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Catholic delegation meets NI Minister for Justice

By Sarah Mac Donald - 16 January, 2015

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Pic: Frank McGrath/Irish Independent

Archbishop Eamon Martin. Pic: Frank McGrath/Irish Independent

A group of catholic parents, doctors, lawyers and clergy headed up by Archbishop Eamon Martin met Northern Ireland’s Minister for Justice on Thursday to convey their “grave concern” about the Minister’s proposal to extend the law on abortion in the North.

The group also wanted to express their concern about the consultation process.

Speaking after the meeting with David Ford MLA, the Archbishop of Armagh said, “We have come here today to speak-up for mothers who told us how deeply disturbed and upset they are that the Minister has cast aside the humanity and right to life of their terminally ill unborn child in this consultation.”

He said the delegation had listened to parents who have faced that situation. “We have heard them tell us how much they treasured those precious minutes, hours or in some cases months and years they had with their child,” he said.

The Primate of All Ireland continued, “We have come to speak-up, unapologetically, as human beings, irrespective of our religious belief, for the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in all circumstances because this is what guarantees the best medical care and intervention will be provided for both. This is what will ensure the humanity and dignity of both, and by extension of every person, will be respected.”

In relation to the contents of the consultation documentation, Archbishop Martin said that when the group reviewed the document on behalf of the bishops they were “shocked that the Minister sought to exclude pro-life arguments from consideration”.

He noted that the opening paragraph of the document said that “such issues will not be considered relevant”.

Archbishop Martin stated on Thursday, “That is just an extraordinary statement in the context of a consultation about extending abortion law in Northern Ireland.” He added that it casts doubt on the credibility of the whole consultation process itself.

In relation to the document’s claim that children with various forms of terminal illness in pregnancy do not survive, the Archbishop replied, “This is simply untrue.”

He suggested that the mothers and fathers who treasured the hours, or days or months or in some cases years they had with their child diagnosed with a terminal illness in pregnancy should be asked.

“They will tell you with no doubt at all in their minds and in their heart that this was their child, a living person who deserved the same right to life, care and protection as any human being diagnosed with a terminal illness.”

Ms Katherine Bready, a member of the delegation and a crisis-pregnancy counsellor commented, “It is simply frightening that this document from the Minister would even consider it an option that a terminally ill child would receive no intervention after it is born. That is simply inhumane and shows a total disregard for the dignity of the child as well as the mental health of the mother. It is just frightening and totally unacceptable.”

She added, “There is also a very real danger that use of terms such as ‘lethal’ and ‘incompatible with life’ will unduly frighten mothers and leave them feeling under increasing pressure to agree to an abortion they would not otherwise have, and which they may later deeply regret.”

Archbishop Martin said that what was at stake here is “our very humanity, how we care for our most vulnerable fellow human beings”.

He said that the delegation had told Minister Forde that, like Pope Francis, “we believe that we are most human when we respond to crisis situations with care, compassion and concern rather than with a ‘throw-away’ attitude that discards the vulnerable because they are weak, tiny or inconvenient”.

The delegation proposed that every unborn child diagnosed with a terminal illness and his or her parents should be given access to very best expert peri-natal and post-natal hospice care, the best and most loving and support care that can be provided to help them make life-affirming decisions.

“Instead of removing the right to life of a terminally ill unborn child, we ask the Minister to change the law to make it a right to adequate peri-natal and post-natal care,” the Primate of All Ireland urged.

He concluded by saying, “Incredible strides have been made in providing outstanding palliative, counselling and hospice care that helps everyone involved make that final journey together, however long it may be, with dignity, humanity and love. That is what we have come to ask for, for terminally ill unborn children and their families.”

The delegation representing the Catholic Church will present the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland with a written submission in which they set out arguments against widening the law in Northern Ireland to allow abortion in situations of rape and other sexual crimes.

The delegation which met with Minister Forde in Stormont on Thursday was comprised of Archbishop Eamon Martin, Father Timothy Bartlett, Father Michael McGinnity, Doctor Nicola Brady, Ms Katherine Bready and Mr Kevin Denvir.

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