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Bishops consider challenge to abortion bill

By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 July, 2013


The Government’s abortion legislation does not vindicate the equal right to life of the unborn and “provides grounds for a viable challenge to the Constitutionality of the Bill,” Ireland’s Catholic Bishops have warned.

In a briefing document for TDs and Senators published yesterday, the Bishops said that the proposed legislation would “fundamentally alter the culture and practice of medical care in Ireland” and accepted the premise that abortion was “an appropriate response to suicidal ideation” despite medical evidence to the contrary.

The Bishops also warned that the Bill, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, created “serious moral, legal and constitutional conflicts in the area of freedom of conscience and religious belief”.

Their document said, “The failure of this Bill to adequately vindicate the equal right to life of the unborn, in so many respects, provides grounds for a viable challenge to the Constitutionality of the Bill itself and that this ought to be pursued”.

The warning came as the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, confirmed that the Catholic Church in Ireland might consider making a Constitutional challenge to the Bill if it were passed.

Speaking outside St Peter’s Church in Drogheda following a Mass to honour St Oliver Plunkett on Sunday, Cardinal Brady said, “There are various ways to challenge but those are for the lawyers to work out and we have to see what the final vote outcome is.”

He said that even if the legislation is passed, the Church may back efforts to pursue other options.

The Bishops’ briefing document said that the legislation laid out “a wide and at times subjective interpretation of the risk to the life of the mother, by which the life of an unborn child can be ended”.

The legislation changed the circumstances under which a termination could occur, the briefing document also said. Quoting the explanatory memorandum of the Bill, the document said that ‘a real and substantial’ risk to the life of the mother, “does not need to be immediate nor inevitable”.

The Bishops went on to warn, “This means that a risk which is ‘remote’ or ‘avoidable’ could trigger the death of an innocent and voiceless child in the womb.”

It also pointed out that, while the Bill provided mechanisms of appeal for a mother to vindicate her right to life “it provides no mechanism of defence or appeal for the unborn”.

“Taken together, these aspects of the Bill mean that in practice the right to life of the unborn child is no longer treated as equal to that of the mother,” the briefing to members of the Oireachtas said.

“This represents a fundamental shift in current medical culture and practice in Irish hospitals, which to date have provided some of the safest places in the world for a mother and her unborn child during pregnancy precisely because they were treated as two patients with an equal right to life.”

The Bishops also pointed out that the Bill’s provision for abortion as a treatment for suicidal ideation or suicidal intent was “contrary to substantial medical evidence”.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, appears to have ruled out removing the suicide clause from the legislation.

A number of Fine Gael TDs have clearly stated their intention to vote against the Bill if it contains the clause permitting abortion in cases where a woman seeks it as a treatment for suicidal ideation.

Speaking on RTE’s This Week programme on Sunday, Dr Reilly said, “If it was the intention to omit an entire section, no, that is not something that will happen.”

By Tom O’Gorman

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