Two doctors, one of them being Peter Boylan, told the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment last week that when a country’s abortion law is liberalised, abortion rates decline. This is not true.
Abortion rates and trends vary considerably by geographic region. In discussing Ireland, we should look at countries that are socially and culturally closer to us and base our expectations on what happened there.
Abortions rates are falling in some countries, for a variety of reasons, but not because of a more liberal regime. No country with liberal laws has an abortion rate lower than countries such Ireland, Poland and Malta, which have restrictive laws. (I have covered this topic here).
It is not the first time Dr Boylan makes incorrect claims about abortion statistics.
For instance, in a recent interview with Eamon Dunphy that you can listen here he said: “The interesting thing is that in countries that we regard perhaps as the most liberal legislation, places like Denmark and the Netherlands, they have extremely low rates of termination by comparison with the instances that you have mentioned.” He and Eamon Dunphy had been discussing Britain and the United States.
The percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion is actually higher in Denmark than in Britain or in the United States. Here you can find a comprehensive comparative table.
Denmark, as other Northern countries like Sweden or Norway, provides the kind of sexual education and access to contraception that pro-choice advocates favour and still has higher abortion rates than Italy, Portugal, Germany or Switzerland. The Scandinavian countries can be hardly taken as good examples.
These doctors need to revise their claim that liberalisation of the law leads to lower abortion rates when the facts show something very different.
The Masters of the two biggest maternity hospitals in the country have both declared their support for abortion where a child suffers either from a fatal or a non-fatal foetal abnormality. If implemented, this would mean that unborn children suffering from conditions such as Down Syndrome could be aborted in Irish hospitals.
The two Masters were Professor Fergal Malone of the Rotunda Hospital Dublin, and Dr Rhona Mahony of the National Maternity Hospital. Last week they appeared before the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment.
Professor Malone doesn’t want any limits placed on the type of foetal abnormalities that can lead to abortion, or any limits placed on the point in the pregnancy when an abortion for such conditions can take place. He wants abortion in this context decriminalised.
Moreover, he did not consider it appropriate to specify a precise gestational age limit in weeks beyond which a pregnancy termination would be illegal because, he said, the definition of foetal viability is not precise and is likely to change. According to him, the mother and her doctor only should make such a decision, without a legal cut-off.
This practically means abortion on request for any foetal abnormality, without gestational age limit. One couldn’t think of a more liberal regime.
Dr Mahony also supported decriminalisation. She didn’t specify on what grounds but quoted without any qualification the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in the UK which recently voted by a large margin in favour of removing criminal sanctions that still cover some abortions in Britain, for example, late term abortions except in cases of disability.
But when challenged by Senator Ronan Mullen, she admitted there has been no case law of doctors being prosecuted in Ireland and “one or two cases where doctors have been accused of inappropriate termination of pregnancy” in Northern Ireland, were not on their assessment of risk but on a completely different ground.
Professor William Binchy appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on abortion yesterday. Professor Binchy, an expert in constitutional law, is one of the main architects of the pro-life clause of our Constitution. In his testimony to the committee, he defended the right to life of the unborn and challenged the idea that under our international law commitments, we must liberalise our abortion regime.
Human rights, he explained, are based on the inherent and equal worth of every human being. “Human beings have human rights, not because they are given by legislators or courts, but by reason of their humanity.” Commenting on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, he claimed that, if accepted, they would make lawful to take the life of a child on request, with no restriction as to reasons, and also where the child has a significant foetal anomaly. “If human rights are to have any meaning, one human being should not be entitled to choose to end the life of another, innocent and defenceless, human being. The idea that our law should authorise the taking of a child’s life with “no restriction as to reasons” is, frankly, abhorrent to any civilised society.”
Speaking of children with disabilities, professor Binchy remarked that “terminating the life of a disabled child because of the child’s disability is not consistent with respect for the child’s equal right to life.” Our society has been founded on the value that no one has the right to choose to hurt, let alone kill, another innocent human being – professor Binchy claimed -but the “right to choose” philosophy, fully embraced by the Citizens’ Assembly implies, the right to take the life of another human being, with “no restriction as to reasons”, on the basis of the supremacy of choice.
The international human rights treaties which Ireland has ratified do not provide for a right to abortion, according to the Trinity academic. If they were in conflict with the Irish Constitution they would not have been ratified. Any comment from the monitoring committees of the international treaties does not change the meaning of the treaties. Their members, Professor Binchy maintained, are earnest supporters of the “right to choose” philosophy and Ireland doesn’t have to change its Constitution to get it in line with their views.
Commenting on the submission of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, of which he was a member for two terms, he noted that if the proposals were implemented, they would involve abortion with little or no restrictions in practice, i.e. a regime of abortion on demand. “Throughout its Policy Document, the Commission never addresses the entitlement of children before birth to be protected from having their lives ended. It offers no reasons why such a profound discrimination against them should be proposed. Alarmingly, it presents no objections from a human rights perspective to late term abortions.”