Irish abortion law under fresh scrutiny
Irish High Court judged who decided last Friday to allow a young pregnant woman to be taken off life support have been accused of ‘signing a death warrant’ for the foetus involved.
Patrick McCrystal of Human Life International (Ireland) is quoted here as saying:
At this Christmas season, do the judges wish to be likened to Pilate and Herod?
Pilate, he said:
Abdicated responsibility when faced with an innocent life in the balance and Herod acted to bring about the murder of the ‘Holy Innocents’. Has nothing changed? Are we not our ‘brother’s keeper’? There is a higher court to which these judges are accountable.
Various cases worldwide show babies are successfully born having been kept alive for some weeks in similar circumstances.
The case came to court because of the Eighth Amendment, Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution. This states that mother and unborn have equal rights to life and the State will vindicate those rights where practicable. Doctors were uncertain as to whether they could legally – and in accordance with the woman’s family wishes – take her off life support.
The case received international coverage, which angered Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign. She described as:
Crass and unseemly the way some people are using this sad case to push for repeal of the Eighth Amendment, which offers the only remaining legal protection for the unborn in Ireland.
She also attacked Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who said that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitutional dealing with abortion is too “restrictive” and is having a “chilling” effect on doctors. He was commenting during a private members’ bill tabled by Clare Daly TD, which seeks to remove all remaining constitutional protection for the unborn.
Minister Varadkar is part of a government that introduced abortion up to birth based on a threat of suicide. He knows there is not a shred of medical evidence to back it up and that if anything the evidence points to the adverse mental health consequences of abortion for women in these situations.
There is nothing in the new legislation to prevent two psychiatrists who view abortion as harmless from signing off on abortions, secure in the knowledge that they don’t have to meet any evidence-based test. Contrary to what Minister Varadkar now claims, there is absolutely nothing restrictive about such a law in practice.
The life support woman, who was buried on Monday, was at 15 weeks’ gestation when she was declared clinically dead on December 3 as a result of a brain trauma. However clinicians felt they could not withdraw life support because of uncertainty over the constitutional status of the foetus.
At a special sitting last Friday the High Court concluded that the woman’s rapidly deteriorating condition meant the prospect for the unborn was:
Nothing but distress and death.
President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Ms Justice Marie Baker and Ms Justice Caroline Costello also believed maintenance of life support would deprive the woman of dignity in death and subject her father, her partner and her two young children to:
Unimaginable distress in a futile exercise.
Mr Justice Kearns was told by lawyers representing the interests of the unborn and the woman that there would be no appeal to the Supreme Court, which meant her family could proceed with her funeral.
Commenting in The Journal on what he described as Ireland’s “latest right to life horror story”, Donal O’Keeffe wrote:
Against the express wishes of her anguished family, this poor woman’s right to die was delayed because our Constitution is, frankly, an unholy mess. Thankfully, on St Stephen’s Day, the High Court found that her life support could be switched off and her family could now grieve. To our shame, their grief has been compounded by the unimaginable suffering to which they were subjected.
Few who followed this tragedy will forget the raw heartbreak of the woman’s father as he told the Court that her two small children had been told the nurses ‘are looking after Mummy until the angels come. Or the unnamed obstetrician who became upset as he described in terrible detail his patient’s deterioration and said she ‘is a little girl in painted nails and … make-up … but … I know she is dead’.
He then explained:
Article 40.3.3 only exists because 31 years ago Catholic fundamentalists saw this as their line in the sand. With the spectres of contraception, divorce and homosexuality looming, they saw an open goal. This was their show of strength, their bulwark against the liberal onslaught.
It said abortion on the tin but it was about control. That’s the key to the creepy, sex-obsessed dogma behind this Constitutional aberration: control, not over souls – because the next world is never enough – but control over women’s bodies. After all, if your body isn’t even your own, your soul is hardly likely to go getting any flighty notions.
The crawthumpers lost their war and all-but-one of their battles too. Contraception is now as easy to buy and as unremarkable as chewing gum. Divorce is a daily reality. In the next few months we will have a Constitutional referendum not about the illegality of homosexuality – as it was in 1983 and remained for another decade – but rather about whether or not love is love and whether or not gay people can marry, just as happily (or as unhappily) and more importantly just as mundanely, as everyone else.
The Eighth Amendment remains a minefield from a long-lost war, blighting lives unborn when it was planted. We need political leadership (although God help any politician trying to sell that at the Church gate collection) and we as an electorate need to grow up too. It’s past-time we became a proper secular democracy …
The Law and Religion site provides an in-depth analyis of this case.
Hat tip: E Jackson