Ireland’s new abortion law runs into trouble

Health Minister Reilly and Enda Kenny

Where does the much-trumpeted legislation for the abortion of unborn children introduced by the Republic of Ireland’s Government now stand? Currently it seems to be in some trouble. It sounds even worse – depending on your point of view – that President Obama’s Obamacare debacle.

The Irish College of Psychiatrists has advised its members not to participate in reviewing cases where women might look for an abortion expressing suicidal thoughts. They want proper clinical guidelines and the provision of these is fraught with difficulty – indeed some would say are impossible because they will be unable to provide doctor with any kind of legal protection.

The College has described the enactment of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act without clinical guidelines as “very haphazard and unsatisfactory” and has expressed  “extreme concern” at the absence of any guidance for general medical practitioners on accessing suitable psychiatrists to assess a pregnant woman showing signs of suicidality; at the absence of guidelines for a psychiatrist seeking a second psychiatric opinion; and the lack of training for obstetricians in up-to-date psychiatric issues as well as for psychiatrists in obstetric issues.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act came into force on January 1st. A “Guidelines on Implementation Committee” was appointed last year by the Department of Health to draw up clinical guidelines on how the legislation would work in practice but this has yet to report.

The Act provides that a pregnant woman who is expressing suicidal thoughts and seeking an abortion may have one if three medical practitioners, including two psychiatrists, have “jointly certified in good faith” that there is a real and substantial risk to her life by suicide which can only be averted by an abortion.

There is also provision for a review panel, to be “established and maintained” by the Health Service Executive (HSE) “of at least 10 medical practitioners”. On this basis the HSE must request medical bodies, including the College of Psychiatrists, to nominate members to be appointed to it. Psychiatrists are not at all happy with this.

Miriam Silke, representing the College, told The Irish Times that until the guidelines were issued the college would not recommend to its members participation in the panel. “We simply do not know when they will be issued. We have not heard anything since the Bill came into law. I presume work is progressing but they aren’t imminent. It is very haphazard and unsatisfactory.”

“Dr Anthony McCarthy, perinatal psychiatrist at the National Maternity Hospital and former president of the college, said the new legislation failed to provide ‘real solutions’ for women in distress. A pregnant woman expressing suicidal thoughts would be seen by a psychiatrist, he said, but if that psychiatrist wanted to get a second opinion it was unclear how this would be obtained, the Times reported.

Dr. Ruth Cullen of the Irish ProLife Campaign issued a statement on the latest debacle on Saturday saying that “the deep-seated flaws in the Government’s new abortion law are starting to reveal themselves.”

Dr. Cullen added: “The Government knew perfectly well when it introduced the law that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal feelings and may in fact be detrimental to women’s health.

“The fact that the Government this week activated the new law without any clinical guidelines in place is further proof that the push for abortion legislation over the past year had everything to do with achieving an ideological goal rather than concern for women’s lives or the lives of their unborn babies.

“The truth behind the deep-seated flaws in the new legislation are starting to reveal themselves. This will only continue as more and more people begin to realise that the new law was never about evidence based medicine but about introducing an abortion regime in Ireland.”

Another fine mess from Prime Minister Kenny and his gifted Minister for Health, Dr. James Reilly.

Irish proposal for abortion law riddled with wishful thinking

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny

What looks like the beginning of open warfare ensued in the Republic of Ireland yesterday with the announcement by the Coalition government there that it is going to prepare legislation for “limited” abortion in the State.  In the aftermath of the announcement, the four Catholic Archbishops have issued their strongest ever condemnation of abortion as a moral evil. Meanwhile another bishop describes the proposal as the “first step on the road to a culture of death”. The main government party in the Coalition is also divided on the proposal.

The legislation is seen by all pro-life groups in the country as the first step towards abortion on demand in that the threat of suicide is being accepted as a ground for granting an abortion. The pro-abortion activists and those who support the proposed legislation – even though they say they are not pro-abortion – are failing to answer the question why these grounds for abortion will not lead to abortion on demand as it has done so in all other jurisdictions where it has been introduced.

