X judgment long way from good practice

Legislation over the X case would not be medically sound or just, as it would provide for a liberal abortion regime, writes Ronan Mullen

SAVITA Halappanavar’s tragic death has re-ignited the abortion debate. Until all investigations are concluded we cannot be certain of the facts of the case. Sadly and quite unfairly, though, pro-choice campaigners have seized upon this tragedy to further a radical abortion agenda.

Let’s be clear: There is nothing in Irish law, medical practice, or medical guidelines to prevent someone in the late Savita’s position from receiving all necessary medical treatment if her life is endangered. The Medical Council guidelines are clear on this — all treatment should be given even if it is foreseeable that the pregnancy will end as a result.

The medical experts are also clear. Dr Sam Coulter Smyth, Master of the Rotunda, and Prof Fionnuala McAuliffe of Holles St and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, have affirmed the accepted practice of offering women all necessary medical treatments to protect their lives in pregnancy. Not surprisingly then, Ireland regularly ranks as one of the very safest countries in the world for pregnant women, according to the UN.

Yet tragedies sometimes happen. We mustn’t preempt what the various investigations will tell us about how the case was managed, how infection was dealt with, etc, but the investigation does need to be fully independent of the HSE. Also, if the medical consensus is for greater force to be given to current medical council guidelines, that should be done.

It can happen by directive, statutory instrument, or legislation. A constitutional amendment may be needed to support it. Of course, the precise medical consensus must be established, and perhaps a transparent, all-party Oireachtas committee will have a role in this.

But legislation for the 1992 X case judgment would not be medically sound or just. Why? The X case provides for abortion on a mental health ground, ie, threat of suicide, which in practice would mean a liberal abortion regime.

Worse, the High Court in X heard no medical evidence on the effect of abortion on mental health. The evidence since 1992 shows abortion can actually increase mental health problems for women. Lastly, the X case stipulated no abortion time limits whatsoever. It is very difficult to see how the Oireachtas, in legislating for X, could permissibly do so.

The judgment in X was a long way from good medical practice. It made nonsense of the constitutional guarantee of the right to life of unborn children. It embraced the most horrific discrimination imaginable — that one class of human being, unborn children, have lives of lesser value than all others classes of human being.

The problems with the judgment, and not political cowardice, are why successive governments have refused to legislate for it, despite pressure from influential pro-choice people in the media and elsewhere. It’s why in 2011, Fine Gael made a pre-election commitment not to legislate for abortion if elected. The electorate voted the party in and, in an opinion poll conducted months later, 80% who expressed an opinion supported that undertaking.

There is a wider context which pro-choice campaigners are slow to confront. Recently an undercover investigation found evidence of serious and illegal malpractice in pro-choice pregnancy counselling agencies. Women were told how to illegally import the abortion pill and take it without medical supervision. Women were offered the “advice” to lie to their doctors if they had an abortion; they were told that if they suffered complications in pregnancy they should say they had a miscarriage instead. As Dr Coulter Smyth pointed out, women have died because of not disclosing previous abortions to their doctors .

In Britain, the abortion laws of which the pro-choice lobby want us to adopt, disabled children are routinely aborted, even up to birth. In 2008, we learned that in one year alone, 60 British children survived abortions and were left to die after delivery. Of the almost 200,000 abortions that are performed each year in the UK, a huge number are on the grounds of “mental health”.

That’s the dangerous international context that we simply cannot ignore as we reflect on the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. We must grieve over occasional disasters in medicine, but when it comes to the care our doctors provide for women in pregnancy, we have much to be thankful for.

* Ronan Mullen is a senator

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