Right to life of the mother takes precedence

Tue, Sep 4, 2012, 01:00

SECOND OPINION:Will the church really seek an absolute ban on abortion?

ARE CITIZENS going to be subjected to another round of specious arguments and “mental reservations” by the Catholic hierarchy? The European Court of Human Rights gave its judgment on abortion in the case of A, B and C v. Ireland in December 2010. Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) protects personal autonomy, physical and psychological integrity, and the right to respect for private and family life.

The court held, by 11 votes to six, that there had been no violation of the Convention in the case of applicants A and B. The dissenting judges argued that the right to life of a living woman is more valuable than the right to life of a foetus. The court unanimously found there had been a violation of article 8 in respect of applicant C. It concluded that the Irish authorities failed to comply with their obligations because of the absence of any legislative or regulatory procedure by which the applicant could have established whether she qualified for a lawful abortion in Ireland in accordance with article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. The court awarded her €15,000 in damages.

Cardinal Seán Brady has pre-empted the report from the expert group appointed to examine how best to implement the judgment of the court, saying that Catholic bishops and priests will launch a full-scale campaign of opposition if there is any attempt by the Government to legislate for abortion. Priests and laity will lobby public representatives with “reasoned argument and correct facts”. “The first lie has already been trotted out: “Ireland is the safest place in the world to have a child.”

The most recent statistics from the ESRI, published in June 2012, show that Ireland is the 15th safest place to give birth among 22 European countries.

A had four children, was unemployed, depressed and living in poverty when she became pregnant. She travelled to England for an abortion, having borrowed €650 from a moneylender. She could not afford to stay in England to recover and bled so profusely on the journey home that an ambulance met her train.

B unsuccessfully tried the “morning-after pill” before travelling to England for an abortion. She also needed follow-up hospital care in Ireland.

C had received three years’ chemotherapy treatment for a rare form of cancer which went into remission and C became pregnant. She complained under article 8 that she had received insufficient information as to the impact of the pregnancy on her life and health, and whether she was entitled to a legal abortion in Ireland. She suffered complications on returning home from England, including prolonged bleeding and infection.

What is so interesting about the recent statements from the Catholic hierarchy is that bishops and priests are experts in relation to pregnancy, birth and the “unborn”, but claimed to be ignorant about the effects of rape on born children. This difference in approach to the health of living and unborn children is easily explained.

The Catholic Church has little or no interest in children’s health, whether born or unborn, and is using the prospect of possible abortion legislation to try to regain control over Irish women and men’s sexual lives.

In the next few months, citizens will be subjected to arguments about human life beginning at the moment of conception and how this life must be preserved at all costs. The fact is that, regardless of the answers to scientific, religious or philosophical questions as to when human life begins, the right to life of the mother is always more valuable than the right to life of the foetus. The judgment in the 1992 X case reflects this view: “the right of the girl here is to a life in being; the right of the unborn is to a life contingent; contingent on survival in the womb until successful delivery”.

The rights of a living person and a foetus are, by definition, unequal.

The only way the Catholic hierarchy can secure an absolute ban on abortion is to lobby for legislation that makes the right to life of a foetus more valuable than the mother’s right to life. No one is that stupid, are they?

If there is to be another referendum, it is time to replace the word “equal” in article 40.3.3 of the Constitution with the “greater” right to life of the mother. That will finally solve the problem.


Dr Jacky Jones is a former regional manager of health promotion with the HSE