Government position on abortion is a hall of mirrors


Opinion:Ireland is at an important moment in its post-independence history. For the first time, a government is proposing to introduce legislation authorising the taking of the innocent lives of human beings.

Even to express this prospect is awesome. It contradicts the basis on which human rights and justice are founded. Every human being has inherent equal dignity and worth. Intentionally terminating the lives of human beings is a deep injustice.

Yet our Government has said this is what it is going to do. Taoiseach Enda Kenny seeks to justify it on three grounds, all of them false.

The first is that the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar demonstrates the need for legislation. No one other than those directly involved can say what led to this tragic death but one thing is certain. The existing legal position in relation to the medical handling of a miscarriage is not in any way compromised by uncertainties that prevent doctors from giving full and appropriate medical care to mothers.

In 30 years of full and active public debate about the merits of the existing law, no medical practitioner, not even one favouring abortion on demand, has suggested miscarriage presents any legal problems or uncertainties for doctors.

The second false argument is that the European Court of Human Rights required Ireland to introduce legislation in accordance with the Supreme Court decision of 20 years ago.

In that case, the Supreme Court, having heard no evidence from any psychiatrist, held it was lawful to take the life of an unborn child on the ground of suicidal ideation.

The European court does not require us to give legislative substance to such an unjust and mistaken decision. What it requires is something quite different: that our law on medical care during pregnancy be transparent and that there be a possibility of review or appeal from medical decisions.

It is not the business of the European court to tell Ireland what choices to make in relation to the protection of mothers and children. To say we must legislate in accordance with the Supreme Court decision is patently untrue, as the Attorney General should confirm publicly if asked.

The third false argument is one actually made by the expert group appointed by the Government, which the Government, far from exposing and contradicting, has allowed go by default.

This is that the terms of reference for the group restricted it to coming up with options based on the Supreme Court decision. In fact, the terms of reference required the group to arrive at its preferred options on how to implement the judgment “taking into account the constitutional, legal, medical and ethical considerations involved in the formulation of public policy in this area” – a far broader mandate.

The group’s report contains a curious statement, that “the only brief” that Minister for Health James Reilly gave it was to deal with the European judgment “and to advise the Government on how to give effect to existing constitutional provisions”.

When did the Minister give such a briefing? On whose authority? And why did he narrow the group’s mandate?

The cumulative result of these false and intertwined arguments is that the Government is putting forward proposals to legislate for the termination of the lives of unborn children based on the ground of suicidal ideation because it is obliged to by the present legal situation in regard to the treatment of miscarriage, the European court judgment and the report of the expert group. It amounts to a hall of mirrors.

The Government’s proposal to legislate to terminate life is a matter of great public concern. Before such a step were contemplated, there is surely a solemn duty to consult the Irish people. Many who voted in the election last year actually believed the Taoiseach’s absolutely unambiguous promise not to legislate.

There is no true democratic mandate for the transformation of Irish law to deny the equality and right to life of human beings.

Unborn children fail almost all the tests for significance, based on measurements of strength, power and autonomy, but they are no less human beings on that account. Yet the Government proposes to replace the present world-class medical regime in Irish hospitals of caring for mothers and children, ensuring mothers receive all necessary treatment, with one involving the intentional termination of innocent lives.

Any person of goodwill who values the basic principles of human rights must vigorously oppose it.

* William Binchy is a barrister at law and legal adviser to the Pro Life Campaign

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