Anti-abortion group challenges Simon Harris to referendum debate

Parents of children born with life-limiting conditions call for alternatives to termination

A group campaigning for a No vote in the referendum on the Eighth Amendment has challenged Minister for Health Simon Harris to a debate on his proposals to legislate for abortion.

Love Both claimed the proposed draft legislation will lead to one of the most extreme ‘abortion on demand’ regimes in the world. It also argued there had been no exploration to any alternatives on abortion in the past six years.

Campaign spokeswoman Sinéad Slattery told a news conference on Wednesday: “The referendum is about one thing and one thing only - introducing abortion on demand.”

Ms Slattery and other members of the group outlined alternatives such as perinatal care for babies with life-limiting conditions, as well as looking at other choices such as adoption. She said only five infants were presented for adoption in Ireland in 2016, when hundreds of Irish couples were on the waiting list.


“Simon Harris has challenged the pro-life movement on how we can justify the status quo and keep the Eighth Amendment. In return, we challenge Minister Harris to a debate on his proposal and the issue in general, including alternatives to abortion,” she said.

“There is nothing radical or progressive about taking away the right to life.”

Ms Slattery was joined at the podium by two parents who separately experienced pregnancies with diagnoses of life-limiting conditions.

Adi Stack said she and her husband had learned during pregnancy that their son, Hugh, would have a short life. In the event he lived for 247 days. She said that he lived in a hospital, the Rotunda, where there should have been hospice facilities for him.

She said there were other alternatives to abortion.

“I really believe we have alternatives to the way we deal with crisis pregnancies,” she said.

“We were lucky and lived in Dublin, so could be with him every day. We saw so many families from Donegal and Sligo who could not be with their children all the time.

“So we set up a house called Hugh’s House, which allows 11 families live for free in Dublin.”

JP Johnson also told about his wife’s pregnancy and a diagnosis of a severe life-limiting condition.

“Our son lived for 17 minutes and I got to hold him for four of those minutes. He did not do much, he opened up his eyes and stuck out his thumb.

“I handed him over to his mother for the remainder of his time. I watched my wife being a mother better than we ever had experienced before. We think any child deserves to have that kind of care even if life is very short.”

Asked if other parents should have the choice to proceed with the pregnancy, Ms Stack said her view was that she has felt another of her sons kicking in her womb at 14 weeks.

“I can’t accept it’s not a person,” she said.

Fianna Fail TD Mary Butler told the conference that if abortion was legalised the rate would increase. She cited the example of Portugal where she said the abortion rate was under 7 per cent before it was legal but has risen to abut 17 per cent after being legalised.

She claimed that what the Government is proposing in Ireland is far more radical than the British laws and would lead to abortion on demand. “You can have an abortion up to 12 weeks without any limit as to reason,” she said.

Ms Butler, asked if she believed politicians could be trusted, said there could never be total certainty in relation to legislation.

“We would be very worried that there would be a very liberal agenda where we could see abortion proposed for (longer terms).

“Certain members in the Dáil want it to further than 12 weeks.

“The Minister for Children (Katherine Zappone) is not happy with 12 weeks and wants it go further,” she said.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times