During the referendum campaign we were told, correctly, that the vote was not on the proposed legislation but only on the removal of the pro-life amendment. Among those telling us this was no less a person that the head of the Referendum Commission, Justice Isobel Kennedy.
So, in theory, the abortion legislation proposed by Minister Simon Harris before the referendum can be changed because we did not vote for that. But what we are seeing in practice is that any attempt to discuss the details of the future law is immediately shot down on the grounds that we had, in practice, voted for the proposed Bill.
On the other hand, the Government itself, having said we voted for the Bill on May 25th and that not a line of it can be changed, has, in fact, changed a number of key aspects of it.
For example, the second version of the General Scheme, presented by Minister Harris after the referendum, has a new definition of viability, which extends the time limit of abortion, a new definition of fatal abnormality, which extends the expected fatality of the condition from birth to a month after birth, and also a new definition of conscientious objection, which limits its scope rather than expanding it. Furthermore, Simon Harris wants to introduce new features such as the ban of vigils or protests outside abortion venues.
It is also significant that those who are now requesting an even more liberal law are contradicting what they themselves said during the referendum campaign.
For example, speaking at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health last week, Dr Peter Boylan maintained, “it is unnecessary and demeaning to women to suggest that they have to wait three days to make their minds up.”
But during the referendum campaign Dr Boylan spoke about the 72 hour period in positive terms.
In this video, for instance, he explains that there is pause period in other countries in Europe and “that allows a woman to fully understand the implications of what she is doing”. He claimed that when Irish women go to the UK, they are already committed but the 72 hour pause period will allow the woman to meet her doctor and discuss the full implications of what she has decided to do, and then “to go and think about it”.
On another occasion he said that the reflection period had to be welcomed. (See here)
Why does he now think this is “demeaning”?
Even the Together for Yes website had no objection to this proposal at the time. “There will be 72-hour mandatory waiting period, to give the woman time to consider her options and ensure this is the right decision.”
Pro-choice campaigners and politicians can’t have it both ways, saying that with their vote the people approved the proposed law in detail and, at the same time, trying to change it in a more liberal direction, often contradicting their own words.
La migliore protezione contro l’aborto sembra essere il matrimonio.
Una donna sposata ha solo un quinto della probabilità di avere un aborto rispetto a una donna che non è sposata. Questa differenza è importante e vale la pena esaminarla.
Se guardiamo il Regno Unito, ad esempio, scopriamo che circa una gravidanza su cinque finisce in aborto, ma è interessante considerare come questa cifra vari enormemente tra donne sposate e non sposate.
In Inghilterra e Galles nel 2016 ci sono stati 696.271 nati vivi. Un po’ più della metà (362.061), il 52% per la precisione, è stata registrata da coppie sposate. Nello stesso anno, 29.189 donne sposate hanno abortito. Questo rappresenta il 16% del numero totale di aborti in Inghilterra e Galles nell’anno (185.596), una percentuale che è rimasta costante nell’ultimo decennio.
Ciò significa anche che c’è stato un aborto per ogni 12,5 nascite in donne sposate, che va confrontato con una media nazionale di un aborto ogni quattro nascite, nel complesso.
Nel 2016, si sono state 327.210 nascite in madri non sposate. Il numero di aborti effettuati da donne non sposate è stato di 145.297. Questo rappresenta oltre l’80% di tutti gli aborti in Inghilterra e Galles (per un’analisi più dettagliata della suddivisione tra nubili con o senza partner si veda qui e qui).
Si tratta di una stima a ribasso in quanto lo stato civile di 6.787 donne non viene specificato nel rapporto ufficiale del 2016. In ogni caso, questo significa che il 30% delle gravidanze in donne non sposate si è concluso con un aborto. La percentuale è più alta (31,3%) se includiamo anche donne separate, vedove o divorziate (4.323).
La cifra del 30% si traduce in un aborto per ogni 2,25 nascite in donne non sposate, contro uno su 12,5 per le donne sposate, ossia con una differenza di oltre cinque a uno.
