Proposed jail sentence for women who have an abortion is self-righteous and hypocritical
Deputies may be voting for law while hoping there is no prospect of its implementation
Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe: one of the hospitals which provides follow-up care for women who have used an abortifacient in early pregnancy
If the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is passed without amendment, there will be a good case for abolishing the Dáil as well as the Seanad.
The Bill has a provision so stupid and cruel that any legislature worth having would at the very least radically amend it. Section 22 says that to “intentionally destroy unborn human life”, even in the very early stages of pregnancy, is an offence for which a woman is liable to imprisonment for “a term not exceeding 14 years.”
If the intention is to implement this law, it is breathtakingly hypocritical. If, as I suspect, the intention is not to implement it, then no self-respecting parliament should tolerate such a mockery of both the law and the democratic process.
If the Bill is not amended, here is the situation for a woman who wants an abortion for any reason other than the avoidance of an immediate threat to her life. It will be perfectly lawful for her to travel outside the State and have an abortion for medical and social reasons. It will be perfectly lawful for clinics outside the State to give that woman all the information she needs on how and where to have that abortion. But if she has the abortion on this side of the Irish Sea, she is liable to be sent to prison for up to 14 years. The crime that merits this sentence is not having the abortion, it is having it in the wrong place.
So here, in the making, is the next abortion scandal, the next X case, the next episode in which Ireland becomes an international pariah and we all wake up and ask “how the hell did we manage to create this situation?” What will happen is something like this. A vulnerable young woman discovers that she’s six weeks pregnant. She is confused and isolated, perhaps because the pregnancy results from abuse. She goes online and buys some pills that induce a miscarriage. But because she is not being medically treated, she ends up with a serious haemorrhage and is rushed to hospital. She blurts out what has happened and someone reports it to the Garda. She is brought before the courts facing a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
Let’s remind ourselves what a 14-year sentence means in Ireland, what the Government means to convey in relation to the moral obnoxiousness of the offence committed by this young woman. Recently, two men were sentenced to 10 years for the “unspeakable” gang rape of a young woman in Cork. A couple who were convicted of manslaughter in relation to the death of an elderly woman through neglect were sentenced to community service without any term of imprisonment. The usual sentence for rape in the Irish courts is between five and seven years, and that for manslaughter is typically between five and nine years. Indeed, when the courts sentenced a young man to 14 years (the proposed penalty for having an abortion in the wrong place), for stabbing another man to death, the sentence was judged on appeal to be too harsh and reduced to eight years.