A Laywoman’s Analysis of the Proposed Abortion Bill
1st May 2013: I’ve just finished a more detailed review of the Heads of Bill of the proposed abortion law. I can’t see anything in it that led to media reports earlier that it would address concerns of pro-life TDs – quite the opposite.
My concerns are outlined below:
In the case of a woman with suicidal ideation:
- The key issue: which makes this bill bad law is that by legislating to end the life of a child where his mother has suicidal intent, direct abortion is introduced into Ireland for the first time. International evidence shows that abortion does not help the mother in this situation, and the life of her child is lost. We’re used to hearing these words and these arguments and we can forget what we are saying but under this proposed law, a woman certified to have an abortion in this situation will walk into an Irish maternity hospital in physically good health and with a healthy baby, and a doctor will carry out a “medical procedure” the sole aim of which is to take her child’s life. This is simply not acceptable. As long as that remains in the Bill it will remain an unjust and cruel law.
- Babies born alive: There was some question in the media earlier today around care for a baby who is already viable and is born alive. However, while “reasonable opinion” is to include “due regard for the need to preserve unborn human life”, the procedure described in the Bill is one “in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended.” “Termination of pregnancy” which could leave open the possibility of a live birth is only used in this context in the explanatory notes. The Heads of Bill make it clear that the procedure will be to end the life of the child.
- Effectively two doctors, not three: While the bill requires three doctors to certify an abortion for a pregnant woman with suicidal intent, one of these three will be an obstetrician / gynaecologist and therefore not qualified to assess appropriate responses to suicidality: this assessment will be made by the two psychiatrists, so effectively two, not three doctors.
- Reasonable Opinion: The standard for certifying an abortion is not “research shows” that this risk can only be averted only by a procedure ending the life of the child, but only “in their reasonable opinion” it cannot be averted in any other way. We’ve already seen two psychiatrists in the media reject the international evidence and say that they would certify in some situations – that’s their reasonable opinion: this would not be a high bar to pass.
- Review / appeal process: if the three doctors don’t agree that a woman should have an abortion, the woman can appeal. This appeal will be considered by three doctors (as before two psychiatrists and one gynaecologist/obstetrician) from a panel established by the HSE. This does not inspire confidence: the HSE is headed by former head of the IFPA who has a strong pro-choice ideology. If doctors originally consulted by a woman seeking an abortion don’t certify it, a small number of doctors will review all cases. Add to this the reality that doctors who are convinced that taking a life is not a solution to crisis in pregnancy will not participate in such panels. The Bill also states that the panel members must be “independent” – an interesting word, wide open to interpretation as to what they must be independent of.
- If it transpires that all certification arises from the HSE review panel, the only consequence envisaged by the Bill is that further guidance will be required from professional bodies (Explanatory Notes p 21).
Women with physical illness which may threaten their life:
As a woman, mother and sister, it hardly needs to be said that I’m completely supportive of women getting all medical treatment we need for any physical illness which threatens our lives, and I support any measure which helps clarify this, once it maintains the current Irish medical practice of recognising that there are two patients to consider. However, I feel that the heads of Bill may allow direct abortion even in these situations:
- Direct taking of life possible under Heads of Bill, even apart from suicidal intent: In case of risk to life from physical illness (not being a medical emergency) my key concern is that the term “in the course of which or as a result of which unborn human life is ended” is the same as that used in the case of suicidal intent. In the case of the latter, it can clearly mean directly taking the life of the child, so there’s no reason it could not also be understood to mean direct taking of life when the risk is not related to suicide. This would allow a further departure from the current two patient model and it is very different from a necessary medical procedure in which a child may die as an unwanted consequence and where every effort is made to save his life where possible. e.g. in the UK at present, where a pregnant woman has cancer and needs treatment, an abortion is often carried out first. In Ireland, the woman is treated but every effort is made to save the child if possible.
- No gestational limit: Directly taking the life of an innocent person is wrong at any stage of a child’s development, but this Bill offers no time limit on when an abortion can be carried out, right up to birth. Putting a time limit in the Bill does not stop it from being a law that directly takes innocent human life, but even in very liberal abortion regimes, there are some limits on stage of gestation – perhaps because as it gets closer to birth the reality that only a change of location will occur becomes increasingly hard to avoid.
- Ideology in Language: “Child” isn’t mentioned at all in Heads of Bill and only once in explanatory note: “unborn human life” or “the unborn” is used. “Mother” isn’t used at all in Heads of Bill and only a handful of times in explanatory notes: “woman” is the preferred term. In both the Supreme Court ruling in the X case ruling and the ECHR ruling on the A, B and C cases, “mother” and “unborn child” are used.
- Conscientious Objections for Institutions and Organisations: While individuals can have conscientious objections, organisations or institutions can’t: “the right to conscientious objection is a human right and, as such, applies only to individuals and not institutions.” Catholic and other organisations with a clear ethos of respect for all human life would no longer be able to run maternity hospitals in Ireland.
