Church's abortion broadside a challenge to democracy
INSIDE POLITICS:The Catholic church appears intent on a confrontation with the democratically elected politicians of this State going by recent statements in advance of the Oireachtas committee hearings on the abortion issue which begin on Tuesday.
The manner in which papal nuncio Charles Brown used the occasion of world peace day Mass in Mount Merrion church, Co Dublin, on New Year’s Day to lecture politicians and dignitaries, from the President down, about abortion exemplified the assertive tone.
The mystifying aspect of the church’s strategy is it has chosen to take such an aggressive stand against a Government and parliament which is shaping up to do little more than codify one of the most restrictive abortion regimes in the western world.
Leading church figures have either failed to grasp what the Government is attempting to do or they have chosen to wilfully misrepresent the position. The accusation by Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore that the decision to legislate was the “first step on the road to a culture of death” was particularly ill-judged.
That statement caused considerable anger among politicians, particularly those who hold conservative views on abortion. Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke for many of them when he flatly rejected the bishop’s claim and spelled out why the Oireachtas had a duty to act.
Of course the Catholic Church is perfectly entitled to hold strong views on abortion and to express them in whatever way it deems fit. However, all it has succeeded in doing to date is to insult those politicians who broadly agree with its position while fuelling the distaste with which it is regarded by a growing liberal minority.
What is actually being proposed by the Government is not freely available abortion, as church statements imply, but a framework of legislation and regulation to give legal standing to current medical practice in which abortion is permitted if the life of a woman is in danger.
The most contentious aspect of the regime will be how it deals with a threat of suicide by a pregnant woman. This has to be dealt with once and for all because of the Supreme Court judgment in the X case in 1992 which accepted that a threat of suicide was a threat to the life of the mother.
Since then governments have twice sought to eliminate the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion by putting the issue to the people in a referendum. However, both in 1992 and in 2002 the people rejected a constitutional amendment designed to clarify the issue.
In 1992 voters rejected the 12th amendment to the Constitution that specified it should be lawful to terminate the life of the unborn where “there is an illness or disorder of the mother giving rise to a real or substantive risk to her life, not being the risk of self-destruction”. This amendment was opposed for very different reasons by the Catholic Church on the one hand and liberals on the other. The then taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, a devout Catholic, was astounded at the opposition of the church, having received an assurance from at least one senior bishop that the amendment was acceptable.