The abortion debate

Sir, – Many of the distressed women who came to Cuan Mhuire over the past 50 years, came because they were suffering distress having undergone an abortion. Our mission at Cuan Mhuire is to help them understand their own goodness and their infinite value before God. They tell us of the difficulties they encountered at the time of their decisions. Despite all of our support and encouragement to help them rebuild their lives and relationships, many find it exceedingly difficult – almost impossible – to cope with their sense of loss.

It has long been accepted practice in Ireland that there are rare occasions where intervention may be necessary to save a mother’s life. This sometimes results in the unintended death of the child. This causes deep grief for the parents but mothers intuitively understand the reasons and may come to accept them.

The Government seeks to make abortion available in Ireland on the grounds of a “threat of suicide”. Medical and psychiatric evidence does not indicate abortion as an appropriate treatment for suicidal tendencies. In my experience abortion has never proved to be the appropriate response to the threat of a suicide. On the other hand we have helped many, many women who had abortions and had subsequently developed suicidal tendencies. Many of them did not really understand the consequences of an abortion and the devastation it causes. They needed love and care and non-judgmental support.

We – all of us – will have to live with our conscience if we allow, or acquiesce, in the enactment of this legislation. It is for this reason that all political representatives should be free to follow their individual conscience in deciding how to vote. Our medical, nursing and midwifery professions are central to the values, loving culture and quality of our society. They have long protected the right of an unborn child to live and fulfil God’s plan. Let us recall the words of Christ: “What does it prophet a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul”.


I am writing this letter – the first such letter I have ever written – in defence of the unborn child and the welfare of the mother. Also, I will know on my death bed that I have done all that I can to speak out on their behalf and on behalf of so many more were such legislation to be enacted in our name by our political representatives. – Yours, etc,




Cuan Mhuire,

Athy, Co Kildare

Sir, – I have worked all my professional life in the area of mental health and children’s services. I have worked with women desperate to have children and women (often children themselves) desperate not to have the child they have conceived.

I have worked with parents of children of foreign adoptions that could not cope with the disturbed behaviour of their children (often the result of the abuse and neglect these children experienced in infancy) and with these same children who were not understood.

I have a radical proposal in the midst of this abortion debate: Why not consider supporting and embracing these women who find themselves pregnant and do not want to be pregnant, in an open and transparent way. Increase their options. Filthy lucre may be involved to encourage them to keep the unwanted babies and give them up for adoption, but if they want an abortion, that’s okay too. This may well be a difficult concept for a country still in the shadow of the Magdalene laundries, but perhaps it is worth considering? – Yours, etc,



Co Tipperary.

Sir, – Congratulations to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his Government on producing a superb piece of abortion legislation.

This is a masterstroke, as it manages to allow us the luxury yet again of what we do best as a society – engaging in complete and utter hypocrisy on this most sensitive issue. – Yours, etc,


Beachside Downs,



Co Wexford.

Sir, – Fr Patrick Burke (May 2nd) writes, “Human life begins at conception. That is an indisputable scientific fact, as we know beyond all doubt that it is at that moment a completely unique genetic identity comes into being”.

Since in three out of 1,000 cases the zygote splits and this unique genetic identity is shared by the resulting twins, can we confidently call what is present at conception “human life” rather than “the basis from which human life develops”? – Yours, etc,


Department of English


Sophia University,

Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo.

Sir, – Lucinda Creighton’s assertion that she will use her “moral judgment” (Home News, May 1st) in relation to proposed abortion legislation prompts two questions. First, as to why would she not do so, in relation to any legislation? Second, as distinct from whom? Presumably those who, by implication, vote cynically, tactically, or blindly following their party line.

Reductionist argument of this kind in a junior minister would appear to indicate unsuitability for any higher office. – Yours, etc,


The Rower,


Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – It is frustrating to see how the abortion debate is continually sidetracked by irrelevant questions, question-begging, and obfuscatory rhetoric. The rhetoric of “a woman’s right to choose” and “a woman’s control of her own body” obviously begs the question of whether there is a second person’s body and freedom at stake. The tragedy of Savita Halappanavar is not relevant, since it has been established that this was a matter of medical misadventure, rather than a consequence of Ireland’s abortion laws.

The fact that many Irish women travel abroad for abortions is irrelevant, since the Irish people can legislate only for this territory, and nobody would argue (for instance) that we should have sweated labour here because it is available elsewhere. The influence of the Catholic Church is not relevant, since nobody in this debate is quoting the Bible or papal encyclicals. The question of suicide is not relevant, since experts are agreed that performing an abortion is not a treatment for suicidal feelings in a pregnant woman.

