The abortion debate

Wed, May 8, 2013, 06:00

Sir, – The Catholic hierarchy, in its opposition to the draft Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, has proclaimed itself to be the staunch defender of the rights of the unborn child and has mobilised members of the Catholic laity to oppose it. Regrettably it did not demonstrate the same urgency and passionate commitment about defending the rights of children who were actually born and subsequently abused by members of its own clergy. Its persistent failure to do this over the years makes any claim that it is the defender of the rights of children, whether already born or as yet unborn, ring very hollow indeed. – Yours, etc,


(Former Fine Gael MEP),

Lisnagry, Co Limerick.

Sir, – There is some confusion about our Roman Catholic canon law which states that “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs an automatic excommunication” (canon 1398). James Coriden, one of our most respected canonists writes, “A properly strict interpretation means that the canon applies primarily to those directly participating in the abortion, not those removed from such participation. Hence, however morally questionable the behaviour, this particular canon applies neither to such administrators (of clinics and hospitals) nor to political officials facilitating abortions by advocating abortion rights and voting to fund abortions” (J Beal, New Commentary ; New York, 2000, p 1603.)

So then it is quite clear that there will be no automatic excommunication for voting in favour of abortion legislation. I hope this will help to clarify the situation. – Yours, etc,

(Revd) EOIN de


Bolton Abbey,

Moone, Co Kildare.

Sir, – The vast majority of the citizens in the Republic claim to be Christian according to last census, yet the views of the minority self-styled “atheists” hold disproportionate sway in media and politics. The leadership within the Catholic Church has every right, as Eamon Gilmore admits, to express the views of its members, especially when these views concern the right to life of the most vulnerable.

However ethics, as such, is not dependent on any religion, being based rather on a study of human life in society. From time immemorial the first principle of all moral codes is the right to life. Without this all other rights and duties are meaningless. The “pro-choice” lobby should listen to Government ministers saying “We have no choice but to legislate”. What an admission. What an anomaly. Why have they no choice? Of whom are they afraid? Who is forcing the issue?

In my opinion we are all “pro-choice”, but choice is accompanied by responsibility to act morally and with compassion for all the persons affected by our choices.

Allowing abortion because of the mother’s suicidal ideation ignores the right of the unborn child, ignores the rights of the father and is not a remedy for the psychological distress of the mother. Should the Government legislate in this way I have no doubt that the silent majority will manifest its opposition in the next election. – Yours, etc,


Rochestown Avenue,

Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – I was very impressed with the Taoiseach’s response to the threat of excommunication: “I have my own way of speaking to my God” (Home News, May 6th). I am and have always been solidly “pro life” and “anti-abortion” except in very rare and unusual circumstances – as in the case of poor Savita Halappanavar. In those rare situations I see abortion not as a “good” but as “the lesser of two evils”.

The current attempt by the Catholic bishops to bully and intimidate our Government and politicians is reprehensible and I greatly admire Enda Kenny and his colleagues for resisting their attempts. On their past record it seems that Cardinal Brady and his episcopal colleagues have more respect for the child in the womb than they do for the child after it is born. As someone who was ostensibly “excommunicated” 15 years ago, I can reassure Mr Kenny and his confreres that there is life after excommunication. I am still alive. No thunderbolt has struck me down; I still speak to God and he/she still speaks to me and I have come to know the freedom of the sons and daughters of God that one does not often experience within institutionalised religion.

To Mr Kenny and the government I would address the words of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth and advise them strongly to, “Screw your courage to the sticking place”. – Yours, etc,


The Oratory Society,

Larne, Co Antrim.

Sir, – As we don’t as a society terminate the lives of terminally ill children post-birth, why should we do so before birth? It strikes me that much of the debate to terminate pregnancies of babies with fatal abnormalities is driven by people who have no experience of this type of pregnancy.

As the mother of an anencephalic daughter who survived for a short period after her birth, I know that for me the completion of the pregnancy and subsequent delivery of my baby was the correct course of action. After diagnosis, the latter stages of the pregnancy were extremely difficult. The grief after the birth was acute. My daughter deserved the chance to live even for a short while.

A decision, taken at an emotionally difficult time, to terminate would not have lessened that grief and might subsequently be a cause of regret. Technology today allows for early diagnosis and longer periods of waiting for the birth. While I know this is a very difficult time, in the context of an average life span it is of short duration and passes.

With appropriate emotional support it is possible to deal with this devastating situation and to welcome the baby. – Yours, etc,


Bullock Park, Carlow.

