Nuance and abortion: Churches, other faiths, and atheists differ

All churches and faiths abhor abortion but most agree it can be the lesser evil

It is highly unlikely Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant churches or its other faiths will take an active part in political campaigning leading up to the abortion referendum later this year.

They tend to avoid such campaigning in the main, apart from some individual clergy.

However, they will articulate their views in sermons or when asked by media, including being invited to take part in debates, and through their own leaflets, online and in other relevant publications.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that, while Catholic Church leaders opposed repeal of the Eighth Amendment, "the Protestant congregations were a little bit more nuanced".


So what do the Protestant churches, other faiths, and atheists believe about the Eighth Amendment and related proposals by the Joint Oireachtas Committee?

Church of Ireland

Fundamentally all churches and faiths abhor abortion but most agree to it as the lesser of evils in some circumstances. Most nuanced would be the Church of Ireland which has called for "nuanced legislation" on the availability of abortion in Ireland in cases of "medical necessity".

Since 1983, when the Eighth Amendment was inserted into the Constitution, it has “publicly questioned the wisdom of addressing such complex moral problems by means of amendments to the Constitution. Unfolding events and a range of tragic human cases over the past three decades have demonstrated the deficiencies of the constitutional approach,” it said in a statement.

But it emphasised that removal of the Eighth Amendment was not “by implication to call for easy access to abortion. Rather, it is to suggest that those complex and hopefully rare situations in which medical necessity might require termination of pregnancy would be more suitably addressed through nuanced legislation”.

Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Where the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is concerned, two of its former moderators wrote a strongly-worded letter to all TDs and Senators last week saying they were “very gravely concerned about the (Oireachtas) Committee’s recommendations to introduce abortion with no restriction as to reason until the twelfth week of gestation, and beyond 12 weeks on health grounds”.

Rev Dr Trevor Morrow and Rev Dr Norman Hamilton said, "even if the recommendation of abortion on request is excluded, the health proposals on their own will create similar provisions to those in Britain, which have, in practice, brought about abortion on request".

The committee’s recommendations “also effectively undermine any assurances that Ireland will not introduce abortion for disability, as the experience of other countries demonstrates that unborn children with Down syndrome or other conditions are aborted under health grounds,” they said.

In January 2013 Rev Dr Morrow told the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children at hearings on the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill that “it is wrong to allow a mother to die. It is wrong to take the life of a child, but in some circumstances it may be necessary to choose what is least wrong”.

Methodist Church in Ireland

At those same Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children hearings, Heidi Good of the Methodist Church in Ireland said her church believed a termination was permissible where the mother's life was at risk and where there was risk of grave injury to the physical or mental health of the mother.

Responding to the recommendation that unrestricted abortion be made available up to 12 weeks, the Methodist Church said in a statement this week, “our opposition to abortion on demand includes this first trimester”.

The church has “consistently been against abortion on demand,” it said.

It noted the church believed “abortion is a permissible choice in the case of medical or psychiatric emergency where the mother’s life is endangered, or in other strictly delineated circumstances. (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 fatal foetal abnormality or where it [the baby] is incapable of survival).”


Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh, Dublin, said Muslims believed abortion was permitted only where the life of the mother was threatened and, even then, every attempt must he made to preserve the life of the unborn. Rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality were not grounds for abortion as "none was the fault of the foetus", nor was a threat of suicide by the mother, he said.

Jewish community

Rabbi Zalman Lent of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation said in its view abortion is only permitted in cases where the mother's life is at risk from the pregnancy or if carrying the child to term would cause severe mental health problems for the mother. "In those instances the foetus is considered to be 'pursuing' the life of the mother and abortion would be permitted up to birth," he said.

He said there are varying opinions within Judaism with regards to rape, with some allowing the morning-after pill or other early intervention, again based on the mental-health repercussions for the mother. “Similarly, some would allow abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. These are normally discussed on case-by-case basis.”

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church’s “vehement opposition” to abortion in all circumstances is clear but even it allows for some suggestion of nuance.

Here is what Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin said on January 6th last: "Regarding medical intervention, Catholic teaching is clear: where a seriously-ill pregnant woman requires medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are ethically permissible provided every effort is made to save both the mother and her baby.

“Such an intervention would be different from an abortion, which is the direct and intentional taking of the innocent life of the unborn.”

Atheist Ireland

Atheist Ireland supports “full repeal of the Eighth Amendment, to enable the Oireachtas to legislate for the right to abortion,” it said in a statement. It supported “the right of women to bodily autonomy and freedom of conscience when dealing with unwanted pregnancies” and believed “individual ethical decisions about pregnancy should be made by a pregnant woman in consultation with her medical team, not by priests or politicians”.