Legislation for killing of babies, says lawyer

Proposed changes to Ireland’s abortion regime legislate for the killing of babies, it has been claimed.

During a day of clashing views over whether the threat of suicide should be included as grounds for abortion, barrister Paul Brady said doing so creates a statutory basis to allow the “direct and intentional termination of an unborn child’s life”.

“Is this legislating for the killing of babies?” said Mr Brady. “I would say that certainly what it is doing is it is moving the test for real and substantial risk by moving that to the grounds of suicidality away from physical issues.

“Therefore if the woman’s threat is based on the existence of the child, the continuation of the pregnancy — ‘If I have to give birth to this child I will kill myself’ and so on — what that person is looking for is an abortion, not some other form of treatment.

“And in that sense, I think it can be only a fair reading that it does legislate for as you said [the killing of babies].”

Mr Brady made his comments on the third and final day of public hearings on the proposed legislation before the Oireachtas Health Committee.

If enacted, the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013 will legalise abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide.

The bill aims to legislate for 1992’s X case judgment from the Supreme Court, which found abortion is legal if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide.

The case was taken by a 14-year-old rape victim who became pregnant and was refused permission to travel for an abortion.

The loosening of the rules is also intended to meet requirements from a European court decision that found a woman in remission from cancer should not have been forced to travel oversees for a termination.

Former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness insisted there was no danger that the changes would lead to doctors “killing babies”.

“We’re talking about real-life Irish doctors, not some legal concept,” she said.

Ms Justice McGuinness also dismissed ongoing suggestions from anti-abortion campaigners that legislation would “open the floodgates” to more widespread abortion.

She said the proposals were “sufficiently rigorous” to ensure that very few cases will be dealt with under the element that legislates for the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion.

Doctor and barrister Simon Mills argued that a lack of evidence concerning pregnant women at risk of suicide should not be used in the argument against the proposed legislation.

Dr Mills said it was a “stunning assertion” to suggest the issue of suicidality should be excluded from the proposals simply because the area has not been studied thoroughly.

“You’re talking about a tiny cohort of women for whom the threat of suicide in pregnancy is a problem and a number of those for whom the question of termination might arise,” said Dr Mills.

Meanwhile, Mr Brady claimed, including the issue of suicide within the legislation marked a distinct change of the law.

He said it would be inaccurate to suggest otherwise.

“Under head four, it will be statutorily provided for that the aim of the procedure can be to bring about the death of the unborn child,” Mr Brady said.

“That will be the desired aim of the procedure — not some other form of treatment, not some form of relocation, not some form of therapy to the mother which has that consequence.

“But that it’s the actual goal of that procedure, that’s a new departure.”

Mr Brady’s comments were in stark contrast to past claims from Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who has continually insisted the proposed legislation merely clarifies existing laws and provides doctors with a legal framework under which to work.

Mr Brady’s pro-life stance during the public hearings was echoed by barrister William Binchy, who said the X-case principle is not acceptable for legislation.

He said to implement it would be “a disaster in terms of human rights protection and contrary to science and good medicine”.

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