Currently abortion in any form is prohibited by an act of parliament. This ban was confirmed as the will of the people in a constitutional referendum in 1983 which prohibits legislation to introduce abortion. This provision, however, was compromised by a judgement of the Supreme Court in the 1990s when it ruled that a woman threatening to commit suicide had a right to have an abortion since this was taken to be a threat to her life.

That judgement has been heavily criticised by psychiatrists who consider that threats of suicide are far too complex to be made the basis for a decision to end the life of an unborn child – even if that were ever to be considered a morally defensible act.

The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny and his senior Ministers are planning to reassure members of his party that allowing the threat of suicide as a ground for termination will not lead to abortion on demand. He has not, however, offered any kind of coherent reasoning to back up this assertion.

Minister for Health James Reilly last night said that “legislation supported by regulations will inform us to ensure that suicide will not be abused as it is perceived to be in other jurisdictions”. He has  given no clues as to why pro-life campaigners should not consider this as any more than wishful thinking.

Irish radio reported him as saying that the legislation would have to cover suicide as the Supreme Court had been very clear in its judgment on the issue. He would try to create as much consensus as possible on the issue and hoped the legislation would be passed before next summer if not sooner.

Dr Berry Kiely of Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign said if the threat of suicide is included in any legislation to give legal clarity on abortion it will radically change medical practice in Ireland and the Irish legal system. Speaking on Irish radio Dr Kiely said it would introduce, for the first time, the direct and intentional killing of the unborn into Irish law.

She said there was a difference between medical treatment, which may result in the death of a foetus, and abortion, which is intended to end the life of the unborn. “This is where the whole issue of suicide comes into it, because a woman who says she’s suicidal because of being pregnant with this baby, what she’s saying is she doesn’t want a living baby at the end of this procedure,” Dr Kiely said. “You’re actually, in that situation, proposing to directly and intentionally ensure the death of her baby. That’s a very radical change for medical practice in Ireland, for our legal system, for whatever.”

The Government statement yesterday did not mention the matter but it is accepted that the grounds for a legal termination will include the risk of suicide or self-destruction. The legislative scheme will not, however, incorporate, or make legal, abortion in other in extremis situations, such as rape, sexual abuse, or rare fatal foetal abnormalities. However, the admission of legitimacy on any grounds – and particularly on grounds as open to manipulation as a threat of suicide – is seen as the thin end of the wedge to bring abortion on demand to Ireland.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte has said he is surprised by the vigour of the language used by the Archbishops statement. However, he has not on this occasion suggested that the representatives of the Catholic Church had no right to speak on a matter like this. The Bishop of Kilmore, Leo O’Reilly, said that the Government’s decision to introduce legislation and regulations on the abortion issue is the “first step on the road to a culture of death”.

The four Archbishops in their statement encouraged “all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right”.

They state categorically that “If what is being proposed were to become law, the careful balance between the equal right to life of a mother and her unborn child in current law and medical practice in Ireland would be fundamentally changed. It would pave the way for the direct and intentional killing of unborn children. This can never be morally justified in any circumstances.

“The decision of the Supreme Court in the ‘X’ case unilaterally overturned the clear pro-life intention of the people of Ireland as expressed in Article 40.3.3 of our Constitution. To legislate on the basis of such a flawed judgement would be both tragic and unnecessary.

“The dignity of the human person and the common good of humanity depend on our respect for the right to life of every person from the moment of conception to natural death. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights. It is the very basis for every other right we enjoy as persons.

“The lives of untold numbers of unborn children in this State now depend on the choices that will be made by our public representatives. The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: will I choose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb in all circumstances, or will I choose to licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?”

