The abortion debate


Sir, - When will the "pro-life" movement stop deluding itself? The vast majority of submissions on the Abortion Green Paper and to the Oireachtas Committee which made a distinction between direct and indirect abortion were chain letters from anti-abortion activists. And the Oireachtas Committee, having heard evidence from legal and medical experts, decided that no such distinction could be made in law. The Pro-Life Campaign is now supporting what is essentially a re-run of the referendum in November 1992 on the "substantive issue" which it then opposed. The reason it is doing so is that in the current debate the medical profession has finally had the courage to admit what anyone with even a modicum of knowledge on the subject has always known: that doctors do actually perform abortions - even direct abortions - in Ireland. In light of this the Pro-Life Campaign has changed its definition of indirect abortion. Its old position, as stated by William Binchy and as defined in Roman Catholic theology and medical practice, is that the act terminating the pregnancy has to be indirect: thus, per Mr Binchy in 1992, if a doctor terminates an ectopic pregancy the fallopian tube with the foetus in it must be removed. The foetus cannot directly be removed, leaving the fallopian tube intact, as this would be a direct abortion. This logic led to anti-abortion activists in the UK opposing the separation of the conjoined twins, Jodie and Mary. The only difference between now and 1992 is that the falsity of the Pro-Life Campaign's old assertion that pregnancy can never, in itself, pose a direct physical threat to the life of regnant women has been exposed. Knowing that a properly informed public would never fall for their 1992 stance now, ProLife Campaign members have done a U-turn and then denied they have done so. Now they expect us to believe that a crisis pregnancy can never lead to suicide on the spurious ground that pregnant women as a group tend to commit suicide less often than non-pregnant women. They also inform us, on the basis of ambiguously worded polls, that most Irish people are antichoice, even though two-thirds of us in 1992 voted effectively for abortion on request, albeit out of the jurisdiction, when we voted for the travel referendum. Let us not forget that 1992 was not the first time the ProLife Campaign got it wrong: it was they who insisted on the anti-abortion amendment to the Constitution being put to the Irish people in 1983 in the first place. Their arguments about democracy are spurious as they cannot expect us to believe that they would support a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment (the only logical course open to us) because the people should have their say.

Let us hope that the Government and the Oireachtas are not so brazenly unprincipled that they once more do the bidding of a group of people who, on the basis of past experience, cannot be trusted to put even the most basic facts about the legal and medical issues surrounding abortion to the public. Let them reflect on the fact that the silent majority do not support the Pro-Life Campaign's stance and will vote down any proposal which puts the life of women at risk. - Yours, etc.,

Se D'alton, Palmerston Road, Dublin 6.