Fatally flawed legislation will not put abortion to bed

Analysis: We are now dependent on the courage of individuals to rail against abortion Bill

With autocratic stubbornness, Enda Kenny has declared that he is right, and everyone shouting stop is wrong. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

With autocratic stubbornness, Enda Kenny has declared that he is right, and everyone shouting stop is wrong. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Sat, Jul 6, 2013, 13:00

Through a combination of bullying and cajoling, Enda Kenny is attempting to control members of his party who are wavering on the abortion Bill. Witness the metaphorical row of heads on pikes within hours of four members of the party voting against the Bill.

Enda knows that far, far more parliamentary party members would defect if they felt that the consequences would only be a six-month spell in the wilderness.

His message is clear: unlike, say, conscientious objections to hare coursing, conscientious objections to abortion are to be treated as the worst kind of rebellion and to be put down forthwith. His other tactic is the wheedling attempt to persuade parliamentary party members who are deeply uneasy about this legislation, that it is merely codifying existing law, and in fact, inserting new restrictions.

This Bill will not “tidy up” or “regulate” or “put abortion to bed as an issue for decades”. It will not go away, you know.

This legislation is as restrictive as the two most pro-choice psychiatrists you can think of. Think, perhaps, of the kind of person who blithely declares that there is no problem certifying minors as suitable candidates for abortion – because if the teenagers decide it is best for them, then that is all that is necessary.

Minister for Health James Reilly admitted at committee stage that suicide is a huge problem in Irish society, “albeit one that is quite rare in pregnancy, and also one that is extremely difficult to assess. We do not have any biochemical markers and we have very little clinical research that is based on objectivity. There is a lot of research around the subject, but to say that it is absolutely hard evidence is difficult”.

Subjective nature
Given the inherently subjective nature of suicide risk assessment, any abortion on this grounds could be justified as being “in good faith”. It is extraordinary that although statistics will be compiled on abortions, there is no in-depth monitoring mechanism either before or after to assess whether everything possible to preserve the life of the unborn was done.

The only time alarm bells will ring is if large numbers of abortions begin to take place. By that stage, there will be many babies who have been irrevocably deprived of their right to life.

I repeat, bring to mind the two most pro-choice psychiatrists you can think of, and that is how restrictive this law will be. Not to mention the much-vaunted provision that a baby can be delivered prematurely, but cannot be killed after viability.

This is presented as an appealing facet of the Bill, a “protection” for the unborn, instead of the truly monstrous proposal that it is. In a couple of decades, there will be young adults appearing before tribunals, passionately demanding to know why they, as perfectly healthy unborn children, were singled out for deliberate premature delivery, and left blind, disabled or suffering from cerebral palsy? All in the complete absence of any demonstrable benefit to their mothers.

‘Hierarchy of human beings’
As for those delivered before viability on suicide grounds, this Bill will, as Lucinda Creighton said in her articulate and inspiring speech, “enshrine in Irish law, for the first time ever, and in contravention of our express constitutional obligations, a hierarchy of human beings in this State, one which says that we can select who deserves to live and who does not”.

Does anyone seriously believe that this legislation will reduce the numbers of abortions, an aim enshrined in previous legislation? Having to travel is an in-built “cooling-off” period, which probably saves many women from making decisions they would later bitterly regret.

Once our medical culture is compromised, so that it is no longer a culture of care but of selective harm, it will be extremely difficult to go back, and much easier to widen the grounds for abortion.

In the X case, because the State did not mount any defence, or even attempt to contradict the evidence of a sole psychologist, the judges could only operate on the basis of the evidence set before them.

This time the State organised not one but two evidence-gathering hearings and then proceeded to ignore the evidence presented. Instead, they embraced the testimony of a tiny minority of psychiatrists who declare, without producing a shred of evidence to support their claim, that there is a category of women whose lives can be saved only through abortion.

It is hard to see a single protective impact the Oireachtas hearings have had on the legislation initially proposed by the expert group. Enda may believe this legislation allies him with the group, perhaps a third of Irish society, who do not want a liberal abortion regime, but who waver on the hard cases.

Instead, if he looks at who is rejoicing at this legislation, he will see the delighted faces of the most hardline pro-choicers in Labour who see this as only the beginning.

With autocratic stubbornness, Enda Kenny has declared that he is right, and everyone shouting stop is wrong. We are now dependent on the courage of individuals, who are the only bulwark left against this fatally flawed legislation.

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