Catholic Ireland allows abortion to be made legal

Sadly it’s not quite as simple as that. It is likely that the abortion bill will allow a woman to have an abortion if her life is threatened or it is considered that she might commit suicide during the pregnancy. In itself this seems a very strange piece of legislation. The result is that no one seems terribly happy with the government’s decision.

Pro Choice Party. Are not happy because it will not allow women to have an abortion, who have been raped, or victims of incest or where there is a strong possibility that the child has severe medical problems.

Pro Life Party. This party has always been strong in Ireland. Partly because of the country’s catholic heritage and partly because of conservative view on sexual matters. There are reports that that death threats have been made to ministers who support the legislation and there is a possibility that these could emanate from people of this persuasion.

Most members of the Dail, the Irish parliament, support the bill. Some have opposed it on the grounds that Ireland as a catholic country should opposed the legislation and others oppose it because it fails to tackle the more common reasons behind requests for a termination of a pregnancy.

What has brought this about?

Savita Halappanavar’s case – but have we been misled over this?

In October 2012 Savita Halappanavar a pregnant woman went into hospital in great pain. It was alleged that she was refused an abortion and died of septicaemia. Her family was given to understand that Ireland was a “Catholic country” and so couldn’t help.

This story has always been a great puzzle to me because my understanding of Irish law and Roman Catholic ethics has been that if the mother’s life is in danger then in an attempt to save her life, a termination might be performed – doctrine of double effect – see your text book for details, but the example always given is an ectopic pregnancy. That was not the case here, but if Savita’s life could have been saved by an abortion, it is not clear why one was not performed.

It is reported that the journalist who broke the story now admits that she was muddled and that there was no request for a termination by Savita. Hospital records show that there was no request for an abortion and that it is misleading to suggest that Savita was killed by her pregnancy. She died from an E-Coli virus that did not respond to antibiotics.

No one is giving up, no one is going home and the fight seems set to continue.

Irish doctors may use the bill as a way of allowing abortions in cases which “sort of fit the bill” and it seems likely that they will push the barriers slowly back towards a more liberal attitude. Pro life supporters held a rally last week with 60,000 protesters. We await the condemnation of the Bishops and others. But the Roman Catholic church in Ireland is much weaker these days in the wake of sex abuse scandals and the increasing secularisation of Irish society.

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