Da notare che il 5.2% delle nascite (36.206) viene registrato solo dalla madre, senza un padre, mentre il 24% degli aborti (41.943) avviene in madri nubili. Oltre il 53% delle single senza partner abortisce il proprio figlio e in questo dato non sono incluse le donne il cui stato civile non è noto o specificato. Quindi, nel Regno Unito, i bimbi concepiti da donne senza un partner hanno più probabilità di venire abortiti che di nascere.
Rispetto a dieci anni fa, la percentuale di single senza partner che abortisce è diminuita, rispetto al numero totale, mentre la percentuale di single con partner è cresciuta dal 36% nel 2006 al 54% nel 2016.
Se guardiamo al numero ufficiale di donne irlandesi che abortiscono ogni anno in Inghilterra, vediamo emergere un quadro molto simile. Nel 2016, il 18,7% delle donne irlandesi che avevano abortito erano sposate e il 78,9% era single (il 2,4% era separata, vedova o divorziata).
È chiaro quindi che il matrimonio è estremamente protettivo dal punto di vista del nascituro. È per questo che il movimento pro-vita deve anche essere favorevole al matrimonio.
There is a push underway to remove the proposed 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion. The matter came up before the Oireachtas Health Committee today. Among those questions it was Dr Peter Boylan, one of the most active pro-choice advocates during the recent abortion referendum.
He said: “The proposed 3-day interval between the first consultation and initiating the TOP [termination of pregnancy] is not supported by evidence, it may act as a barrier and it makes unwarranted assumptions about women’s ability to make their own decisions. There is evidence that those who request termination remain satisfied with their decision.”
Dr Boylan did not actually cite any evidence to back up his claim but did admit other countries have similar waiting periods.
‘Cooling-off periods’ of six days exist in both Italy and Belgium. It is five days in the Netherlands, three days in Spain and in Portugal. There are similar provisions in more than half of the states in the USA.
The rationale is to give the mother a bit more time to think about a difficult and irreversible choice. The evidence is that most women have firmly made up their mind when they want an abortion but it seems a minority do change their minds and therefore a life is saved.
For instance, in 2012 Utah extended the mandatory waiting period from 24 to 72 hours. A recent article compared the proportion of women returning for an abortion before and after the extension of the cooling-off period, finding that “2,793 of 3,618 women (77%) returned for abortion procedures under the 72-hour law, compared with 2,513 of 3,130 (80%) in the previous year”. It is a small but undeniable reduction. Another study says that “Mississippi’s mandatory delay statute was responsible for a decline in abortion rates”.
The waiting period does not prevent anyone receiving an abortion but rather gives them more time to reconsider their choice. What is wrong with that when a life is at stake?
Moreover, Dr Boylan claimed, again without providing any evidence, that “following legalisation of abortion services numbers decline with the passage of time”. This is a very doubtful claim. See here, or here.
Dr Boylan also commented on conscientious objection. In his opening statement he draws attention to a document asking to “prohibit institutional refusals of care”, which means for instance that a Catholic hospital should be banned from refusing abortions. The document is wrongly attributed to the “European Human Rights Jurisprudence on State Obligations to Guarantee Women’s Access to Legal Reproductive Health Care”. In fact, it was produced by the American pro-abortion advocacy group the “Center for Reproductive Rights”. (The title is also misquoted).
Dr Boylan is head of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He should have got his source right before quoting it to an Oireachtas Committee.
The single best protector against abortion appears to be marriage. A married woman is only a fifth as likely to have an abortion as a woman who is not married. This difference is stark and is worth examining.
We know that in the UK, for example, about one every five pregnancies ends in abortion, but it is interesting to consider how this figure varies hugely between married and unmarried women.
In England and Wales in 2016 there were 696,271 live births. A bit more than half of them (362,061), 52% to be precise, were registered to married couples. In the same year, 29,189 married women had an abortion. This represents 16% of the total number of abortions in England and Wales that year 185,596, a figure that has been constant for the last decade.
This also means that there was one abortion for every 12.5 births to married women, which compares with a national average of one abortion for every four births overall.
In 2016, there were 327,210 births to unmarried mothers. The number of abortions performed on unmarried women was 145,297. This accounts for more than 80% of all abortions in England and Wales. (For a more detailed analysis of the breakdown among singles see here and here )
The figure translates into one abortion for every 2.25 births to unmarried women, versus one in 12.5 for married women, a difference of more than five to one.
