Harney remarks on pre-teen sex


Madam, - When I read the comments of Ms Mary Harney, Tánaiste and Minister of Health at the launch of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency's annual report, where she advocated making the morning-after pill available to girls as young as 11 - albeit with parental consent - I wondered if this could be real, or if it was, perhaps, some "silly season" joke.

Now that the Minister has stood by the comments, I take issue with her.

The morning-after pill (so-called emergency contraception) is abortifacient and not contraceptive in that it prevents implantation of a fertilised ovum in the womb. The manufacturers of one such drug concede as much, admitting that it produces transient changes in the endometrium (the lining of the womb) making it unsuitable for a fertilised ovum to implant, while arguing at the same time that it is not abortifacient as it does not cause the death of an embryo already implanted in the womb.

Leaving aside the ethical or moral issues, has the Minister overlooked the possible medical implications of administering potent steroids to children?

Whether or no, is it not a fact that provision of the morning-after pill, as advocated by her, is unlawful?

The Offences Against the Person Act, 1861 - still the law of the land, and endorsed by the Health (Family Planning) Act, 1979 - is quite explicit. Section 58 of the 1861 Act states: "Whoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall unlawfully administer to her or cause to be taken by her any poison or other noxious thing. . shall be guilty of felony".

Is not the morning-after pill designed to prevent the further development of a pregnancy already conceived?

The Minister went on to say that if someone as young as 11 could have a sexual relationship it was "preferable that emergency contraception be used rather than waiting for a pregnancy to emerge".

Would it not be in everyone's interest to instil in our young people the virtue and value of chastity? - Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus of

Obstetrics and Gynaecology,




Madam, - Miriam Duggan declares (July 28th) that "the time has come when the reason why teenagers are engaged in sexual activity should be addressed." I am surprised by this; the reason is as perfectly clear as it has always been. "Sexual activity" is enjoyable and teenagers are eager to experience it. Is this any different from previous generations, other than that teenagers today are perhaps better educated in sexual matters?

As for Ms Duggan's surprise that the Minister for Health should advocate the morning-after pill, I can only suggest that the physical and mental health risks of a pre-teen pregnancy seem more important problems than the morality embedded behind a hypothetical abortifacient.

It is simply not possible to prevent every teenager from engaging in sexual acts. The best we can do is to educate them in every option that is available to them.

The Minister for Health has it right. - Yours, etc,


Waterloo Road,


Dublin 4.