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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.

"..unborn human life is ended.."

  • 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.

Other Concerns:

  • 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.

No Conscientious Ob Organisations shadow

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.

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