If we look at the official number of Irish women who have abortions each year in England and Wales, we see a very similar picture emerging. In 2016, 18.7% of Irish women who had abortions in England and Wales were married and 78.9% were single. (2.4% were separated, widowed or divorced).
It is clear that marriage is hugely protective from the point of view of the unborn child. It is why the pro-life movement must also be pro-marriage.
The forthcoming legislation on assisted human reproduction is set to build on the extremely radical approach to family relationships put in place by the Children and Family Relationships Act from 2015, a law that greatly demotes the importance of the biological ties between parents and children. In an article published in the current issue of the Law Society Gazette, a number of legal experts criticised the proposed legislation.
The author of the piece, Mary Hallissey, sums up the approach nicely when she says that “births certs will now sidestep the truth of a child’s origins in favour of naming commissioning parents, who have used donor material [eggs and/or sperm] to conceive.”
The approach of the Government is so radical that it looks set to allows the words ‘mother’ and father’ to be replaced on births certificates by ‘parent one’ and ‘parent two’, which is a total denial of biological reality. This is in a country that is disgusted by how the birth certs of some adopted children were deliberately and legally falsified in the past. This time it will have the full blessing of the State.
The new AHR law will ban anonymous donation. However, relevant information regarding the biological parent (or parents) will be kept secret unless it is requested, and only when the child reaches 18 years of age. As the article from the Law Society Gazette notes, “there is no legal responsibility, or suggested timescale, for parents to inform children about the truth of their biological origins”.
This means that some people will never know that they were conceived with the intervention of a third party that provided gamete material, and therefore they will never ask to access information that might crucial for their physical or mental health. They also will never know that they might have half siblings and other blood relations.
In any case, those children will have only a remote chance of ever forming a relationship with their biological parents because egg and sperm are usually imported from overseas.
Children’s ombudsman Niall Muldoon told the Law Society Gazette that every child should have accurate information about their lineage and birth and, in the case of those born from assisted reproduction, the identity of any gamete donor or of the birth mother that acted as a surrogate should be included. But this still downgrades the importance of the natural ties. This is why some donor-conceived people, such as Dr Joanna Rose, want the practice prohibited entirely.
The new legislation will establish a National Donor-Conceived Person Register, where information about the donor parents should be kept updated but there is no legal enforcement of this and, as family lawyer Geraldine Keehan notes, “it is unrealistic to expect a donor to update a register with medical details, years and even decades later, though this information could be vital to the child concerned”.
Psychologist Emma O’Friel claims that the legislation is written from an adult point of view. “Money is guiding this. The fertility clinics are running a business and have a profit motive. … It is wrong to allow children to be removed from their biological parents for no other reason than the desire of an unrelated person.”
Dr Rose, who successfully campaigned to remove anonymity from the UK law says: “The underlying philosophy of the Scheme is that the number of parents, the sex of the parents, and whether they are married or not, is entirely irrelevant to the welfare of the child. This is quite aside from the issue of deliberately cutting the natural tie to at least one parent, which donor-conception also inevitably involves and the identity issues this can create“.
The General Scheme of the abortion Bill is one of the most permissive in the Western world but four pro-choice academics and activists have published a position paper asking to make it even more so.
The proposed law will allow abortion up to 12 weeks for any reason and up to viability if there is a ‘risk of serious harm’ or to the life of the woman. The word ‘risk’ is in no way qualified. Abortion would remain a criminal offence if performed outside the wide limits of the law.
Claiming that Ireland would maintain “one of the most punitive abortion laws in the world” if the Scheme is approved without changes, the pro-choice academics ask for the removal of any criminal penalty because it may generate a ‘chilling effect’ on some doctors and also it may raise the prospect of ‘stings’ by anti-abortion activists, they claim.
But with decriminalisation, no abortion will be a criminal offence, not even an abortion that takes place on the cusp of birth and doesn’t have even the appearance of a ‘health’ justification.
The four academics also propose that any healthcare professional, not only doctors, should be empowered to certify that the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks. They want to extend abortion on request from 12 to 14 weeks, and also to allow not just doctors but also midwives and nurses to carry out abortions.