The government parties have declared that in the vote on this issue – when it comes to a decision on legislation – will not be a free vote. On this also the Archbishops had strong words on the moral implication of such a ruling. “Moreover,” they said, “in a decision of such fundamental moral importance every public representative is entitled to complete respect for the freedom of conscience. No one has the right to force or coerce someone to act against their conscience. Respect for this right is the very foundation of a free, civilised and democratic society.”

The husband of the late Savita Halappanavar says he would welcome any legislation that would prevent another death in the circumstances in which his wife died. Mrs Halappanavar (31) died in Galway University Hospital in October. She was found to be miscarrying her 17-week pregnancy. This sad case has provided a very emotional context to the legislation issue although this proposal to legislate has been on the agenda of the Government since a negative European Court ruling in 2010. However, there is no confirmation that Mrs. Halappanavar’s death would have been prevented had he baby been deliberately killed by the medical team dealing with her miscarriage. Praveen Halappanavar has said she was repeatedly refused a termination.  No corroborating evidence of this has come to light as yet. The report of two investigations on what actually happened in the days leading to her death are currently awaited.

Questions to answer?

The Irish Times reported today that the country’s Minister for Health James Reilly has again been taken to task by the Ceann Comhairle (Speaker in the Irish parliament) for failing to answer a Dáil question about primary care centres.

But in the light of the revelations in one of the country’s newspapers last week perhaps he has even more serious questions to answer – like the question of the position of the new CEO, Dr. Tony O’Brien, whom he has appointed to the Health Service Executive?

Sam Coulter Smith, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal College of Surgeons, was quoted las Saturday as saying that he was “shocked and very disappointed” to learn that Irish women who travel to Britain for abortions are being told they should hide this from their doctors. This advice was given to them by agents of the Irish Family Planning Association

Dr. O’Brien, the new HSE chief, was  Chief Executive of the Irish Family Planning Association from December 1991 to August 2002. He was also Chief Executive of the UK Family Planning Association from May 1995 to April 1996, an organisation which is even more suspect that its Irish equivalent, when it comes to cavalier approaches to women’s and children’s health.

Was advice like this being given to women under Dr. O’Brien’s watch at the IFPA?

In the light of last week’s revelations there has now been a call by members of the Oireachtas (parliamentary) Committee on Health and Children for an independent review of counselling practices at IFPA and HSE crisis pregnancy counselling clinics. The Irish Pro Life Campaign has welcomed the call.

Perhaps the country’s “paper of record”, the Irish Times, will now no longer be able to ignore this 5-day-old story if it is forced on to the records of the Oireachtas.

Reported in today’s Irish Independent, Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, said he would be contacting the HSE as a matter of urgency to “seek clarification on the nature, independence and partiality of their inquiry”.

His concerns were echoed by other members of the Committee including TDs Regina Doherty, Denis Naughton, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Robert Troy, Mattie McGrath and Senator John Crown.

Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro Life Campaign said: “We welcome the fact that the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children are treating the findings of the undercover investigation with the seriousness they deserve.  It is vital that an independent review takes place without delay. These findings transcend the abortion debate.  The type of counselling shown by the undercover investigation to take place at IFPA and HSE pregnancy counselling clinics quite literally puts women’s lives at risk.

She continued “We are calling for an independent public inquiry into how such professional malpractice has been allowed to go unnoticed and uncorrected by the body legally tasked with monitoring them. Since the Health Service Executive (HSE) are themselves implicated in the failure of proper governance of the crisis pregnancy agencies, they are part of the problem and cannot be allowed to supervise the investigation.”

“The reality is that the Irish taxpayer is subsidising counsellors to give unsafe information to women.   This must be investigated promptly and thoroughly” Dr. Cullen concluded.

