Catholic hospitals subject to law on abortion

Hospitals with a Catholic ethos have been told they must abide by the law of the land, as ministers hit back at claims that proposed abortion legislation amountedto a denial of religious freedom.

In a strongly worded intervention, the Catholic bishops said the bill giving legal effect to the Supreme Court X case ruling would “make the direct and intentional killing of unborn children lawful in Ireland”.

They urge TDs to oppose the bill and will bring their campaign to the Taoiseach’s constituency of Mayo with a “prayer vigil for life” in Knock today.

Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, warned that Catholic hospitals may sue the State over their plans to force such institutions to provide abortions when necessary to save the life of a woman.

The outline of the Protection of Human Life During Pregnancy Bill states that no institution, organisation, or third party can refuse to provide a termination to a woman on grounds of conscientious objection.

Individuals can opt out on the basis of their religious beliefs but an institution cannot invoke such a right.

Cardinal Brady described this section of the bill as “totally unacceptable”, “potentially menacing”, and a “denial of fundamental religious freedoms”.

He said it would have “serious implications for the existing legal and constitutional arrangements that respect the legitimate autonomy and religious ethos of faith-based institutions”.

“It would also pose serious difficulties for the conscientious beliefs of many citizens,” he said.

Under the heads of bill, abortions can take place at 19 public maternity hospitals. Sixteen are HSE managed but the Rotunda, Coombe, and National Maternity Hospital on Holles St are voluntary hospitals. While the Rotunda has a Protestant ethos, the Archbishop of Dublin is ex officio chairman of the board of Holles St and it has three other priests as governors.

Kathleen Lynch, the junior health minister, said the Church had the right to have its opinion heard but: “We cannot legislate for a particular ethos, we have to legislate for all of the people... If the State — and the State being you, me, the taxpayer — are funding hospitals, which we are, I think the State has the right to expect that those institutions would comply with the law of the land.”

Tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said: “They are entitled to express their point of view because it’s a democratic country. But the laws of this country are made by those of us who are elected by the people, and are charged with that responsibility.”

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