Pro-lifers concerned ‘suicide’ will be used to permit broad abortion license
Irish lawmakers have passed a bill liberalizing Ireland’s abortion ban by a 127-31 vote. On July 12, the TDs (Irish MPs) voted to make abortion legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy if the mother’s life is at risk, including if she threatens suicide.
The law was a response to the septic death of Savita Halappanavar, who was denied an abortion before her baby was lost to a miscarriage last November. Prime Minister Enda Kenny, whose party ran on a pro-life platform during the 2011 elections, also justified the law using the Supreme Court ‘X Case’ decision permitting a suicidal 14-year-old rape victim to travel to Britain to get an abortion. Judge Hugh O’Flaherty, one of the justices who made the judgment, however, said it was “moot” because the girl miscarried.
Five legislators from the majority Fine Gael party were expelled for voting against the bill in defiance of the party line. TD Lucinda Creighton, who also resigned as the European Affairs Minister, lost party support after she voted against the government in favour of an amendment that would strike the suicide exception shortly before the final vote.
On July 1, during the second reading of the bill, Creighton articulated her stance. She countered the argument that abortion was a women’s rights or liberal issue, as well as criticism she faced for taking a moral position: “I wonder what one should consult when voting on a fundamental human rights issue such as this, if not one’s own conscience?” she said. “What else can I consult? The latest opinion poll? The party hierarchy? The editor of the most popular newspaper?”
Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute said, “what kind of a leader throws a colleague out of the party for doing exactly what they told their electorate they were going to do before election?”
“The proposed legislation is the result of a long-term campaign by political parties and organizations with an ideological commitment to promote abortion without regard to health indications,” said a release from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.
Apart from her opposition to the suicide provision, Creighton took issue with the government not defining a gestational limit for abortion and advocated for legal representation for the unborn children affected by the suicide exemption.
Creighton said she was in favour of the measures in the bill promoting abortion in cases of danger to the life of the mother, but she wanted the provision narrowly construed. Pro-life critics of the new law say it broadens access to abortion beyond life-of-the-mother exceptions.
Clare Molloy of Youth Defence, speaking outside of the Dáil (Irish legislature) on July 12, said that the bill “allows for the direct killing of a physically healthy baby being carried by a physically healthy mother and allows it through all nine months of pregnancy.”
Pro-lifers say that the threat of suicide will be used to justify any abortion.
On January 8, Irish government hearings by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children heard testimony from medical experts about the bill. Dr. Mary McCaffrey, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Kerry General Hospital, said that among herself and a group of 12 colleagues she consulted, “they had not met a woman citing suicidal intent or ideation purely because she was pregnant.” Professor Patricia Casey, a psychiatrist who runs the attempted suicide service in the Mater Hospital also said she had “never seen a pregnant woman who was suicidal for whom an abortion was the only answer.”
Dr. Justin Brophy, psychiatrist and Chairman of the Irish Association of Suicidology, told the Gaelscéal newspaper that the suicide clause would be a “logistical nightmare” for psychiatrists because intent of suicide is an “easily fabricated condition.” As well, if a woman commits suicide after being denied an abortion by psychiatrists, there would be public outrage.
Mental health exceptions elsewhere have actually increased the abortion rate. Life Institute and Youth Defence report that in 1970, after a provision introduced into California law that allowed abortion for women who posed a danger to themselves, others, or the property of others, 98.2 per cent of the 61,572 committed in the state were carried out under the mental health exception.
Human Life International’s The Facts of Life written by Brian Clowes, states that as early as the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s 1955 abortion conference, Dr. Ernest Kolb, director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute cited a study from Sweden finding that 62 out of 344 Swedish women who were refused abortion threatened suicide, but never carried out their threat. “The threat of suicide is used many times to intimidate and to obtain an end in relation to the psychiatrist as well as to families,” he said. Dr. Paul Lidz stated, “let us be frank about this. When the psychiatrist says that there is a suicidal risk, in many instances he does not mean that at all, but feels that there are strong socioeconomic grounds for a therapeutic abortion.”
The Irish bill will proceed to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. If the Senate amends the bill, it will return to the House for approval. Afterwards, it will be signed into law by President Michael Higgins.