The current situation – Some frequently asked questions
Why does the unborn child deserve legal protection?
Because the unborn child is a human being, one of us, he/she is entitled to our special protection as an utterly dependent and vulnerable member of society. In the first 3 months, when most abortions occur, the baby's heart is already beating. Unique fingerprints have formed and will remain the same throughout life. The baby's brain waves can be detected. The unborn child is sensitive to touch. We cannot simply ignore this reality.
But didn’t a recent European court decision call on Ireland to introduce abortion?
No. The European Court of Human Rights decision in A, B and C v. Ireland does not require Ireland to introduce legislation authorising abortion. On the contrary, it fully respects the entitlement of the Irish people to determine legal policy on protecting the lives of unborn children. Abortion advocates within and without government have misrepresented the court’s decision and this is where the pressure to foist abortion on Ireland is coming from.
What about the X Case decision?
Those pushing for abortion keep calling for legislation based on the 1992 Supreme Court decision in the X Case. The Supreme Court in X created a ground for abortion “where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, (as distinct from the health) of the mother. This exception includes where there is a clear and substantial risk to the life of the mother arising from a threat of suicide.” It is critical to note that the judges in X heard no medical evidence. In the years since the ruling, the evidence has steadily built up confirming the opposite of what the judges had assumed – women who have abortions are more likely to commit suicide than women who continue with their pregnancy. Any revisiting of the X case decision would need to take on board the evidence from these new studies that abortion involves significant risks for some women. Based on the current state of medical evidence alone, it would be irresponsible to introduce legislation along the lines of the X ruling as it would put at risk the mother’s life as well as taking the baby’s.
What about the C Case?
In a 2009 interview, the woman at the centre of the high profile C Case stated that she deeply regretted her abortion in 1997. Back then when her case was going through the courts, there was an almost hysterical clamour in the media that an abortion should take place on grounds of threatened suicide, based on the X case decision. Her public intervention along with several recent peer reviewed studies on the issue highlight the need to examine the evidence more carefully instead of relentlessly quoting the discredited X case decision for no other reason than to promote abortion.
Still, the non-availability of abortion in Ireland must be putting women’s lives at risk?
That’s simply not true. In fact, Ireland is a world leader in safety for pregnant mothers. The latest UN report on the safety of mothers during pregnancy found, of all 172 countries for which estimates are given, Ireland remains at the top when it comes to safety for pregnant women.
Women are safer in Ireland when pregnant than in countries like Britain and Holland, which allow abortion on demand. These findings are also a tribute to Ireland's medical profession, which cares for both mother and baby during pregnancy. Why is it that despite Ireland’s outstanding record in safeguarding the lives of pregnant women, some people continue to blur the time honoured distinction between necessary medical treatments in pregnancy and procedures which are clearly designed to end the life of an innocent baby?
If pregnancies are being terminated in Ireland, then in reality abortion is already taking place here?
It is very important to be clear what we mean by phrases like ‘termination of pregnancy'. All pregnancies are terminated. Most of them terminate with the birth of a normal healthy baby. Some unborn children die before birth as a direct result of serious maternal illness or as a side-effect of standard treatment of such illnesses. Furthermore some die, in spite of the best efforts of all involved, as a result of being born too early: such births may occur spontaneously or may be induced in cases where it represents the only, albeit very low, chance of survival.There is a massive ethical distinction between necessary medical interventions in pregnancy where the baby may be exposed to some risks and induced abortion where the life of the baby is directly targeted. There is an important lesson for Ireland from other countries where the distinction between necessary medical treatment in pregnancy and direct and intentional taking of human life has been blurred. The failure to distinguish between necessary medical interventions in pregnancy and procedures intended to end the life of the unborn child inevitably leads to an outright denial of the humanity of the unborn child.
What about genuinely ‘hard cases'?
Sometimes abortion is put forward, even taken for granted, as a 'solution' to the most difficult situations. But this approach also ignores the fact that it involves the taking of an innocent unborn life and the exposure of the women to emotional hurt and possible psychological harm. The reality is that our willingness to offer social support is the single most important factor influencing a better psychological outcome for women in crisis pregnancy.
