Key errors of crusade against abortion
Here are five key statements repeatedly made by anti-abortion campaigners. Every one of them is factually wrong:
1. Ireland is the safest place in the world for a mother to have a baby.
This claim is repeated endlessly – for the very good reason that, if true, it would be powerfully persuasive. There are, however, two enormous problems with it. Firstly, the figures on which it is based are extremely dubious. They come from a 2005 report, Maternal Mortality in 2005 estimates developed by WHO, Unicef, UNFPA and the World Bank. It does indeed show Ireland with the lowest rate of maternal death in the world at just one per 100,000 live births. This is a spectacularly good result – the average in the developed world is nine per 100,000.
The figure in Ireland’s case represents the number of deaths recorded on death certificates as having occurred during or immediately after a pregnancy. No independent expert believes these figures to be accurate. The whole basis on which they are collected is currently being changed – the new, more accurate results should be available next year. The chair of an all-island multidisciplinary working group established in 2007 to review the issue, Dr Michael O’Hare of Daisy Hill hospital in Newry, told the Medical Independent in 2010: “We believe that the situation is not as rosy as it would appear to be. In fact, we are certain that it is not as rosy.” Instead of one death per 100,000 births, the true figure is likely to be about 10, making Ireland roughly typical of developed countries.
The second big problem with the claim is that it is used to imply Ireland is spectacularly safe “without abortion”. But, of course, Irish women in difficulties get abortions – the only difference is that they usually get them in the UK.
2. There is a significantly increased risk of suicide among women who have had abortions.
This claim is especially relevant because the risk of maternal suicide is an established ground for abortion under the X case. It is groundless. Last year, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in the UK commissioned a systematic study of global scientific evidence on this question. It found: “The rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth.”
3. There is a clear distinction between abortion and the “indirect and unintentional” killing of a foetus as part of a procedure to save a mother’s life.
This distinction is theological. It goes back to St Thomas Aquinas, who wrote 800 years ago about the “double effect” of certain actions. Catholics argue that if a doctor had aborted Savita Halappanavar’s baby, he or she would not have “intended” to do so because the intention of the action was purely to save Savita’s life.