Abortion and the law


Sir, – William Binchy writes that the abortion debate has been compromised by politics (“UN committee’s view on abortion contradicts core ethical value of human rights”, Opinion & Analysis, August 18th).This is true. In a changing world of cultural diversity and values, what can one expect? The European Court of Human Rights is not a federal court, but a supervisory court which supervises the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights by the member states. And this is about 47 member states with varying cultures, languages and traditions. 

A classic example of the politics of human rights is well illustrated by the AB and C case v Ireland case in December 2010. Two of the applicants sought an abortion on the grounds of their health being in danger, and not their “lives”, and were refused an abortion. The court’s grand chamber held that there was no violation of the convention by Ireland. Yet in 35 other member states, A and B would have been given an abortion. The decision went against the European consensus.  

If politics is the art of compromise , well this it. – Yours, etc,  


Beggars Bush Court,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – If William Binchy was one of the three professionals who had to make the decision about delivering a baby before term, I wonder which of the following options he might have chosen: 1. Deliver the baby right on the cusp of viability (as happened) with the high risk of permanent harm to the child due to the premature birth (brain damage, eye sight, lung function, etc). 2. Wait until there was evidence that the woman was close to dying (through the self-harm she had threatened) and then make the decision to deliver the baby no matter what stage of the pregnancy she was at (and try to save the woman too). 3. Put the woman on a forced drip-feed (and security detail) so that she stayed alive with the baby being nourished to term, as is its human right; then deliver the baby and arrange for counselling, adoption, social service supports, etc, for both baby and mother. A fourth choice (not currently available) would be to give the woman access to a legal and safe abortion before 12 weeks. But then Mr Binchy doesn’t have to make any of these choices (or take responsibility for them). He only has to write about them. – Yours, etc,


Crosthwaite Park East,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Prof Binchy advises that those of us concerned about Ireland’s international reputation should closely scrutinise the argument that Ireland should change its Constitution to comply with its international human rights obligations. By framing the question of whether or not a woman should have the right to choose to terminate her pregnancy as one concerning solely the right to life of the unborn, Prof Binchy utilises a familiar argument: are you in favour of denying an innocent child the right to life? Clearly, the answer must be no. It is an effective argument and, through repetition and reinforcement, Prof Binchy would have us believe that women have no place in the debate whatsoever.

Prof Binchy uses the term “human rights” 18 times in his article. He refers to “abortion” eight times and to the “unborn child/children” six times. He eschews medical terms that do not serve his argument, like zygote or foetus. Notwithstanding his repeated reference to the “equal worth and dignity of every human being”, the words “woman” or “mother” do not appear once.

I, for one, am concerned about Ireland’s international reputation where a “human rights” approach to the issue of abortion views the mother as utterly irrelevant.Women have human rights too. – Yours, etc,


Bath Street,


Dublin 4.

A chara, – Can we not just be grateful that the lives of mother and child were safeguarded? Not without difficulties; we cannot eliminate these. There are still problems to face. But why such predominant negativity? – Is mise,


Blackthorn Court,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – The almost total lack of concern for the wellbeing of the child at the centre of the case on the part of those who are crying foul at the treatment of its mother is chilling. Having been forced from the womb three months before term, he or she faces months of intravenous feeding and painful mechanical assistance to breathe, and having been born at just 26 weeks gestation, will have only an 80 per cent chance of surviving into adulthood and a 25 per cent chance of developing lasting disabilities of some kind.

These appalling prospects were not brought about by some kind of medical emergency but because the doctors at the centre of the case were compelled to induce the early birth of the child under the terms of the so-called Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. How can this be good medical practice to condemn a child to this sort of danger? And in what other situation would doctors be compelled by law to perform a procedure that risked serious injury to a patient?

This case highlights the legal Pandora’s box that could open as a result of this case and any others in the future. Having introduced a law which compels doctors to curtail dramatically a child’s gestation in the womb, with serious damage to their health as a possible result, the State would surely be exposed to huge liability in any legal actions which may be taken by such children once they reach the age of majority, or by their legal guardians before then.

The same Government which worked hard to right the wrongs done to Irish citizens as a result of the Magdalene laundries and symphysiotomies may well, through the introduction of this legislation, create a whole new generation of people whose lives will be ruined at the hands of the State, leading to a further round of apologies in the Dáil by a future set of political leaders years or decades down the line. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 3.