Sir, – We should be grateful to Patricia Casey for helping us identify guidelines for psychiatrists when identifying those women who deserve abortions. She puts much trust in the paper from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London. Abortion, according to them, should be made available “to a woman that has a positive attitude to abortion, shows a positive emotional reaction to the abortion or is not experiencing stressful life events”. So she has identified a test that the consultant panels can use when assessing suicidal risk in pregnancy. Something she has maintained up to now as being impossible. We should be very grateful to her. – Yours, etc,


Green Park, Dublin 6.

Sir, – If my reading of the proposed legislation is correct it appears that a medical institution has no right to opt out due to grounds of conscience. Surely this is a great opportunity for the many brave commentators who took up the defence of those who disagreed with so much of Catholic Church teaching in recent years especially on grounds of conscience?

No doubt these same voices will not be found wanting in support of this basic right for what may be a significant minority of the population. Is it not the least that a pluralistic, liberal and tolerant republic, with due solicitude for minorities, should be able to deliver as part of public discourse concerning the provision of a non-discriminatory health care infrastructure? You will excuse me if I have missed any such defence in your publication either by way of editorial or in your religious affairs reporting. – Yours, etc,


Petitswood Manor,

Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

Sir, – What happens in each and every maternity hospital in Ireland if a husband does not endorse his wife’s request for termination of her unviable and life-threatening pregnancy? – Yours, etc,


Glendale Park, Dublin 12.

Sir, – Surely the first duty of the cardinal is to his own diocese? Why then does he fail to address “The floodgates of Armagh” where abortion has been legal since 1967? – Yours, etc,



Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin.

Sir, – The uncompromising opposition of the hierarchy to the proposed legislation to allow for termination of pregnancy in very limited circumstances seems to me to lack credibility, for very obvious reasons. In the case of Cardinal Seán Brady, it can be summed up in two words: Brendan Smyth. – Yours, etc,


Doonbeg, Co Clare.

A chara, – I refer to the letter from Lisa Ngan-Hing (May 6th). Her final sentence reads, “I suggest these politicians should buck up and re-read their job descriptions”.

I have been trying for years to get hold of a job description for TDs and Ministers. Please could your correspondent give me an idea where such a job description might be procured.

If there is no description, then there is no way anybody could ever accuse them of not fulfilling their role, now, is there? Clever? Devious? Dishonest? Par for the course? – Is mise,


Kill Abbey,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – It is amazing that those drafting the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill did not consider the potential consequences of not including time limits in regard to the option of assessed risk of suicide. The Bill has the potential to facilitate late abortions beyond the 24 weeks legal limit of Britain.

The recent attention the absence of time limits has gained offers some hope that an amendment may be included to avoid future tragic cases on a par with the Savita Halappanavar case. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – According to your report (Home News, May 6th) “the hierarchy have also left the threat of excommunication hanging over the heads of Catholic members of the Dáil who vote for the so-called abortion legislation in its current form”.

Existing Canon law 1398 states, “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication”. In this Canon law there is no mention of politicians or legislators being automatically excommunicated. Another canon law which is often mentioned is Canon 915 which directs “those who have been excommunicated or interdicted and others who are obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin “ are not to be admitted to Holy Communion”. Again there is no explicit mention of Catholic legislators who vote for abortion in limited circumstances.

In 2004 the American bishops’ conference refused to sanction the blanket refusal of Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who favoured abortion in special circumstances even though individual bishops acted on their own initiatives in refusing communion to known Catholic politicians such as the present US vice president Joe Biden and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Emeritus Pope Benedict in 2007 expressed support for the Mexican bishops’ threatened excommunication of Catholic politicians who voted to legalise abortion in Mexico city in 2007. However this threat was not carried through.

In October 2012 the National Conference of Uruguayan Bishops refused to back its secretary general, Bishop Bodeant who had stated that Catholic legislators were subject to excommunication if they voted to legalise abortion. The bishops’ final statement declared that automatic excommunication applied only to those directly involved in abortion and not to those who voted for a law which allowed it.

So there are significant differences and nuanced approaches of Catholic hierarchies and individual bishops to the issue of Catholic legislators voting for abortion legislation. In the ultimate analysis, the right of personal conscience has to be the ultimate arbiter .

The four Irish Catholic archbishops in a joint statement on December 18th, 2012 expressed this right of conscience very succinctly: “ No one has the right to coerce someone to act against their conscience. Respect for this right is the very foundation of a free, civilised and democratic society”. – Yours, etc,


The Moorings,

Malahide, Co Dublin.