Abortions pills should be taken at home without in-person supervision, they ask, and the three day waiting period should be removed. They said that “any proposal that all or some abortions in the first trimester should be performed in hospitals should be resisted”.
The authors of the document also want to allow children under 16 to be permitted to make abortion decision for themselves.
The General Scheme presented by Minister Harris speaks about a “risk of serious harm” being needed to qualify for an abortion after 12 weeks but they recommend that in clinical guidelines “serious” shouldn’t be interpreted as permanent, protracted or life-threatening.
With regard to fatal abnormalities, the last version of the Scheme would allow abortion when the foetus is likely to die within 28 days of birth, and not simply “shortly after birth”, as the previous version contemplated. The position paper laments that “the legislation clearly excludes cases where the foetus’ life expectancy after birth is short – a matter of months or years – but not as short as 28 days.” The authors seem to want to permit abortion when the disabled child could survive for months or even years!
The position paper is particularly intolerant towards conscientious objection. Not only should doctors be obliged to refer a woman seeking abortion to another doctor, but it demands disciplinary measures from the Medical Council if a conscientious objector refuses to do so.
They obviously reject institutional conscientious objection, which means that they want Catholic hospitals to be obliged to offer abortions, which is Government policy anyway.
Medical professionals who are influenced by religious values are presented in negative terms in the document and possible areas of conflict between the future abortion legislation and Catholic medical ethics may require, they say, additional research or public hearing. The purpose is obviously to enforce the punitive attitude towards conscientious objectors.
According to the authors of the position paper the State should fund travel between counties, when abortion is not accessible across a particular geographic area, but also should “support people who need to travel for abortion care where Irish law does not permit it”.
It is surprising that such an odd proposal comes from legal academics. What country funds someone to go abroad to do something that is illegal locally?
The general principle of this document is clearly stated: “It is important that abortion is normalised within the wider healthcare system”. If abortion is understood as a “normal” medical procedure it should have no limits. This is the pro-choice ideology and, even if extreme, the position paper is an accurate version of it.
Leo Varadkar believes publicly-funded hospitals should be imbued with “a civic and scientific ethos.” So he said in his Dublin Castle address to Pope Francis. But that term, “scientific ethos”, needs a lot of explaining.
Science deals with physical reality, while ethos deals with the moral character of an institution, its values and goals. One describes how physical things are, the other prescribes the principles that should inspire decisions and actions.
A hospital must be based on the scientific disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, etc, but science does not tell us what is morally right or wrong. For instance, science tells us how to perform an abortion but does not tell us if and when it is morally just to do so. Science is not immoral but, rather, amoral in the sense that knowledge can be used for right or wrong purposes, depending on the ethical character of the person or of the institution.
Nonetheless, medicine is an inexplicably value-laden endeavour. It is intrinsically ethical because it is based on the assumption, which is not scientific but rather moral, that health is a good thing and has to be preserved. Medicine combines scientific knowledge with ethical purposes.
A hospital where patient-care is not based on science is guilty of quackery. But equally, when a hospital uses medical knowledge and expertise to actively harm patients (for example, through abortion or assisted suicide), it is no longer practicing medicine at all.
Moral neutrality in public policy is often a mask for some hidden ideology. Leo Varadkar is correct in affirming that publicly-funded hospitals should be imbued with a “civic ethos”, in the sense that they are at the service of the common good. But the expression “scientific ethos” is here inappropriate. It appears to be an attempt by the Taoiseach to propose a more ‘rational’ and ‘progressive’ substitute for the older “religious ethos”, but unfortunately it is based on a profound misunderstanding of the relationships between science and ethics.
Scientific knowledge is morally neutral. It must be guided by ethical principles which are external to it and derived instead from philosophies, ideologies, traditions, including religious ones. On the other hand, an ethos is never neutral as, by definition, it endorses specific values, and this is why there is no such a thing as a “scientific ethos” per se.
At the end of the day, our Taoiseach seems to want our hospitals to be governed by an ethos of choice first and foremost, rather than the preservation of life, and he has decided to cloak his favoured ethos in the clothes of ‘science’. This is a misuse of the concept.