Thursday, January 10, 2013

Abortion Hearings

Three days of hearings by the Oireachtas Health Committee, on the Irish Governments decision to legislate and regulate for abortion were held this week with medical evidence being presented on Tuesday, legal evidence on Wednesday and Churches and lobby groups on Thursday.

Sadly it appears from many of the interventions made that medical practice in Ireland has strayed from the traditional understanding of Catholic moral theology.

The hearings were wound up with a final statement by Dr James Reilly who told the Committee the Government had already decided to legislate for abortion where there is a threat to the life of a woman, including the risk of suicide.  This is necessary he said in order to clarify what should lawfully be available to women.
The hearings were presented with a variety of different and contradictory opinions on how to deal with the European Court of Human Rights decision in the A,B and C case.

The committee discussion was primarily placed in a medical context rather than in the Justice area with a primary focus on issues such as suicide ideation. Considerable opposition was expressed to sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Offences against the Person Act by some of the medical experts and by the pro-choice/pro-abortion lobby. 

We report today on some of the exchanges which occurred at the hearings but will report on them in more detail in due course. The quotations below are extracts from the presentations not the complete texts. We intend to revisit these however when the texts become available.

 On Tuesday a group of medical experts told the Committee that saving a woman’s life never requires the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child. This group also told the committee that suicide in pregnancy was 'extremely rare' and that to legislate for abortion in such circumstances would not help any Irish women.

Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Dr. Sam Coulter Smyth, Dr. Mary McCarthy, and Dr. Rhona O'Mahoney responding to questions from Oncologist Senator Dr. John Crowne all confirmed that they were not aware of any needless maternal deaths' from Ireland’s current ban on abortions and they further confirmed they had never been prevented from providing life-saving medical treatment by Ireland's current pro-life laws.

The medical experts were also questioned on whether there were cases, which required the killing of an unborn child. In response Dr. Coulter Smyth replied that in 'most' cases there was 'no need to kill the fetus', Dr. Mahoney said that while delivery before viability might be required there was 'no intention to kill the fetus.'
Dr. Coulter Smyth and Dr. McCarthy also confirmed that not one woman had committed suicide in their hospitals in the 20 years since the X case because they could not obtain an abortion.

The meeting was addressed on Thursday morning by representatives of the Churches and Faith communities.

Dr Christopher Jones spokesman for the Catholic Church told the Committee
Any suggestion that Ireland is an unsafe place for pregnant mothers because we do not have abortion is a complete distortion of the truth. It is also gravely unjust to the doctors, nurses and midwives in our hospitals who have achieved such internationally celebrated standards of maternity care.

We believe these high standards of maternity care have been influenced in no small part by the recognition in Article 40.3.3 of Bunreacht na h√Čireann that a mother and her unborn child have an equal right to life. This coincides with our belief as a Church, based on human reason and affirmed by Sacred Scripture that the life of a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred.  The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of the child in the womb should be preferred to that of the mother, or the life of the mother to that of the child.

Moreover, there is clearly considerable confusion about the terminology being used in the discussion about medical intervention to save the life of a mother.  The Catholic Church recognises a vital moral distinction between medical intervention to save the life of a mother and abortion.  Abortion, understood as the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child in the womb, is never morally permissible.  This is because directly and intentionally taking the life of any innocent person is never morally acceptable.

This is different from medical treatments to save the life of the mother where there is no other option and where the intervention does not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Every effort is made in this situation to preserve the life of both mother and baby throughout. This position, which is ethically sound, represents best practice in Irish hospitals today.

However, legislating for the ‘X Case’, removes the obligation to make every effort, at all times, to preserve the life of both the mother and her unborn baby.  It allows for abortion, for the direct and intentional killing of the baby in the womb.  It is not necessary to legislate for the X Case to ensure that women in Ireland receive all the life-saving treatment they need during pregnancy.  It is not necessary to satisfy the European Court of Human Rights. There is another way. Other options are available to the Government that do not involve legislating for abortion.  These include the option of appropriate guidelines, which continue to exclude the direct and intentional killing of the unborn, or a referendum to overturn the X Case judgment.  We believe both these options should be fully explored by the Oireachtas.

As a Bishops’ Conference we have always held, with many others, that the judgment of the Supreme Court in the X Case is not a basis on which to move forward on this critical issue.  In that judgment, the Court unilaterally overturned the pro-life intention and the will of the people in the 1983 referendum.  It heard no psychiatric evidence.  It believed that abortion was an answer to suicidal ideation, whereas current research indicates that suicidal ideation rarely relates to a single cause and that abortion itself can lead to suicidal ideation and mental health difficulties.  The position it took is also morally unacceptable.  You cannot morally equate the possible but preventable death of one person with the deliberate and intentional destruction of the life of a different, totally innocent person.
Also on Thursday the Committee heard evidence from both pro-life and pro-choice/pro-abortion groups.  Dr Eoghan de Faoite of Youth Defence/ Life Institute echoed the evidence of some of the medical specialists  in telling the hearings that there was "a distinction between the termination of a pregnancy and the termination of the life of a child. Irish doctors he said have such freedom to intervene under current Medical Council guidelines because there is a clear difference between intervening to save a woman’s life, which includes premature delivery of the baby, and abortion which intentionally destroys the unborn child. The blurring of the distinction between these two practices is what is contributing most to public confusion".

"Birth he said is a termination of pregnancy. An emergency cesarean section is a termination of pregnancy. Premature induction of labour is a termination of pregnancy, and thanks to the expertise of our Obstetricians and Neontatologists many of these premature infants survive. How can that be described as an abortion?" he asked.