The abortion debate

Sir, – We know now that Savita Halappanavar died because of clinical failure in hospital. The Dáil is now debating legislation which will ensure that a tiny cohort of women in Ireland will be given the right to terminate a pregnancy which threatens her life. We, the undersigned founder members of the Irishwomen’s Liberation Movement , who helped organise the contraceptive train to Belfast in 1971, expect the Dáil to do its duty by these women. Political failure is not an option when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk. – Yours, etc,






C/o Rugby Road,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – David Costello (June 20th) takes Stephen Collins (Opinion, June 15th) to task for erroneously attributing the quote "I am an Irishman second,I am a Catholic first, and I accept without qualification in all respects the teaching of the hierarchy and the church to which I belong" to former taoiseach John A Costello.Your letter-writer correctly states the words in question were uttered in a 1953 Dáil debate on Nato by a Labour TD, Brendan Corish (Mr Corish subsequently became Labour Party leader and tánaiste). However, near the conclusion of his lengthy statement to the Dáil (April 12th, 1951) on the resignation of the then Minister for Health, Dr Noël Browne, the then taoiseach John A Costello did say this: "I, as a Catholic,obey my Church authorities and will continue to do so, in spite of The Irish Times or anything else . . ." – Yours, etc,


Beacon Hill,

Dalkey, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Dr Maeve Kilrane (June 18th) queries the stance of those pro-lifers who send death threats to those who propose the termination of the most vulnerable and helpless in our society. No doubt, it has crossed her mind that those who undertook to uphold the Hippocratic Oath and do exactly the opposite are equally contradictory? Methinks that said oath might more aptly be renamed the Hypocritical Oath! – Yours, etc,


Norseman Place,


Dublin 7.

Sir, – While Enda Kenny’s statement “I am a Catholic who is Taoiseach, not a Catholic Taoiseach” may well be construed to declare Ireland a democracy as opposed to a theocracy (JL Byrne, June17th), I consider it an untenable distinction in describing a man of faith.

A taoiseach who is truly Catholic cannot draw a line in the sand between a “Catholic taoiseach” and a “Catholic who is taoiseach” as Enda Kenny did. Such a distinction can never be valid because Christian faith is synonymous with a “way of life”. Such a “way of life”, by definition, always has a community dimension, it upholds the common good, and it is never a private matter practised by an isolated individual only in certain situations in his/her life. Faith cannot be separated from any aspect of the Christian experience; it is an integral part of all that one is, and it informs all that one does.

That a man of faith would force anyone to vote against his/her conscience on an issue as fundamental as the sanctity of life is impossible to understand. It shows a total lack of respect for the integrity of the person, their deep personal conviction and their will to do what is right.

I, for one, will have enormous respect for representatives who vote against this Bill according to their consciences, despite the imposition of the whip and the threat of serious sanctions. On the other hand I will have no respect for a “Catholic who is taoiseach” who demands some of his party members compromise their integrity to pass a Bill many are profoundly unhappy with for very good reasons. – Yours, etc,




Co Meath.

Sir, – In the middle of a meandering article Breda O’Brien (Opinion, June 15th) said, “In my opinion, this report completely vindicates Professors John Bonner, John Monaghan and others who repeatedly said that the problem was not the failure to provide an abortion on request but the failure to see the significance of a cascade of symptoms and to act appropriately by delivering the baby immediately”.

What I cannot understand is that the medical experts told Savita Halappanavar that she was miscarrying and that the baby had no chance of survival; whereupon she asked for an abortion; which was refused.

Subsequent to this refusal, the “cascade of symptoms” referred to above – or the “medical misadventure” referred to in the inquest took place.

It seems to me that had Savita been given the abortion (or inducement, if that word is more palatable to the anti –abortionists) that she requested she would most likely be alive today. – Yours, etc,



Athboy PO,

Co Meath.

A chara, – Dr Peadar O’Grady (Opinion, June 18th) wrote: “Savita Halappanavar’s death last year was due to being repeatedly refused an abortion due to the chill factor of the 1861 Act’s threat of a prison sentence.”

Dr Muiris Houston wrote on the same day (Health News): “I have believed from early on that the case was more about the basics of clinical care than about the availability or otherwise of abortion.”

The two doctors had available to them the same sources of information: the original reporting in The Irish Times and other media, and the results of the inquest and of the HSE inquiry. The divergence of their assessments is difficult to understand. The view of Dr O'Grady, a founder of Doctors for Choice, seems closer to the conclusions suggested by the earlier reporting. Dr Houston's view reflects the fuller information now available.

Dr O’Grady also writes about cases of fatal foetal abnormality; these are tragic cases indeed. But are they any more tragic than those of young children with conditions which indicate that their life expectancy will be very brief? There is great sadness in both situations, and call for optimum support for parents in both cases. Why should the child in one case be refused legal protection for the duration of its brief life before birth, when a child in the other case has full protection of the law, however often our society may fail in vindicating the rights of children? – Is mise,


Blackthorn Court,


Dublin 16.

Sir, – If a doctor, in spite of repeated warnings and evidence-based advice from peers, were to persist with a dangerous form of treatment which placed the lives of patients at risk, he or she would be rightly struck off the medical register and denied the right to practise.

It is ironic that elected members of the Oireachtas are being threatened with denial of their right to exercise their profession, precisely for opposing a dangerous form of treatment. The Government, with the published Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, is setting out to establish in law a method of treatment for suicidal ideation in pregnancy which is not supported by medical evidence, which places the health of the mother at risk and which will certainly either end the life of her baby or be the cause of possibly catastrophic disability.

As doctors, we must again protest against this Government’s deliberate denial of the facts and remind members of the Oireachtas that, if this Bill becomes law, they cannot transfer responsibility for its outcome to the medical and nursing professions.

It will be their legacy and theirs alone. – Yours, etc,

Dr EILEEN REILLY, Consultant Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, Galway;


Dr SINEAD KELLY, Consultant in Palliative Care, Dublin;


Dr DEIRDRE GLEESON, Specialist in Occupational Health / GP Kildare

Doctors For Life Ireland,

C/o Millennium Park,


Co Kildare.