Is it time to legislate for abortion in Ireland?
The Irish Times
Mon, Jul 09, 2007
NO: Berry Kiely says a decent society must recognise the humanity of the unborn.
The Campaign for legal abortion achieved its aim in Britain with the introduction of the Abortion Act there 40 years ago. Many medical and technological changes have since occurred, giving us a valuable opportunity to access the social and human costs of abortion. In 1967 one could have pleaded blindness to the humanity of the unborn; in 2007 this is no longer possible.
The fundamental basis of our society and its laws are rooted in the principle that every human life has intrinsic value irrespective of age, sex, health, race, creed or any other factor that differentiates one from another. Proponents of abortion want the unborn child to be an exception to this rule. To do this they resort to the tactic of denying the humanity of the unborn. But recent technological advances make it increasingly difficult to defend that stance.
Former head of obstetrics and gynaecology at King's College School of Medicine, London, Prof Stuart Campbell, commented recently: "There is something deeply moving about the image of a baby cocooned inside the womb. At 11 weeks we can see them yawn, and even take steps. Understandably, these incredible images have influenced the debate on abortion. I pioneered the 4-D scanning technique in the UK and it has certainly caused me to question my own opinions."
Not only 4-D ultrasound images but also the debate around partial-birth abortion and the survival of many premature infants are eroding the pro-choice rhetoric. The number of abortions in the US is in steady decline. In the UK it is increasingly difficult to find doctors willing to carry out abortions, as it runs contrary to their desire to save life. The findings of the latest pro-choice polls here, indicating support for abortion in certain circumstances, are not surprising. The poll questions make no distinction between ethical interventions in pregnancy to save the life of the mother and induced abortion where the life of the unborn child is directly targeted. To clarify the difference: in ethical interventions one hopes the child will survive; in abortion one wants the child to die.
When people are asked the straight question of whether they wish to see abortion legal in Ireland, the answer is at variance with the recent pro-choice survey. In a Millward Brown/IMS poll, commissioned by the Pro-Life Campaign in March this year, 66 per cent of those who expressed an opinion were opposed to the Dáil legislating for abortion. Little by little, the rhetoric that proposes abortion as a positive option for women is being challenged. Speaking recently from personal experience, Dr Alveda King, niece of assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King jnr, said: "We mothers suffer tremendously, and our families suffer." Her sentiments are echoed by other women who have had abortions. Groups such as Silent No More and books such as Giving Sorrow Words by Melinda Tankard Reist are shedding light on the experiences of women who regret their abortions.
Most early studies of the effects of abortion on women were limited to the immediate post-abortion period. Now long-term studies are giving a clearer picture. One such study was published in 2006 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
This was a 25-year longitudinal study which showed that women having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance-use disorders.
This association persisted after adjustment for confounding factors. The main author of this study, Prof David Fergusson, admitted: "I'm pro-choice but I've produced results which, if anything, favour a pro-life viewpoint".
An earlier study in Finland examined data from 1987-2000 and highlighted the fact that the suicide rate was almost seven times higher in women who had abortions compared with those who gave birth. This is particularly relevant to the Irish situation given the calls for abortion to be legalised on grounds of threatened suicide. There is a fundamental distinction between necessary medical treatments in pregnancy to save the life of the mother and induced abortion where the intended target is the life of the unborn child. If there was any truth in the assertion that induced abortion was medically necessary, our maternal mortality figures would be higher than those of countries with abortion: in fact our maternal mortality is considerably lower than in the UK.
Recently, we have seen where the abortion of a child with a lethal abnormality was considered by some as a positive option. This attitude is hard to reconcile with our normal approach to disability and terminal conditions. If society decides to end the lives of children based on their disability, it undermines their right to equal respect. A truly life-affirming society should give all positive supports to mothers and families of disabled children, not just during pregnancy, but throughout their children's lives.
• Dr Berry Kiely is a spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Campaign
© 2007 The Irish Times