In May, two-thirds of Irish voters approved of scrapping Ireland’s pro-life constitutional amendment, clearing the way for the legalization of abortion in one of the last western countries to resist enacting abortion-on-demand.
Then, on Dec. 13, the Seanad (Senate) voted 27-5 to approve the government’s pro-abortion law. Irish President Michael D. Higgins signed the bill into law.
The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Billallows abortion-on-demand until the 12th week of pregnancy, and permits abortion until “viability” if the preborn child is deemed a risk to the mother’s life or health, or at any age before birth if the child has a “fetal abnormality” that could lead to his or her death before or within a month after birth.
Health Minister Simon Harris, who introduced the bill in October, called the law a “historic moment” and the openly gay Catholic Taoiseach (prime minister), Leo Varadkar, praised his minister for getting the law passed quickly, just over 200 days after the referendum. Harris denied every one of the 63 amendments to the bill that may have limited its scope or better define terms. Opposition members had offered amendments that would have made provisions for the use of ultrasound imaging 24-hours prior to termination, that women seeking abortion drugs be informed of the health risks as well as fetal development, and that there would be a “dignified disposal of fetal remains.”
Harris praised pro-abortion campaigners for their “35 years” of advocacy, and said that the new law would remove the “stigma” attached to killing one’s baby.
Harris refused to meet with medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, midwives, and pharmacists, who had concerns with the law, especially over the safety of patients and conscience rights of health care workers. “We entered our professions to save lives, not to end them,” a communique representing hundreds of pro-life health care professionals declared. “We will continue to care for our patients in a compassionate and committed manner but we will not participate in medical procedures intended to end the life of a ‘foetus’ which are morally objectionable and an affront to our beliefs on the sanctity of life.”
The law came into force on January 1, 2019, despite concerns from medical professionals that the government was rushing legalization and that doctors would not be ready to carry out abortions. The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists was debating calling for a delay in the law, “because of risks to patient safety due to inadequate preparation,” when the bill was passed. The institute’s motion stated that the implementation of abortion legislation “cannot” commence within weeks of the law’s passage and “should not take place until these risks are addressed.” Chris Fitzpatrick, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Coombe hospital who plans to carry out abortions “when it is safe to do so,” said clinical concerns are being “brushed aside in a frenzied attempt to meet a dangerously unrealistic deadline.” Fitzpatrick explained: “There are no agreed models of care, published clinical guidelines or updated Medical Council ethical guidelines, no clarification regarding feticide or failed medical termination presenting beyond 12 weeks, no substantive engagement with paediatricians in relation to life-limiting anomalies, and no satisfactory responses to many other clinical concerns that have been highlighted, time and time again.”
The Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Rhona Mahony, a leading advocate of repealing the pro-life constitutional amendment, also questioned the rush to make abortion available: “At the end of the day it’s very unusual that legislation would be finalised and within days an entire service would be rolled out.”
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said that the government’s setting aside even pro-abortion concerns with the rush to legalize, “illustrates very clearly just how little this has to do with women’s health.”
In a last-minute visual reminder of the looming death of unborn children, pro-life activists planted 1000 small white crosses on the grounds of the presidential mansion.