Breda O’Brien: Attempts to liberalise abortion under way

Three-day ‘cooling off’ deemed demeaning and freedom of conscience under fire

Before the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, the Referendum Commission told people they were not voting on any particular form of legislation.

Ever since then, politicians have been telling voters that they voted in overwhelming numbers for the form of legislation that was outlined before the referendum.

Already, campaigners are now pushing to make the abortion legislation even more liberal. For example, the three-day waiting period included in the legislation was described by Dr Peter Boylan, a leading obstetrician who campaigned to repeal the Eighth Amendment, as "demeaning to women" at a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health.

Does that mean that the EU has been demeaning women and men since 2014 when it instituted a 14-day cooling-off period where you can change your mind about an online purchase?


A cooling-off period, apparently, is essential when it comes to the purchase of shoes, fridges and iPhones, but not when it comes to deciding whether to end a human life.

Pro-life advocates were accused of scaremongering when they said that the most challenging cases were being used to create a liberal abortion regime. Their fears are now shown to be well-founded.

A “position paper” on the proposed legislation – The Updated General Scheme of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 – written by four lawyers who were prominent in the Repeal campaign and published on the Lawyers4choice website in August also calls for the removal of the three-day waiting period.

Mairead Enright, Dr Ruth Fletcher, Prof Fiona de Londras and Dr Vicky Conway claim that waiting periods do not necessarily function as periods for reflection, but exacerbate stress in abortion decision-making. They also claim that the scheme "makes no provision for waiving this waiting period where applying it might lead to hardship, or might cause a pregnant person to exceed the 12-week limit for access to abortion in early pregnancy".

Cold legalism

The position paper’s authors also believe that the definition of abortion as “a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus” is stigmatising. They add that it is arguably not justified in a post-repeal legal landscape in which the foetus is no longer a rights-bearing individual as a result of the referendum.

The cold legalism of the position paper prepared by the four legal academics is indicative of the progressive dehumanisation of the youngest humans that was such a feature of the Repeal campaign. The stigmatisation of out-groups that leads to others assuming the right to end their lives is a well-documented phenomenon.

The cold legalism of the position paper is indicative of the progressive dehumanisation of the youngest humans

From this dehumanisation follows a demand by the four women for the complete decriminalisation of abortion as they believe the “residual criminalisation” will put pressure on doctors to carry out “onerous examinations”. They argue the use of blood tests and ultrasounds to confirm dating of the pregnancy exceeds what is required by a “reasonable opinion formed in good faith” but doctors might feel obliged to carry them out, delaying access to abortion in some circumstances

The four academics also want severe restrictions on the right to freedom of conscience for healthcare professionals and those who work in hospitals, such as administrators.

At the moment, all GPs have to provide access to abortion or refer a woman seeking an abortion to a colleague. Recently, former taoiseach John Bruton described the requirement to refer as forcing someone to aid and abet in taking a life.

Opting in

It would be so simple to allow doctors to opt in, as the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) recommends, rather than forcing people to violate their most deeply held beliefs.

Surely, in the age of the internet, it would be simple to provide a helpline and web service with a list of doctors willing to facilitate abortion in any given area?

As Dr John O'Brien of the ICGP pointed out, 60 per cent of GP practices are already closed to new patients. There is a shortage of GPs. Do we wish to drive caring family doctors to emigrate, or leave the profession because in Ireland, freedom of choice apparently only exists for pregnant people?

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he will not accept amendments about the waiting period or any other aspects of the abortion Bill. But he is prone to changing his mind. Afterall, this is the man who told the Pro-life Campaign before the 2011 election that he was pro-life and needed number-one votes to defend that position. He has now arrived at a position where he can preside over the use of public money to ensure access to unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks.

He might want to consider whether the Irish people voted for a culture where three days to think about an abortion is considered demeaning, but a fortnight to change your mind about a toaster purchased online is a good thing.

Similarly, does he think Irish people voted to see money invested in more efficient means for eliminating babies with life-limiting disabilities, rather than in services that would honour their short lives and help their families come to terms with terrible grief?

I would like to believe that they did not.