The entire abortion debate hinges upon one question and one question only. When does human life begin? If it begins at conception, then the foetus (I use the term deliberately) deserves all the protections that civilisation extends to human beings, since the foetus is a human being. This, and this only, is the heart of the matter. I might even say – to engage in some non-obfuscatory rhetoric of my own – that this is the beating heart of the matter. – Yours, etc,



Sillogue Gardens,


Dublin 11.

Sir, – Following more than 20 years of inaction, this Government was forced into acting on abortion legislation by the Irish electorate’s outrage regarding the untimely and avoidable death of Savita Halappanavar. Am I the only one who sees the irony that the legislation proposed would not have made any difference in this tragic case? – Yours, etc,


Aranleigh Gardens,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Interesting how senior Fine Gael ministers respect strongly held opinions on the abortion question and then tell their members how they are going to vote. – Yours, etc,


Manor Kilbride,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – I don’t get it. Last autumn the Government went to great lengths (some of them since declared illegal) to promote a children’s rights referendum. Now it is proposing to introduce a Bill that will allow the intentional termination of the lives of some children (unborn but very much alive). In fact, if sanity doesn’t prevail before this becomes law, this will be the only law that allows an innocent person to have their lives terminated. We don’t need “expert committees” to tell us how unjust and offensive this is. – Yours, etc,


Dublin Road,


Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Had the 2002 abortion referendum passed it would have removed the threat of suicide as a grounds for legal abortion in this State. 49.58 per cent of the people voted in favour of that referendum, 50.42 per cent against. The government at the time (a Fianna Fáil and PD coalition) naturally supported the amendment, as did the Catholic Church. It was opposed by Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Sinn Féin (although not for the same reasons).

Many pro-life supporters canvassed against this amendment, led by Dana Rosemary Scallon, an MEP at the time.

What we are failing to acknowledge is that it is not clear what the electorate wishes to see regarding the threat of suicide. Isn’t this of real concern in a country where the people are sovereign?

Surely society, guided by our politicians, should reflect on the appropriateness of the 1983 constitutional amendment to Ireland in 2013 and perhaps through referendum, consider altering, replacing or removing the eighth amendment? – Yours, etc,


Rath Chairn,

Ath Bui, Co na Mí.

Sir, – Breda O’Brien (Opinion, April 27th) has grossly misrepresented the mental health evidence in relation to abortion. She derides the “faith-based dogma” of “fundamentalists” and praises “scientists” “adhering only to empirical evidence”.

Good scientists, however, do not rush to judgment on new research. The research Ms O’Brien quotes, by New Zealand academic David Fergusson and two colleagues, was just published in April in a relatively obscure psychiatric journal and has not yet been scientifically critiqued by Fergusson’s peers.

Good scientists do not ignore the previous research. Two previously published systematic scientific reviews in 2008 and 2011 by organisations representing tens of thousands of psychologists and psychiatrists have found no increase in mental health problems in women choosing an abortion. These studies have been critiqued by peers and their findings are well-founded scientifically. While Fergusson is correct that there is a lack of direct evidence of mental health benefits in abortion, there is indirect historical evidence that in countries where access to abortion is restricted the suicide rate in pregnancy is higher.

Most importantly, good scientists do not misrepresent the very evidence they are claiming to promote. In this same research paper David Fergusson concludes: “. . . it would be premature to conclude emphatically that this evidence is sufficient grounds for believing that abortion has adverse effects on mental health”.

Despite that Ms O’Brien emphatically did just that.

She also failed to mention Fergusson’s own conclusion in his paper of the alternative to certifying on mental health grounds: “On the face of it the most straightforward way of resolving these tensions between the law and clinical practice . . . is to extend these criteria to include serious threats to the social, educational, or economic wellbeing of the woman and her immediate family as legitimate grounds for authorising abortion”.

In other words, the only scientific paper the anti-choice movement can find which seems to back up its conclusion for restricting abortion actually recommends the opposite: an easing of the restrictions to make abortion more easily available. This means the fact stands that there is no scientific basis for restricting access to abortion unless, of course, we rely on the faith-based dogma of fundamentalists. – Yours, etc,


Consultant Child


Doctors For Choice,

Parnell Square East,

Dublin 1.