The abortion debate


Sir, – At this stage of the voting for legislation on the forthcoming abortion Bill, the behaviour of the Government parties is as close to political bullying as one would wish to see. All I can hope is that common sense, not to mention scientific evidence, will prevail. – Yours, etc,


Nutley Avenue,


Dublin 4.

Sir, – There was not one woman among the 24 TDs who voted against the Bill on Tuesday evening, yet they all seem to know best what women should do with their ovaries, wombs, bodies, health and lives. – Yours, etc,


St James’s Place,

Fermoy, Co Cork.

Sir, – If Lucinda Creighton and others were to leave the Fine Gael party, perhaps they might consider calling their new party “Suicidal Fine Gael”? – Yours, etc,


Wilderwood Grove,


Dublin 6W.

Sir, – If TDs truly represent their constituents, their own religious convictions should not come into it. They are being selfish and forgetful of those who put them where they are. – Yours, etc,


Letterkenny Road,


Co Donegal.

Sir, – I write to comment on Patsy McGarry’s article on abortion (“Church teaching on abortion dates from 1869”, Opinion & Analysis, July 2nd). Mr McGarry twice refers to the early embryo as “a collection of biochemical elements”. But this is a true description of the embryo only in the sense that Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is a collection of air-vibrations or that da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a collection of specks of paint pigments.

Biology shows us that an individual human life begins at conception when a sperm cell fuses with an egg cell to form a new cell, the zygote (the earliest embryonic stage). This zygote divides into two daughter cells, each daughter divides in two, and so the process proceeds until eventually, nine months later, a baby is born, who goes on to grow and develop into adulthood and old age and who eventually dies.

The zygote is the start of a continuum of human development that ends only in death. The early embryo, far from being a mere “collection of biochemical elements”, is a marvel of sophisticated molecular orchestration. Many details of this orchestration are still not understood by science.

The early embryo works extremely hard at translating and expressing the biological instructions programmed into it, in harmony with cues it receives from its environment. Even at the two-cell embryonic stage a degree of developmental polarisation can already be discerned.

Mr McGarry also wonders why those who accord full human status to the early embryo do not extend this status to the sperm or the egg or to a surgically excised human limb. Again, Mr McGarry is guilty of a scientific misunderstanding. The zygote which begins the human continuum is entirely qualitatively different from the sperm and egg that precede the continuum and from the corpse (or excised limb) that succeeds it. Neither the sperm, the egg nor the excised limb have the power on their own to initiate a biological continuum. – Yours, etc,


Emeritus Professor of


Western Road,


Sir, – Is there any way a copy of Patsy McGarry’s fine article could be sent to Peter Matthews, Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan, et al, as soon as possible?

If they read it they might change their views and their positions on the rather narrow scope of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013. To read that, up to 1869, the Catholic Church allowed abortion when the foetus was almost 24 weeks and that the church’s most famous teachers – Jerome, Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas – would be out of step with the official teaching of the Catholic Church these days is an eye-opener and just proves that nothing should be taken for granted where religious teaching is concerned.

In the meantime, women are suffering and in the case of Savita Hallappanavar dying unnecessarily because some TDs are following theology and ignoring reason. A sad, sad situation for all, especially for the women who are suffering. – Yours, etc,


Greencastle Avenue,


Dublin 17.

A chara, – Isn’t it strange that our Supreme Court can rule that a terminally ill women facing an agonising death may not be assisted to take her own life, and also rule that a suicidal but otherwise healthy woman may be professionally assisted to terminate a life other than her own? – Is mise,


College Crescent,



A chara, – Enda Kenny, James Reilly and others have repeatedly claimed, without any credible reasons, that Ireland will be somehow immune from any damaging consequences of legalising abortion.

In New Zealand, the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act was passed in 1977, to regulate abortion which was already practised based on case law.

The New Zealand law legalised abortion on grounds including serious risk to mental health and included pages of requirements for regulatory structures. Two doctors were to certify that abortion was needed, and an abortion supervisory committee was set up.

Here, the X case ruling has been used by doctors certifying that abortion in the UK is necessary for suicidal patients. Politicians say that this Bill will regulate use of the X case, but can it really be assumed that this will improve the situation?

In New Zealand in 1980 there were almost 6,000 abortions, and by 2003, the number of pregnant women certified by doctors to be at serious mental health risk trebled to over 18,000.

To put this in perspective, for every three babies born alive in 2003, one baby died by abortion. A total of 99 per cent of abortions were on mental health grounds, although research on women’s mental health after abortion has not found any benefit and in fact a higher risk of problems.

The 1977 Act clearly did not intend that abortion on request would be legalised. But this is essentially what happened. It was impossible to regulate individual clinical decisions made on subjective mental health grounds.

I appeal to all those who hold the fate of this Bill and those affected by it in their hands and votes, to look to what will follow, not only very understandably for their own political careers, but for the women and children of Ireland.

Those who do, especially those who pay a political price, will be respected and remembered for an act of exceptional public service for the rest of their career and beyond. – Is mise,


St John’s Wood West,

Clondalkin, Dublin 22.