Abortion debate - Time for calm reflection

Cardinal Seán Brady left no doubt on Saturday at Knock that the Catholic hierarchy is determined to influence politicians and the electorate to defeat the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

The Church has a right, and indeed a duty, to speak out on moral issues. Their views on these matters should be welcomed as part of a thorough, robust debate. But unfortunately their handling of the clerical paedophile abuse issue has seriously undermined the credibility of the cardinal and the hierarchy.

The Taoiseach reminded everyone yesterday that he and his Oireachtas colleagues have a duty to legislate. They have an obligation to act conscientiously on behalf of all of the people of this country in order to uphold the State’s status as a republic.

It is a time for cool heads and calm reflection, not emotive language, or intimated threats of possible excommunication of legislators for doing their duty. By adopting this approach the cardinal has entered the realm of politics. Politicians must act in the interests of all of the people, rather than at the dictation of the hierarchy. Otherwise, this matter will lend credence to the highly insensitive comments made to the dying Savita Halappanaver about this being “a Catholic country”.

The legislative process is really only beginning. What is needed now is a clear and rational debate, as the Oireachtas examines every line of the bill. It is a complex piece of legislation, specifying that one doctor would be necessary to certify the need for a termination of pregnancy in a medical emergency. In a non-emergency situation, the approval of two doctors would be required.

In order to comply with the Supreme Court’s opinion on the need for clarity in relation to a suicidal pregnant woman, the unanimous approval of three doctors — an obstetrician and two psychiatrists — would be needed. There should be no room for any suspicion that the approval of some 30 bishops would also be necessary.! The involvement of obstetricians and psychiatrists to make assessments deserve the most careful consideration. This is not helped by hierarchy’s denunciation of the legislation as “a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law”, as well as being “unnecessary to ensure that women receive the lifesaving treatment they need during pregnancy”.

Not only are doctors calling for clarity, but the Supreme Court also highlighted the need for clarifying legislation in its X Case judgment. That court is the ultimate arbitrator in interpreting the Constitution.

People should remember that the findings in relation to that the X Case ruling stemmed from the Pro-Life Amendment that was enacted in 1983. It was obviously rushed without the calm deliberation that it required.

Fianna Fáil pushed the amendment in a naked attempt to embarrass the Fine Gael leader, the late Garret FitzGerald. The Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling provided grounds for abortion in the case of suicidal intent. The latest pronouncements by the Catholic hierarchy calls into serious question the bishop’s own judgment in enthusiastically backing that 1983 amendment.

We have already had too much political posturing and episcopal hysterics on this issue.

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