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Proposed abortion law goes further than earlier drafts

By Ann Marie Foley - 19 July, 2018

The new General Scheme narrows the scope of conscientious objection, gives a more limited definition of viability post birth, and extends the demarcation of ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ for several weeks past birth.

The latest version of the planned abortion law goes significantly further than the earlier proposal, according to Dr Angelo Bottone of the Iona Institute.

“The new General Scheme contains three significant changes: it narrows the scope of conscientious objection, it gives a more limited definition of viability post-birth, and it extends the demarcation of ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ for several weeks past birth,” stated Dr Bottone, referring to Minister Simon Harris’s new General Scheme of the proposed abortion law.

However, Dr Bottone cautioned that this is only a draft of the Bill and stated: “In presenting the scheme, Minister Harris has promised a number of other provisions to be included in the future, such as the introduction of exclusion zones, which will ban vigils or protests outside abortion venues. We wait to see what else he has planned, but his latest version of legislation goes even further than his earlier proposal.”

Dr Bottone highlighted three important changes. In the old scheme ‘viability’ was defined as the point in a pregnancy when the foetus is “capable of sustained survival outside the uterus” (Head 1). In the new definition it is when the foetus is “capable of survival outside the uterus without extraordinary life-sustaining measures” (Head 1).

The second change is in regard to ‘fatal foetal abnormality’ – the previous scheme allowed abortion where the condition “is likely to lead to the death of the foetus either before birth or shortly after birth” (Head 6). In the new scheme, “shortly after birth” is substituted with “within 28 days of birth”.

Dr Bottone also queried the words “likely to lead to the death of the foetus”, asking: “Does it mean greater than 50pc, 70pc, 90pc? Who can make such a calculation?”

The third change is about conscientious objection – the old scheme provided that doctors, nurses or midwives were not obliged “to carry out, or to assist in carrying out, a termination of pregnancy” (Head 15). The new scheme says “to carry out, or to participate in carrying out” (Head 15).

Dr Bottone pointed out that the change implies that the objecting medical professionals may not be exempted from ‘assistance’.

“Assistance could mean helping to prepare a woman for an abortion rather than participating in the abortion itself,” he explained.

The new scheme also fails to include a request by some representatives of the medical profession to extend the right of conscientious objection to institutions such as hospitals, clinics, etc. – this right is only extended to individuals.

The Updated General Scheme of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill) 2018 is available on the Department of Health website. (See link above.)

Around the time of publication, the Pro Life Campaign accused Health Minister Simon Harris of highlighting the proposed exclusion zones outside abortion clinics to depict pro life protesters in a poor light and take the focus off the extreme abortion law he is proposing.

“Anyone not familiar with the extreme nature of the government’s planned abortion legislation could be forgiven for thinking Minister Harris was merely introducing legislation for ‘buffer zones’ outside abortion clinics given the ridiculously disproportionate attention he has given to this particular issue,” said Dr Ruth Cullen, Pro Life Campaign.

Speaking on LMFM radio, Cora Sherlock, Pro Life Campaign, raised the issue of who would pay for abortion and said it was not addressed during the referendum campaign.

“People have a right to object to their taxes going towards that [abortion],” she said. It was suggested that the cost per abortion varies from €400 to €1,800. Cora Sherlock said that the truth about what the government has planned is now coming out – “widespread, tax-funded, unrestricted abortion”.

Separately, the MacGill Summer School has confirmed that Cora Sherlock is a speaker for an event added to its programme after criticism of lack of gender balance in the line-up for this year.

The session on the abortion referendum will include: Olivia O’Leary, writer and broadcaster; Cora Sherlock, solicitor, pro-life campaigner; Pat Leahy, Political Editor of the Irish Times; and Amy Rose Harte, Communications Manager for the Together For Yes campaign. It will be moderated by Orlaith McBride, director of the Arts Council. The summer school runs from Sunday 22 to Friday 27 July.

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