Abortion legislation and Catholic hospitals

Sir, – As a result of the last referendum, the Constitution of Ireland now includes an article which allows provision to be made by law for the regulation of the termination of pregnancy. Contrary to the claims of the Taoiseach, the new article does not empower the legislators to mandate hospitals to provide such “services”, least of all Catholic hospitals, at the core of whose ethos is absolute respect for life from conception to death.

In the Dáil this week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that: “... it will not be possible for publicly funded hospitals, no matter who their patron or owner is, to opt out of providing these necessary services, which will be legal in the State once the legislation is passed by the Dáil and the Seanad”. This obviously includes Catholic hospitals and begs several questions.

First, the fact that such “services” are allowed by law, does not mean that any particular hospital has to provide them. Apart from the question of triage – the management of resources to meet the demands of patients – which can only be assessed by hospital management, such a diktat itself would move us closer to an authoritarian State. Government cannot dictate to hospitals, Catholic or not, which services they must provide.

Second, the funding of the hospitals comes from taxation paid by many voters who remain pro-life and so in a pluralist democracy are as much entitled to public funding for their hospitals and education as non-Catholic citizens. In addition, can we really assume that the two-thirds of voters who opted for repeal really want to force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions?


The outrageous demand made by the Taoiseach raises the more fundamental question about the nature and role of conscience (including institutional conscience) not only in medical care but also in a functioning democracy, which topic would deserve a fuller account than could be given in a letter. Suffice it to say, that, when the State rides roughshod over ethos, as Mr Varadkar proposes, then we have moved from democracy to something which is considerably less than that. In this case, Catholic politicians, medics and ancillary staff have the task not only to act in accordance with their Catholic consciences, but also by so acting with courage and integrity to save our fragile pluralist democracy – and ensure that Ireland’s medical care remains fully patient orientated, by looking after all lives, including the unborn. – Yours, etc,



(Professor Emeritus

of Moral Theology),

Dublin 4.