Breda O’Brien: Tragic that Amnesty now prioritises undermining the right to life

‘An equal right to life is a much more basic and foundational concept than Constitutional recognition of a loving relationship’

Some types of equality are more equal than others. The Marriage Referendum was scarcely over before Amnesty International began immediately campaigning to remove an equal right to life from the Constitution.

The Amnesty Report, She's Not a Criminal, reports in outraged tones that "Ireland's Constitution is the only one in Europe that grants the right to life prenatally, never mind on an equal basis with a woman".

The head of Amnesty International was recently part of a campaign that insisted on an equal right to have same-sex relationships described as marriage. An equal right to life is a much more basic and foundational concept than Constitutional recognition of a loving relationship.

Do they really expect those they persuaded to change the Constitution on the grounds of love and equality to accept an argument for abortion based on the alleged inequality of the smallest humans?


Amnesty tells us that our constitutional protection of the equality of all human life “is inconsistent with international human rights law, which does not recognise a foetal right to life and is clear that human rights apply after birth”.

So, a member of the human race one day before birth has no human rights? How utterly heartless.

Abortion is not a human right. Countries may legalise it, but it is not a human right. It does not become one because a UN treaty monitoring committee attempts to impose it.

Furthermore, there are many appalling circumstances that women face. As far as I know, Amnesty does not advocate violence as a solution to other devastating situations.

Forgotten duty of care

What is taking a life except violence, even when it is carried out by medical personnel who seem to have forgotten their duty of care to two patients?

There are tragic situations where a baby cannot be saved, but that is utterly different to having the express intention of ending a life.

Also, if Amnesty is worried about reducing women to “child-bearing vessels”, why has it not launched an international campaign to ban surrogacy?

Even the title of Amnesty's report, She's Not a Criminal, is utterly misleading.

Cara Delay, a Fulbright scholar and professor of history at the College of Charleston, found that even before 1967, when abortion was still illegal in Britain and Ireland, "almost all of those who were prosecuted were found not guilty, despite evidence to the contrary, including cases where women even admitted the charges".

So women who have abortions are not criminalised, and have not been for decades. The courts were much tougher on ruthless abortionists like Mamie Cadden, and that is the way it should be.

Amnesty also claims that Savita Halappanavar’s “preventable death was a consequence of the Eighth Amendment and Ireland’s restrictive abortion law”.

While it does acknowledge the fact that she died from complications of sepsis, Amnesty relegates to a footnote the 13 missed opportunities identified by Hiqa that might have saved her life.

The HSE inquiry chaired by Prof Sabaratnam Arulkumaran devoted dozens of pages to a series of medical failures, including the failure to identify a textbook pattern of symptoms that clearly flagged the threat to her life.

Contributory factor

Prof Arulkumaran

did say that the “interpretation of the law related to lawful termination in Ireland, and particularly the lack of clear clinical guidelines and training, is considered to have been a material contributory factor”.

Notice how careful and cautious that language is. It says “interpretation of the law”, not the law. It talks about “lawful termination”, which of course, includes early delivery where there is no alternative. It talks about the lack of guidelines and training.

In the case of an inevitable miscarriage, such as Savita’s, there is no chance of saving a baby’s life. As it says in the HSE guidelines on managing second trimester abortion, “women feel sensitive about the language used to describe pregnancy loss. Use of words like ‘abortion’ can sometimes be upsetting to women at this vulnerable time.”

Amnesty displays no such sensitivity.

Nor does it mention that women die following abortion. Earlier this month a doctor and two nurses were charged with manslaughter with gross negligence of a 32-year-old woman who died after an abortion in a Marie Stopes clinic in Britain.

No saturation media coverage, and no Amnesty outrage results.

Regarding babies diagnosed before birth with life-limiting conditions, Amnesty did not interview even one of the vast majority of women who decide to continue with the pregnancy, and who say that doing so helped them heal from almost unbearable tragedy.

Amnesty does not want to address the factors that lead women to choose abortion. It just wants abortion.

I used to love Amnesty. The work it did on behalf of prisoners of conscience was inspiring, as was its desire to end torture and ensure freedom of belief and religion.

How tragic it is that Amnesty now prioritises undermining the most basic human right of all – the right to life.