Simplified link of abortion with suicide could normalise taking one's own life
After the publication of a major systematic review of available research by the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, Planned Parenthood, the biggest US abortion provider, summarised the findings like this: “A woman with an unwanted pregnancy is as likely to have mental health problems from abortion as she is from giving birth. A woman with a history of mental health problems before abortion is more likely to have mental health problems after abortion.”
A short but very significant submission was made to the hearings by Prof Kevin Malone, a psychiatrist internationally recognised for his work in suicide prevention. Unfortunately, he was not called to speak. Prof Malone is not affiliated with any pro-life or pro-choice organisation. But he is concerned about the dangers of normalising suicide.
His submission states that “by foregrounding a theoretical risk of suicide in women, and enshrining ‘suicidality’ in Irish law, the proposed legislation runs the risk of further normalising and, at worst, exacerbating the much more real and volatile threat of increased suicide risk in Irish men, and potentially accelerating suicide risk in young women also”.
In other words, by legislating for abortion on the grounds of suicide, we are creating an “amplified cultural suicide signal”, as Prof Malone calls it, which will affect far more than pregnant women, including those most vulnerable to suicide – young men.
The irony is the judgment in the assisted suicide case fully acknowledged this danger. In a sensitive and compassionate judgment that acknowledged the tragic dilemma faced by Marie Fleming, the judges nonetheless showed deep awareness of the signals that legislating for assisted suicide would send.
The High Court recognised very clearly the effect that law has in influencing, guiding and inspiring society, and its potential to influence the behaviour of individuals and groups.
“Yet the fact remains that if this court were to unravel a thread of this law by even the most limited constitutional adjudication in her favour, it would – or, at least, might – open a Pandora’s box which thereafter would be impossible to close. In particular, by acting in a manner designed to respect her conscientious claims and to relieve her acute suffering and distress, this court might thereby place the lives of others at risk.” And: “The safeguards built into any liberalised system would, furthermore, be vulnerable to laxity and complacency and might well prove difficult or even impossible to police adequately.”
If only our politicians, and a minority within psychiatry, could join the dots, and see that exactly the same problems pertain to legislating for abortion on the grounds of suicide.