This law does not “protect life during pregnancy” – it introduces abortion:
My key concern however remains that this law for the first time in Ireland, allows the direct taking of innocent life. As long as that remains the case, the law is fatally flawed. If introduced it will lead to many unnecessary deaths and won’t save women’s lives. Like all law, it will also, I believe, have a profound affect on how our society views and values human beings.
I believe human rights are just that: rights we have by virtue of simply being human. Introducing a law that legalises the removal of human rights from one group of human beings is simply wrong.
We can still stop this, and instead look for better ways to deal with tragedy and crisis caused by rape, illness and social conditions.
One of the amazing things about the human race is our resilience and adaptability: (okay – that’s two things, but you know what I mean).
We can survive in very extreme conditions: people manage to coax a living out of the earth in the coldest and hottest places in the world. Even in the face of unimaginable tragedy, we somehow continue on: the parents of small children, shot dead in their kindergarten classroom, can hardly believe that grief has not stopped their hearts from beating, and yet they keep waking up each morning, keep breathing and eating.
In the most horrific conditions we humans have been subjected to by our fellow humans, in death camps and slavery and the savagery of war, we manage to find a way to make it possible to live, to survive. We know that whole peoples can, in their different roles, find ways to normalise the most bizarre, the most brutal systems. For those directly affected that can mean forgetting all the normal values of society, as simple survival becomes the only thing that makes sense. For perpetrators, perhaps they repeat to themselves the values of the ideology that gives them excuse for what they’re doing. Onlookers, somewhat distanced but knowing, comfort themselves by looking at the clipboards, the suits, the official buildings and documents, the language and laws, the whole system that says it is all okay, even worthy, even good. And so a universal moral blindness appears in relation to the particular wrong being done: educated, pleasant, amiable people tolerated and even defended slavery, unequal treatment of women, the death penalty, brutal or racist political systems.
But it doesn’t leave us unmarked. It brutalises all of us – makes each of us less human, to be the victim of a system that tries to ignore justice and the basic values of what is good and what is not, to be a person who operates that system, to be the people belonging to that society, blind to its greatest wrong-doing. For me, the fact that ordinary people regularly opt to attend and watch the administration of the death penalty in the US is an illustration of how the brutality of individuals (the perpetrators) and the brutal official response of the state is in turn brutalising the citizens of that society.
The men and women we elected to lead us at the moment seem set on legalising abortion here in Ireland. Most of them grew up in a world where more and more developed countries were changing their laws to allow the life of a child before birth to be ended for a variety of reasons, a world where normal, educated people were carrying out abortions in buildings that look like hospitals. Despite the reality that science has now put beyond debate the humanity of a developing child, the dominant culture of our time is increasingly blind and deaf to that reality. Words like foetus and embryo sound alien, medical, dehumanising. They aren’t used when a pregnancy is wanted: then we talk about expecting a baby, about feeling the baby kicking, about whether it’s a boy or a girl: about a human being.
The reality of abortion is a brutal and horrific one. I am viscerally opposed to the use in public of heart-stopping images of aborted children; because this doesn’t respect their human dignity, because if it causes nothing but a flash of anger in me, how would it persuade anyone who feels differently, but mainly because this horror should not be happening, and pictures of it in public places only extend that horror, lets it touch more lives. But I understand what those who carry these posters are trying to do: they believe that if people understood what abortion is, they could never support it, they would see that there has to be a better way. And while I think that there should be a law against using those images in public, I believe that everyone who ever speaks on abortion, or is asked to vote on it should once (that is more than enough) go and find out what it is, should look at and read what the horrible brutal reality of abortion really is.
No pain killers, no incubator, no warmed towels.
Something very different.
And then ask themselves, surely there has to be a better way than this?
I say this not to cause pain to women who may have had an abortion: I am a woman and a mother myself, and I know that people under extreme pressure and stress can make all sorts of decisions. When professional caring medical staff open the option of abortion as a solution to challenges that can seem overwhelming, it’s not surprising that some women make that choice. And women are human beings too and there is simply no doubt that many abortions are carried out for reasons nothing to do with life or health or pressure, and the often repeated-line, that no-one takes a decision to have an abortion lightly, is not always borne out in practice.
So criminalising women who have abortion is not at all a good idea. Those who carry out abortions are in a different category – and I don’t mean here a doctor trying her best to bring a pregnant woman safely through a life-threatening condition, knowing the child might die in treating the mother. A paediatrician illustrated this in a way that has really stuck with me. In these situations, she has been called down: to turn on the incubator and heat up towels, just in case, even when there is little or no hope.
In abortion, there is no incubator and no heated towels.
Even women who would like abortion available here, having had one in another country, talk about walking alone and crying in the streets after the clinic has carried out the ‘procedure’, trying alone to deal with what has happened.
We have grown up in a world that has normalised abortion. But the reality of abortion, no matter how we try to ignore it, no matter how much outrage we generate if anyone tries to point it out, is brutal and extremely unpleasant. There is always a better way for all concerned: for the children, for the mothers who need support to bring them through the months of pregnancy or even the death of their child, for a society that wants to do what is best to allow every person, man, woman and child, to reach their best potential.
