have undergone an abortion procedure and in weighing up the risk of suicide as a result of not having a termination, the risk of suicide down the line as a result of having a termination should also be put into the equation in considering the long term wellbeing of the mother.
- In drafting up such legislation one needs to be very mindful of how such legislation could be interpreted in the future. One might imagine the furore down the line after a panel of qualified persons decides that the threat of suicide presenting in the woman before it is not sufficiently great as to require a termination of pregnancy and that pregnant woman subsequently commits suicide. The furore will be such that either the legislation will be changed to the detriment of the unborn or the next time the word suicide is mentioned to a panel an authorisation will nearly always be forthcoming for termination. In the nature of things this sort of testing of the legislation is bound to happen. Once abortion is lawful when the threat of suicide is present, regardless of the safeguards that are put around it, there is a real risk of opening the door wide for effective abortion on demand.
- The reality of the situation is that there will be less of an issue made as a result of a poor decision resulting in the death of an unborn child than there will be in regard to a poor decision resulting in the death of a pregnant woman. There will always be the hard cases. However, we should be very careful not legislate on the basis of hard cases concerning a mother or we risk losing sight of the value of the life of the unborn person.
The moral issues at stake are complicated and what we ask is that they are solved not by implicitly or explicitly relegating the value of the life of the unborn child to something secondary to the life, health or even welfare of the mother but by legislation and guidelines which results in a careful balance between the life of the unborn person and the life of the mother.
We pray that our Representatives in Government will have compassion, wisdom and courage as they legislate on this painful issue.