See link to today’s Irish Independent report  – HSE chiefs face grilling over illegal advice on abortion. See link to reports from last Saturday’s Irish Independent Shocking breach of good medical practice says Rotunda Chief and Revealed – The Abortion advice that could put lives at risk

Ireland’s pro-life status under siege again

Minister James Reilly

The “Special Relationship” between Ireland and the United States of America acquired a new dimension this week. Up until now, leaving aside the much vaunted ancestral roots of recent US Presidents Obama, Clinton, Reagan and Kennedy, –  its most significant manifestation was in the critical and effective commitment of President Clinton and other US political leaders to the ending of the 30 Years War in Northern Ireland. That saved countless lives, but the new manifestation might save hundreds of thousands of lives.

A group of pro-life US legislators have now weighed in on the abortion issue in Ireland where a pro-abortion party in the Irish coalition government is threatening to overturn provisions in the Irish Constitution which prohibit the practice in the state. The letter, addressed to the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, is urging him and his Fine Gael Party, to reject calls to overturn the country’s explicit constitutional protections for the unborn

The letter, signed by 16 Republican and one Democrat member of the US Congress, said they were concerned that the expert group, appointed by Health Minister James Reilly to present a report on abortion, included some who are pro-choice.

“The absence of experts of known pro-life views and the presence of some of known pro-abortion views were especially noted,” say the members of Congress.

Among those who signed the letter is Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado Springs. The letter is also signed by Trent Franks, a Republican Congressman from Arizona, who earlier this year sought to push through legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia. The only Democrat signatory is Dan Lipinski, from Chicago, who co-sponsored a bill to prevent women from obtaining abortions on health insurance unless they had been raped.

Pro-life campaigners are delighted with this intervention. For months they have been campaigning to get the Fine Gael Party to honour is election promise not to allow legislation for abortion in the State. The pressure to do so is coming primarily – but not exclusively – from the Labour Party which is in coalition with Kenny’s Party. The Health Minister, who is a Fine Gael member, is widely suspected of being pro-abortion.

The letter from the US Congressmen raised questions about the government’s expert group, assembled by the Health Minister to make a recommendation on how to respond to a European Court of Human Rights ruling that Ireland must “clarify” its law. On the appointment of its members there was grave concern about the pro-abortion record of some of the members of the group. The letter said, “The composition of the expert group seems predisposed to issue recommendations that infringe on the right to life, rather than a simple clarification.” The 17 Congressmen say Ireland is “an example to the world” in refusing to create legalized abortion.

While a certain amount of huffing and puffing can be expected from pro-abortion politicians about what may be described as interference in Irish internal affairs, it will be difficult to sustain in the light of the very positive outcomes of such “interference” which brought the peace process to such a satisfactory conclusion. Besides, the language of the intervention is courteous and persuasive and leaves little room for complaints of arrogance.

Pro-life activists in Dublin allege that Health Minister Reilly has revealed his own pro-abortion bias by appointing the former head of Ireland’s equivalent of Planned Parenthood as the new head of Ireland’s Health Service Executive. He is Tony O’Brien, former Chief Executive of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) which is an affiliate of International Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the world.

Niamh Uí Bhriain, of the Life Institute, welcoming the US Congressmen’s intervention said that, “Obviously those who have lived with the effects of Roe v. Wade for 40 years realise the enormity of the mistake Ireland would make if our government moves to legalise abortion.”

The Irish government, still trying to extricate the country from the economic disasters which have followed the near-collapse of its banking system would rather not have to deal with this issue but the European Court decision, brought about by very targeted legal actions funded by the pro abortion activists, leaves it with no alternative.  The opposition party, Fianna Fail, sees in this an opportunity to splinter the coalition in which ideological positions already offer ample grounds for conflict. It has said it will oppose any changes to the law. The Labour Party, junior partner in the coalition, is the only party that openly supports and promotes legalised abortion.

The drafting of the report of the expert group set up by the government is currently in its final stages. If this report does not offer as one of the options for settling the ECtHR demands, the holding of a new referendum on the Constitution which will give the Irish people the right to decide the matter then the political consequences could be far reaching. The possibility of the fall of the government and a general election cannot be ruled out. In economic terms this is the last thing anyone wants.