Directly linking suicide and unwanted pregnancy is flawed base for legislation


The Media Guidelines for Reporting Suicide and Self-Harm, produced by the Irish Association of Suicidology and the Samaritans, state: “Avoid simplistic explanations for suicide. Although a catalyst may appear to be obvious, suicide is never the result of a single factor or event, and is likely to have several inter-related causes . . .

“People don’t decide to take their own life in response to a single event, however painful that event may be, and social conditions alone cannot explain suicide either. The reasons an individual takes their own life are manifold, and suicide should not be portrayed as the inevitable outcome of serious personal problems.”

How sad it is that our Taoiseach and his Government seem determined to push ahead with legislation based on a flawed Supreme Court judgment that ignores the important distinctions made by the association and the Samaritans. Suicidal ideation is never due to a single factor, nor solved by a single act.

As perinatal psychiatrist Anthony McCarthy, one of only three such specialists in the country, has said, he might see a mother who feels profoundly depressed and who does “not want a baby, or wants to kill the baby, wants to have an abortion, but actually when I get to know her, it may be because she’s so depressed and has such low self-esteem that she feels that ‘no child should be born to me’.”

For such women, he said, abortion would not solve anything, and might actually make her feel worse, because what she needs is treatment for depression and low self-esteem.

To say that pregnant women never feel suicidal, or that the tragedy of suicide, rare as it is, never happens in pregnancy, would be nonsensical. To say that an unwanted pregnancy is the sole reason someone might feel suicidal is nonsensical, too.

In the case of someone who has been raped, how much is due to the rape itself, and how much to the compounding trauma of becoming pregnant? Nor can anyone honestly say that abortion will “solve” suicidal ideation, or deny that there is a risk that abortion will exacerbate the problem.

We have documented proof of that in the C case. In 1997, a 13-year-old girl who had been brutally raped was taken to England by social workers for an abortion, after a psychiatrist found she was suicidal.

On Today with Pat Kenny in 2009, ( /0718/1224250904341.html) C describes waking up after the operation expecting to have a baby whom she could have had adopted.

She describes the many suicide attempts that she made afterwards, and how her life was shattered not only by the rape, but by the abortion. She got a death certificate for the baby and named her Shannon in an effort to cope. C was the first case to which the precedent set in X was applied, and we can see the disastrous consequences.

In the Irish College of General Practitioners’ guidelines for dealing with crisis pregnancy, there is some sensible advice.

“The GP then has two choices: 1. Attempt to alter the reality of the situation itself 2. Work towards changing the way the woman in crisis sees her situation. While the latter is perhaps more challenging, it may be the wiser course of action as it allows the woman to see alternative means of resolving her problem.”

While the advice was concerned with crisis pregnancy, it is equally valid for suicidal ideation. Why is it when a non-pregnant woman or pregnant woman expresses a wish to die, we assume her judgment is flawed, and that we have better options to offer her than self-destruction? But when a pregnant woman expresses a wish that the child in her womb should die, we assume her judgment is perfectly sound and helpful?

There are so many inaccurate statements about the people’s alleged support for legislation for abortion on the grounds of suicide.

Many, including Alan Shatter who should know better, are repeating the mantra that people rejected removal of suicide as grounds for abortion on two occasions.

Some, however, are more truthful, like the Cedar House Revolution blog. (Always worth a read.) The blog’s tagline is “For lefties too stubborn to quit.”

The blog says in relation to 2002: “While, of course, Youth Defence can’t claim credit for the defeat of that [2002] referendum, they were certainly a major factor in getting an anti-choice No vote out, without which the amendment would most likely have passed.”

The highly respected political scientist Prof Michael Gallagher of Trinity agrees. “However, a small section of conservative opinion, led by the [then] MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon, opposed it, as in 1992, on the purist ground that it would merely restrict rather than completely outlawing abortion, and this group proved decisive, as the proposal was defeated only very narrowly.”

As for the 1992 referendum, I voted against that amendment, as did virtually everyone I know who is anti-abortion. It is simply disingenuous to suggest that the defeat of these two referendums’ proposals imply support for suicidal ideation as a ground for abortion.

Enda Kenny seems determined to drive forward with legislation for X. If he does, he will show how little a Fine Gael promise is worth, and how little he values not only the electorate, but the conscience of those in his party who oppose legislation that will not help, but has great potential for harm.

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