The Irish parliament has defeated legislation that would have allowed abortion of fetuses diagnosed with life-limiting conditions.
Members of the Dail — the lower house — voted 95-45 on 7th July to reject an amendment that would permit abortion in cases described as “fatal fetal abnormality.” Pro-life campaigners pointed out that children in these circumstances often live beyond birth and some go on to lead healthy lives.
Ireland’s attorney general had declared the proposed law unconstitutional. However, the government did not publish that legal advice, and three senior government ministers broke ranks and voted in favour of the law.
The Irish Constitution provides for an equal right to life for mothers and their unborn children. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that this permits abortion in limited circumstances.
Health Minister Simon Harris, opposing the legislative change, told the parliamentary debate: “It can never be said that a fetus with a fatal fetal abnormality will not be born to live for a short time, even if that is only to be minutes, to draw a breath and to have a detectable heartbeat. If a fetus has the capacity to be born, it has the protection of the constitution.”
Cora Sherlock, spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Campaign, accused politicians who supported the change of doing a “real disservice to families of babies with a life-limiting condition, particularly those who have been pressured to abort their child.”
“There is something really disturbing about the way some politicians are trying to introduce legislation that will have the effect of removing all legal protection from these babies who are very sick and need our support,” she said.
Abortion was legalised in Ireland in 2013 after tense parliamentary debates during which several legislators resigned and a minister was dismissed for refusing to back the move. The law permits abortions when there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother, including when a woman says the continuation of the pregnancy leads to suicidal thoughts. It also provides for jail terms of up to 14 years for those performing abortions in circumstances other than permitted by the law.
Under the law, the procedures for assessing the risk to the life of the mother differ depending on the woman’s condition. One doctor will be able to make a decision on whether to terminate a pregnancy in an emergency situation in which a mother’s life is in danger.
Where there is risk of loss of a woman’s life from physical illness, but where the situation is not an emergency and suicide intent is not a factor, two doctors will be needed to make the decision. However, in cases of suicidal intent, the suicidal woman will be interviewed by a panel of three doctors, two psychiatrists and one obstetrician, who must agree unanimously.
Prime Minister Enda Kenny has promised to set up a citizens’ convention made up of legislators and members of the public to consider the issue of abortion.
Picture: Pro-Life campaigners at last weekend’s All-Ireland Rally for Life.