The abortion debate

Sir, – I fully appreciate that our Government is grappling with the abortion issue in the best interest of all citizens but …

Sir, – I fully appreciate that our Government is grappling with the abortion issue in the best interest of all citizens but unfortunately none of us is infallible, as is borne out by the Californian experience.

In 1969 the state passed the Therapeutic Abortion Act which permitted abortion if there was “a substantial risk that continuance of the pregnancy would gravely impair the physical or mental health of the mother”. Impairment of mental heath was defined as “mental illness to the extent that the woman is dangerous to herself or to the person or property of others or is in need of supervision or restraint” (ie grounds for admission to a mental health institution).

It was necessary that two licensed doctors (or three where the pregnancy was after the 13th week) agreed unanimously that abortion was necessary because of the substantial risk involved.

So what happened? One year later 63,872 abortions had been sanctioned and 61,572 performed, 98.2 per cent under the mental health provision.

Reflecting on the flood of abortions purporting to be the result of the mental health provision, the Californian Supreme Court observed “Serious doubt must exist that such a considerable number of pregnant women could have been committed to a mental institution”. Clearly the court was concerned that the majority of these abortions had not been carried out because of mental health but for social reasons.

All of which poses a serious challenge to those who wish to have suicide ideation included in any proposed legislation.

If we must have legislation based on the X case which, in the light of experience I consider not to be necessary, it must not include suicide ideation.

What is wrong with the Medical Council Guidelines? Have they not served us well to date ?

Finally, I commend the Californian experience to our legislators and urge them to take it on board if, and when, they are preparing legislation on the X case. – Yours, etc,


Prof Emeritus of Gynaecology Obstetrics,

NUI Galway,

Lower Taylor’s Hill, Galway.

Sir, – Vincent Holmes accused the Taoiseach of not listening to the people (January 22nd). Does he really believe all the people want the same thing?

He reminded us that 22,000 anti-abortionists on the streets told him what they want. If 22,000 pro-abortionists were to turn up with an opposing message, where stands the Taoiseach?

I believe it’s incumbent on the Taoiseach and Government to enact legislation to comply with the Constitution and European Court of Human Rights and ignore the mob, pro or anti. – Yours, etc,



Bunclody, Co Wexford.

Sir, – Can I suggest that the rules for the debate on abortion include two prerequisites, first, the use of logic and second, a moral stance.

Arguably a polarised debate might be inevitable if one accepts the validity of the moral position that that all life is sacred, hence abortion is always wrong; or the logical opinion that if the mother should have the ultimate decision at all times, then abortion should be available up to birth. – Yours, etc,


Ballyroan Park,

Templeogue, Dublin 16.

Sir, – The presentation by The Irish Times of the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll on abortion was a gross distortion of the true picture.

In his analysis, Political Editor, Stephen Collins (February 11th) states that public support for Oireachtas legislation on abortion has risen from 23 per cent in 1997 to 71 per cent today.

The 1997 MRBI poll he cites actually found 77 per cent of people supported abortion in a variety of circumstances, depending on how the question was asked. The 23 per cent mentioned by Mr Collins was just one of the findings in a multiple choice question that included other options.

Five years later, in 2002, when the electorate had an actual choice to make in a referendum, 49 per cent voted Yes to row back on the X case ruling. An IMS poll conducted just afterwards found an additional 5 per cent voted No on pro-life grounds.

In other words, despite findings like the one cited by Mr Collins from 1997 and the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, when the people have an actual democratic choice, a clear majority rejects abortion.

Polls showing high levels of support for abortion are nothing new. Whenever the question suppresses the distinction between induced abortion (that targets the life of the baby) and necessary medical treatments to preserve the life of the mother (where every reasonable effort is made to save the life of the baby), the results show high support for abortion.

Such polls, however, significantly under-represent the opposition among the electorate and create an inflated perception of the extent of public support for abortion. – Yours, etc,


Deputy Chairperson,

Pro Life Campaign,

Lower Baggot Street,

Dublin 2.

Stephen Collins writes: The Irish Times poll in December 1997 found that 23 per cent of people felt the government should legislate for abortion in line with decisions made in the courts. Other findings in the same poll or other polls about the complex issue do not alter that fact. The finding in the latest poll that 71 per cent of people favour legislation is directly comparable.