Archbishops say abortion proposal 'of utmost concern'


The Government's announcement that a combination of legislation and regulations will be introduced to comply with the European Court of Human Rights ruling in the A, B and C case should be "of the utmost concern to all", the four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland have said.

Minister for Health James Reilly presented a memorandum to this morning’s Cabinet meeting. The decision was taken to follow this route – the fourth option from the expert group on abortion - rather than proposing guidelines, an option favoured by anti-abortion campaign groups.

Responding tonight to the announcement, the Archbishops said the proposal would "pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances".

Earlier, the Department of Health said in a statement that, having considered the report of the of the expert group on the judgment in A, B and C v Ireland, the Government had decided that the implementation of this judgment by way of legislation with regulations offered "the most appropriate method for dealing with the issue".

The Government said the drafting of legislation, supported by regulations, would be within the parameters of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in the X case. "It was also agreed to make appropriate amendments to the criminal law in this area," it said.

The Heads of a Bill will be published in the new year following deliberations by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children in early January, before the Dáil resumes.This will be followed by a debate in the Oireachtas before the Bill and regulations are finalised.

"The Government has also noted and agreed to the request from the Health Minister Dr James Reilly for further decisions at a later stage related to policy matters that will inform the drafting of the legislation," the statement said.

Dr Reilly said he was very conscious of the sensitivities around the issue of abortion.

“I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the Government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. We must fulfill our duty of care towards them," he said.

“For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman’s life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child.”

Dr Reilly said the Government would not “preempt the debate that must follow by speculating on details to be decided later in the process”.

The Government is expected to allow the fear of suicide as a ground for abortion but may not provide for rape or sexual abuse, neither of which formed part of the X case ruling. On foot of the decision, the Government is also expected to repeal provisions in the Offences against the State Act 1861, which criminalises abortion.

In a statement, the four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland said today’s decision by the Government to legislate for abortion "should be of the utmost concern to all".

Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop Dermot Clifford and Archbishop Michael Neary said in the statement: "If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed. It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances."

The Archbishops said the decision of the Supreme Court in the X case "unilaterally overturned the clear pro-life intention of the people of Ireland as expressed in Article 40.3.3 of our Constitution. To legislate on the basis of such a flawed judgement would be both tragic and unnecessary".

"The dignity of the human person and the common good of humanity depend on our respect for the right to life of every person from the moment of conception to natural death. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. It is the very basis for every other right we enjoy as persons.

"The lives of untold numbers of unborn children in this State now depend on the choices that will be made by our public representatives. The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: will I chose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb in all circumstances, or will I chose to licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?"

The Archbishops added that on a decision of "such fundamental moral importance" every public representative was entitled to "complete respect for the freedom of conscience".

"No one has the right to force or coerce someone to act against their conscience. Respect for this right is the very foundation of a free, civilised and democratic society.

All involved, especially public representatives, must consider the profound moral questions that arise in responding to today’s announcement by the Government. We encourage all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right."

The Taoiseach said yesterday the Government whip would be applied. “There will be no free vote on this,” he said.

It came after Dublin Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy called for a free vote, a call echoed by Young Fine Gael. While Mr Murphy said he supported the Government’s preferred option, the inclusion of suicide may become a matter of major contention within Fine Gael. Labour TDs are expected to back the measure.

At least a dozen of the party’s Deputies have indicated they have concerns over it being included as a ground for abortion, including Minister of State Lucinda Creighton; John O’Mahony; James Bannon; Regina Doherty: and John Paul Phelan.

“The uncertainty for many of us stems from the issue of including suicide in legislating for the X case. It is difficult for somebody who has a genuine fear that once the door is open it will not be capable of being closed,” Ms Doherty said.

Equally, many Fine Gael TDs have expressed strong support for legislation, including suicide as a ground. According to the expert group’s report, legislation plus regulations would also fulfil the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights and the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C v Ireland case.

In 2010 the court decided Ireland was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of C.

The fourth option presented by the expert group states: “Most aspects of the provision of lawful termination of pregnancy would be set out in primary legislation, with certain operational matters delegated to the Minister to govern by way of regulations.

“The advantages of this option are that it fulfils the requirements of the judgment, it provides for appropriate checks and balances between the powers of the legislature and the executive, and would be amenable to changes that might arise out of clinical practice and scientific advances,” the report stated.

Anti-abortion groups have criticised the Government’s intention to introduce legislation for abortion next year based on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the X case.

The Pro-Life Campaign said the proposed legislation would “introduce an abortion regime into this country in which the life of the baby could be directly and intentionally targeted for destruction".

In a joint statement, Irish Choice Network, Choice Ireland, Action on X, Galway Pro-Choice, Cork Women's Right to Choose and Doctors for Choice said the proposed legislation "should only be considered a first step towards liberalising abortion laws in Ireland".

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