Legislation for X 'not necessary'
Legislating for the X case removed the obligation to make every effort at all times to preserve the life of both the mother and her unborn baby, Catholic Bishop of Elphin Dr Christopher Jones told the Oireachtas health committee hearings on abortion today.
“It allows for abortion, for the direct and intentional killing of the baby in the womb,” he said. “It is not necessary to legislate for the X case to ensure that women in Ireland receive all the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy.’’
Speaking at the last of three days of hearings on the abortion issue, Dr Jones said other options were available to the Government that did not involve legislating for abortion.
“These include the option of appropriate guidelines, which continue to exclude the direct and intentional killing of the unborn, or a referendum to overturn the X case judgment,” he added.
“We believe both these options should be fully explored by the Oireachtas.”
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin Dr Michael Jackson said his church opposed abortion on principle but acknowledged there were cases of “strict and undeniable medical necessity” where it was and should be an option.
“The church has previously urged the Government to adopt a legislative and regulatory approach which will allow for easier alteration in the light of changes in medical science,’’ he added. “Accordingly, the Government decision to do so is welcome.”
Dr Jackson said the current position was very unclear and it was unsatisfactory and unfair to pregnant women and medical professionals who deserved to be able to make critical, clinical decisions in a secure and well regulated legal and medical framework.
“We, therefore, strongly welcome the decision by the Government to seek to provide clarity on this issue.”
Heidi Good of the Methodist Church of Ireland said her church is opposed to abortion on demand, but a termination is permissible where the mother's life is at risk; where there is risk of grave injury to the physical or mental health of the mother; in cases of rape or incest; in cases of gross abnormality of the foetus or otherwise where it is incapable of survival.
Ms Good, a lay representative of the Methodist Church, told the Oireachtas health committee hearing the role of law "should not attempt to legislate for a specific form or morality, but rather to set minimum standards for the social good".
Dr Trevor Morrow of the Presbyterian Church said his church does not believe it has the responsibility to prescribe to, or advise, the Oireachtas on how to respond to the expert group report.
Dr Morrow said the medical profession must, in every circumstance, choose what is right.
"We do recognise, however, that there are circumstances that you are confronted at times, in a broken, messy world, with two things that are wrong,” he added.
"It is wrong to allow a mother to die; it is wrong to take the life of a child. But in such circumstances, it may be necessary to choose what is least wrong.”
Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland said that "in the unlikely event when a group of competent trustworthy physicians confirm that the continuity of pregnancy jeopardises the mother's life, abortion could be conducted as the last and only alternative to protect the mother's life".
He said Government should think of social and economic means to terminate on the grounds of suicide, but certainly not at the expense of others' lives.
He said women who were victims of rape "deserve due sympathy and help, but a child conceived in this unfortunate situation still has the right to live".
The chairman of Atheist Ireland Michael Nugent said "we should not need three days of parliamentary hearings to discuss how the law should allow a doctor in a hospital to save the life of a dying woman”.
Mr Nugent called on the Government to "please stop this unethical pattern of lawmaking by reacting to personal tragedies".
He urged the Oireachtas: "Please do not ignore the suffering of pregnant women whose health is at risk, who are victims of rape or incest, or whose foetus has fatal abnormalities."
Mr Nugent said: "Whatever laws you pass, please base them on human rights and compassion and on applying reason and empirical evidence, and not on religious doctrines".
Rabbi Zalman Lent said it was an "incredibly difficult and painful decision to have to terminate a pregnancy - however, a foetus in utero, though inherently valuable, has not yet assumed the equal status of full life".
"This would primarily be when carrying the unborn to term would cause danger and risk to the mother's life. In this instance the foetus may be considered to be actively threatening the life of the mother and, to save her life, a termination could be permitted."
Representatives of anti-abortion groups including the Pro Life Campaign,Youth Defence, Family and Life and the Iona Institute gave evidence this morning, while pro-choice advocates from Choice Ireland, the National Womens Council of Ireland and Action on X spoke in the afternoon.
Any legislation based on the X case would mean the Government sanctioning and legitimising the taking of innocent human life, the Pro Life campaign argued in its submission to the committee.
"Once the principle is conceded that some human lives can be directly targeted, there is no going back," it added." Inevitably, over time, the grounds for abortion would be widened."
The Iona Institute argued it was impossible to produce legislation to cover every eventuality that might occur in the care of pregnant mothers and attempts to do so would have a "chilling effect" on doctors, which could only disimprove current practice.
Youth Defence claimed the Government had made a wrong decision in opting to follow the expert group’s recommendation “which favours the legalisation of abortion in Ireland’’.
Family and Life said the X case judgment was deeply flawed, and devising acceptable and effective legislation based on it was impossible.
The church and advocacy group representatives were being asked about the views of their organisations in relation to the Government’s plans to legislate and regulate for abortion in certain cases where a woman’s life may be at risk.
The committee previously took evidence from senior medics, health chiefs, legal experts and academics.