It is time to look beyond labels that tend to ghettoise opinion: ‘pro-life’, ‘pro-choice’, ‘extremes’, ‘middle-ground’, and together, as a country, opt for that better way.
A fairly eventful couple of years, in particular the one just ended. Anyway – I hope to start putting up an occasional – and maybe more frequent – post again now, depending on my time management. Let’s see how it goes.
“The papal visit is the first bright spot for the Church in this part of the world for a very long time.”
(David Quinn of the Iona Institute on Twitter earlier today).
If you haven’t been following since he (the Pope – not David!) arrived in Scotland on Thursday or have only heard what Irish media in general were reporting here, you might be wondering if David is getting a little carried away.
But since Pope Benedict set foot in Edinburgh, there have been huge crowds of ordinary Catholics – and non-Catholics – packing out the venues and lining the streets, 125,000 in Edinburgh, 75,000 later at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow for Mass. There are 80,000 in Hyde Park and more out on the streets. But it’s not just the encouragement of seeing so many turn out despite the predictions. I’ve been tuned in to Sky News who are broadcasting the visit non-stop – and three things really make this ‘a bright spot for the Church’ and a real tonic for Catholics feeling a bit beaten down by recent events:
First there have been interviews all day long with ordinary Catholics who’ve travelled out with their families or friends – and over and over again they’ve been showing their enthusiasm for their faith and for the message that Pope Benedict is bringing.
Second the extended coverage has given viewers a real insight into the personality of our Pope – and far from being a distant academic, we see a warm, gentle man, really engaging with the people, listening, smiling, responding. Even the Sky interviewers have commented several times on the different view we are getting of the man who is Benedict XVI.
And third, there is the message itself and the positive response it is getting. Now instead of a message delivered second hand by a media who too often present their very own version of what he’s said, we’re hearing him speak directly – hearing the context, the combination of forceful truth and caring compassion: his invitation to youth to spend time in silent prayer every day:
Even amidst the business and stress of our daily lives we need to make space for silence, because it is in silence that we find God. And in silence that we discover our true self.
- his reminder to the older people that he came to them as one of them – “not only as father but also as brother”, his strong reminder yesterday to the civil leaders of the UK that religion cannot to relegated to the private sphere as some would like. And I have to say, on Sky anyway, the presenters have really let his message go out: they’ve had positive and well-spoken Catholic commentators summarising and explaining his words, explaining elements of the Catholic faith. I even heard a Sky presenter say “The Mass is the celebration that binds all Catholics together, isn’t it?” !!
So – if you haven’t been following so far, there’s still time. The Prayer Vigil in Hyde park will be starting soon and tomorrow Cardinal John Newman will be beatified during Mass in Birmingham. If you don’t have Sky News, I’ve heard BBC News 24 are covering it, the official website is streaming it live and has transcripts of his speeches etc http://www.thepapalvisit.org.uk : and then there’s Facebook: friend or ‘like’ “The Papal Visit” or “Diocese Westminster” or Andrew O’Connell.
Our Irish correspondents are doing a great job on Twitter too (if you haven’t done it before, now’s the time to give it a try – it’s easy). I’d recommend Michael Kelly from The Irish Catholic twitter.com/MKellyIrishCath or David Quinn twitter.com/DavQuinn . Not Irish but very interesting too are The Catholic Herald twitter.com/catholicherald and Damian Thompson of The Telegraph twitter.com/holysmoke (just noticed Damian’s last tweet : Woman next to me in cafe says to husband: “All this hoo-hah before he arrived, but he’s had a very warm welcome.” Yes! )
Ok – no excuses now: tune in – you’ll be glad you did!
Now they’re forced NOT to wear them, by the State.
• I hate the idea of women feeling they need to cover up to this extreme – rarely feeling the wind against their face and seeing the world through a gauze. But the fable of the Sun and the Wind comes to mind! You won’t cure oppression with oppression and I predict that France will learn this the hard way.
I’ve been rattling on about the Church and Communications since I started this blog – I’ve just noticed the Communication tag has the highest number of posts attached. My point has been that the Church owes it to her people – and in fact to everyone – to honestly and clearly present the truth. It is obvious that this has been a huge weakness in the Irish Church over decades – and to be honest I don’t think it’s much better now.
Yes – step up to the plate about the disaster of the way clerical abuse was dealt with – no excuses or attempts to avoid the full responsiblity, no return to past practises of sweeping terrible crimes under the carpet for years. But also, step up to the plate about what the Church DOES have to offer, what it IS doing now to rectify the past, what is central message still IS! What purpose does it serve to allow a wrong impression about how the Church is now dealing with child safeguarding to go unchallenged across the media? Is this truth or justice? What purpose does it serve for the Church to continue, but in a different way, to allow the truth to be hidden?
I won’t go on – because what I’ve been trying to say has been said most effectively by Andrew O’Connell in this weeks Irish Catholic. And his outline of a Church communications “rapid response unit” is exactly what is needed. Please do read his article – and then talk to other people about it – especially if you’re friendly with any bishops…