There are of course immensely difficult and agonising situations which test our true compassion and solidarity as a society. If what seems impossible initially has a better long-term outcome for both the woman and her unborn baby, then we owe it to all concerned to have adequate supports in place to cope with these situations. Abortion is often the easy solution for everybody except the woman and her unborn child. A study by Sandra Mahkorn* Pregnancy and Sexual Assault showed that there is a better social and personal outcome for women who chose to continue a pregnancy, despite harrowing initial circumstances. Two recent Finnish studies also show a better outcome for women who continue their pregnancy compared to women who opt for abortion. The landmark Roe v Wade decision, which legalised abortion in the United States, is a very clear example of how abortion advocates uses emotive cases simply to promote abortion. Ms Norma Mc Corvey (Jane Roe from Roe v. Wade) admits she was exploited by pro-abortionists at the time and now campaigns publicly against abortion.
There are increasing numbers of women joining the pro-life movement offering contrasting testimonies to those of the pro-abortion lobby – some representing women hurt by abortion – others include people like Pam Stenzel (lecturer on teen pregnancy USA) who was herself conceived as a result of rape but cherishes the gift of life and believes she has the same right to be alive as anybody else.
According to media reports, the Irish abortion rate is one of the highest in Europe?
Reports making such claims are simply inaccurate. The official figures indicate that Ireland’s abortion rate is in fact probably the lowest in Europe. In England, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in abortion; in Ireland, it is less than 1 in 14 – still shockingly high, but nowhere near as high as countries with abortion clinics. The precise figures are published annually by the Dept of Health in the UK. The Dutch abortion rate is not lower than ours – it's just that they count the figures differently. In Holland, most first trimester abortions do not feature in the official abortion statistics.
Isn’t it fair to say that pro-choice groups are more honest in confronting the reality of crisis pregnancy”?
No, actually, it’s not. Pro-choice groups completely ignore the human rights of the unborn child and the depth of the negative effects of abortion on so many women. The ‘quick fix' approach advocated by the pro-choice people does nothing to address the long-term social and psychological needs of women. Instead of accepting vague terms like the ‘right to choose’, we need to challenge people who make such statements to be clear about what exactly they are saying and proposing. Abortion advocates need to specify the exact circumstances where they think abortion should be permitted. We shouldn't have to read between the lines because it is only when people clearly and unambiguously state their position that we can test each other's viewpoints and subject them to public opinion. Sometimes those who contribute to the debate, journalists and politicians included, are inclined to skirt round the issues, and to talk in bland, general terms about compassion without saying what they really mean.
Is there public backing for legal protection of the unborn child?
Polls that distinguish between necessary medical treatments in pregnancy and induced abortion consistently show a sizeable majority opposed to making abortion available in Ireland. The latest Millward Brown Lansdowne research reveals that over 70% of the public supports legal protection for the unborn child, while at the same time ensuring that women receive all necessary medical interventions in pregnancy. Polls that don’t make a clear distinction between abortion and medical treatments contribute nothing but confusion to the debate.
Why do you say society cannot claim to be a true defender of human rights unless it also protects the right to life of unborn babies?
First, what’s at stake in this debate is the value of life, and the sad experience is that once laws permitting abortion are introduced, they diminish the society’s respect for the inherent value of every human life, born or unborn. Every country has to honestly address issues related to the right to life. Nobody is suggesting the way the issue is dealt with in this Ireland is perfect. There is an unceasing challenge for Government and society at large to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment for expectant mothers and their unborn children. By all means, let us debate these issues openly, honestly and with all the facts in front of us. But equally, we cannot shy away from the implications of what legal abortion would involve and the brutal reality of abortion, legal up to birth, in countries like Britain and elsewhere. What we need is a calm, respectful national discussion, in which the latest medical and scientific evidence is fully considered leading to a solution at a Constitutional level, which will ensure the full protection of all human beings, mothers and unborn children, on the basis of respect for their equal dignity and worth.
*Mahkorn S: Pregnancy and Sexual Assault. In Psychological Aspects of Abortion Mall and Watts (eds) 5: