A referendum on abortion

Sir, – Now that attention has been drawn to the complete lack of scientific evidence at the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment (Letters, December 19th), I hope you will permit me to point out that statistical evidence appears to have been seriously lacking also. I say “appears” because I did not follow every session of this committee, and perhaps my concerns here are groundless.

Quite a lot is known about every patient in the hospital system: the data is collected and analysed monthly by the ESRI. It would be quite extraordinary if a parliamentary committee, listening to claims from medical witnesses about dangers to women’s health supposedly caused by the Eighth Amendment did not see fit to ask for the statistics which would back up these claims. For example, what conditions, if any, are more prevalent in Ireland than in Britain or France; and does abortion itself have associated health problems? Did no one think to ask?

Some (valid) statistics from the pro-life side – about comparative abortion rates in Ireland and Britain, and comparative maternal mortality rates – were actually scoffed at by pro-choice committee members.

The OMG! approach to the abortion issue, which a majority of Irish journalists seem to favour, should have no place in a parliamentary committee, which should have been concerned only with collecting hard facts. – Yours, etc,



Lismore Co Waterford.

Sir, – Thomas Ryan (December 20th) suggests that the changes in the law recommended by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment could increase the number of Irish women having abortions from 3,500 to 15,000 per year.

If he is right, this means that, at present, every year 11,500 unwanted babies are born in Ireland. Does Mr Ryan think this is a good reason not to repeal the Eighth? – Yours, etc,


Sauvian, France.

Sir, – Prof Martin Clynes states in relation to human reproduction, that after fertilisation, “nothing is added but time” (Letters, December 19th).

I am sure there is many a woman, whose body has been battered and bruised by pregnancy and childbirth, who would beg to differ! – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – I must take issue with Prof Martin Clynes (Letters, December 19th) when he describes the “unique relationship of dependency of the unborn child on the mother”, and adds that “nothing else quite like this relationship exists in humans’ lives”.

From an unemotional, biological perspective the mother-foetus relationship is a host-parasite relationship, where one organism exhibits dependency for its survival on a host by receiving both nourishment and protection from the host. Parasitic dependence is an extremely common phenomenon in biology and could never be described as unique.

We saw a classic example of parasitism in the recent case of the North Korean soldier with intestinal nematodes. The soldier gave protection and nourishment to the organisms within him, and the intestinal nematodes would die if they left the host. Similarly, head lice are common parasites in this country, and many illnesses, malaria for example, are caused by parasites also.

Interestingly the parasitic tendencies of the human don’t just end at birth, as the human infant exhibits an extraordinary dependence on its parents long after birth, whereas most other mammals gain independence much more quickly.

Indeed my friends tell me that nowadays the parasitic phase of human offspring can sometimes last up to 40 years, as exhibited by their reluctance to leave the family nest. – Yours, etc,


Gorey, Co Wexford.

Sir, – Fintan O’ Toole (Opinion, December 19th) implies that those who are against abortion and in favour of protecting the baby in the womb must do so at the expense of being cruel to the pregnant woman or treating a woman who procures an abortion as a murderer.

This is a false dichotomy.

One of the essential attributes of a murder is that there is malice of forethought, which is surely absent in the case of a woman looking for an abortion. There is also a lot of confusion abroad about whether the foetus is a human being. As a result, it can hardly be said that a pro-life law must cast a woman who has sought an abortion as a murderer. The law should, however, protect the weak and innocent. – Yours, etc,


Irishtown Dublin 4.

Sir, – The last two paragraphs of Fintan O’Toole’s opinion piece (December 12th) are somewhat confused. It is perfectly logical that someone who feels that certain actions are abhorrent and criminal, so much so that they carry draconian penalties, can also feel that there are degrees of culpability for such actions, depending on the state of mind of the perpetrator, that allow for nuanced application of sanctions.

This is by no means an argument for removal of the law involved, much less an argument for withdrawing the protection provided by the Constitution for vulnerable human beings. – Yours, etc,


Dungarvan, Co Waterford.