The Oireachtas Committee yesterday held their final day of hearings regarding abortion in this country.
Representatives from several Christian sects, the Methodists, Presbyterians, Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church, along with Ali Selim from the Islamic Cultural Center, Rabbi Zalman of the Dublin Hebrew Congregation and Michael Nugent from Atheist Ireland, convened in the morning session to give statements regarding their respective organisation’s stance on abortion.
The morning’s proceedings began with a statement from Christopher Jones of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, who stated that “Abortion…is gravely immoral in all circumstances”. The representatives for the Catholic Church conjectured that if the Govt. decided to legislate for the X case, in which a young teenage girl was raped and consequently impregnated, then that would pave the way in the future for women to seek abortions unrestricted. It was stated that:
“Reassurances that the Government’s decision to legislate for the X case will lead to very limited abortion in Ireland are not reliable. It will be open to anyone who wants to avail of abortion on the wider grounds provided for by the X case to challenge any attempt to limit these grounds in legislation and/or regulation through the Courts.”
The underlying message is that abortion is morally wrong in any situation and allowing abortion at any level will inevitably lead to abortion on demand.
Church of Ireland representative Michael Jackson and Methodist Church of Ireland representative Heidi Good both opposed abortion on demand and realized that the issue is contentious and very complex. Although opposed to abortion on demand Jackson and Good both recognized that there is some cases where an abortion would be permissible, namely if there was a ‘real and substantial risk to the life of the mother’. Trevor Morrow of the Presbyterian Church stated that his church were ‘strongly pro-life’ and believed the unborn foetus should be treated as a person, but insinuated that if there was a substantial risk to the life of the mother then an abortion may be what is required. Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Center reiterated much of what was said before him and stated that “Abortion could be conducted as the last and only alternative to protect the mother’s life”. Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland enjoined the committee to legislate based on ‘human rights and compassion’…and not on religious doctrines.’ Nugent bypassed all dialogue about the legal and medical aspect of abortion, expressing the view that the decision should be entirely that of the pregnant woman’s and her medical team, and said:
“Please respect that individual ethical decisions should be made on the basis of personal autonomy and individual conscience, while not infringing on the rights of others. Please respect that individual ethical decisions about pregnancy should be made by a pregnant woman in consultation with her medical team.”
Refuting the decision to automatically include religious institutions in the debate Nugent went on to say the religious must be respected but they should ‘not impose their own religious values on pregnant women who do not share those religious beliefs’.
What is wholly apparent is that the religious agree on much more than they disagree on. But there are some discrepancies. The Catholic representatives tip-toed precariously around the issue of rape and incest, refusing categorically to state that the stance of the church meant that a pregnancy as a result of rape or incest is still a valid pregnancy and should remain. Ali Selim was agreed upon this, also. He stated that:
“Women who have victims of rape deserve due sympathy and help. But a child conceived in this unfortunate situation still has the right to live. The continuity of this pregnancy of course places a heavy burden on the mother, which may drive her, likewise many other economic and social scenarios, to think of terminating this pregnancy. But killing the foetus is not the right solution. In fact it is a crime against this innocent human being.”
Selim believes the foetus, however conceived, is sacred and should be protected.
Following the representative statements the committee was opened up for questions from TD’s and Senators, and the Catholic representatives were duly pressed on clearing up their stance on the X case. Christopher Jones, the second representative of Catholic Bishops, expressed regret over cases of pregnancy following rape but reiterated that the denial of life in these circumstances is still not condonable. There was also much dialogue on the issue of suicide. Rabbi Zalman stated that the Jewish stance on this is one of compassion; if there is risk to the life of the woman it must be addressed. The outspoken Ivan Bacik, a Labour member of the Seanad, wanted to know by what right the Catholic Church felt they could advise on such an issue regarding pregnancy and a woman’s body, their institution being made up exclusively of celibate men. Marc MacSharry makes a point that only 3% of pregnant women were deemed suicidal last year, a relatively low number he contends. The Methodist representative Heidi Good took issue with this and said probably the most memorable thing of the morning session.
She stated that the need for legislation was absolutely necessary and that if only 3% of women were deemed suicidal it would be wrong not to legislate for that 3%. She said “This country was founded upon respect for the individual… If there was only 1 murder in the last 100 years we would still have to legislate about murder. If one pregnant woman in the next 10 years is deemed to be suicidal it would be wrong of us not to legislate for that.” There will be much rumination in the following weeks regarding this contentious issue. With an ongoing investigation into the death of Savita Halappanavar and this weeks proceedings, Ireland is likely to begin legislating in the near future.
By Shuki Byrne.