Thursday, August 29, 2013

Ireland's abortion debate teaching moment for Canadian politicians and doctors

(This appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of LifeCanada Journal)

It is very important that doctors and politicians speak out in defense of pre-born citizens. These professionals are uniquely able to do something the rest of us cannot do: save lives and enact laws. Both hold a lot of sway.

Unfortunately, I think many of them have given up the pro-life fight. I am hopeful though, that Ireland's recent abortion debate will spur them on again.

Up until recently, Ireland had been abortion free. Now the Irish government is changing this with its Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill. This bill allows abortions in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a pregnant woman including suicide.

Following the ensuing abortion debate while visiting Ireland, I witnessed both politicians and doctors provide a strong and principled offensive against the bill. The doctors were especially vocal.

The reason for the bill was "an attempt to legislate for a 1992 Supreme Court judgement, known as “the X Case,” that interpreted the 1983 pro-life constitutional amendment as allowing abortion where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of a woman...the bill allows for abortion in cases of threatened suicide if, in the “reasonable opinion” of two psychiatrists and one obstetrician, the threat of suicide can only be avoided by the destruction of unborn life." (1)

The ruling Fine Gael party had promised in the 2011 election not to introduce legislation to legalize abortion. This bill accomplished what the ruling party said they would not do.

One brave Teachta Dála (2) and Minister, Lucinda Creighton, was vocal in her defense of the unborn. She gave a powerful speech in the Irish Parliament highlighting the fact that in Ireland unborn children have full human rights: "I am entirely perplexed as to why the right to legal representation for the unborn is excluded from this legislation. It is the minimum protection required to be afforded to unborn children. It is important to remember, at every step of this legislative process, that the unborn child is a human being, a person and has full rights as such under our Constitution. This means that as a “constitutional person” an unborn baby has the exact same right to life as any other living “constitutional person”.

Creighton called what she was witnessing "groupthink": "If you do not succumb to the accepted view that abortion  is a "liberal issue", a "women's right issue", a cornerstone of the "progressive agenda", then you are deemed to be a backward, illiberal, Neanderthal fundamentalist who belongs to another era. The distinct irony of this prevailing view, is that it is so illiberal its intolerance of any other outlook." (3)

Standing behind her principles, she voted against the bill. For this, she was fired.

Four other Fine Gael members were also expelled for voting against the bill.

Another Fine Gael member also had reservations about the bill, but voted for it. Michelle Mulherin said: "I am now faced with either supporting the bill, or being booted out of the party, my party, and I am not going to allow myself to be booted out, so I am supporting the legislation." (3) At least, she gets points for honesty.

Five politicians were expelled from Parliament for voting against a bill that would introduce abortion into Ireland.

Remember what happened when our own MP Rona Ambrose voted against Canada's "groupthink", when she voted in favour of Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312? She was demonized by “abortion activists”.

MPs know when they defend the unborn they will be marginalized, scorned and ridiculed, not only by  "pro-choice" activists, but also by their own peers in Parliament. No wonder they shut up.

At the Irish health committee hearings, numerous perinatal psychiatrists were against the suicide clause. Three of them said that they had never seen a single case of suicidal intent during pregnancy. (4)

John Sheehan, a top perinatal psychiatrist said: "In practice, it would be impossible for any psychiatrist to accurately predict who will die. So it could lead to multiple false negatives."

Dr. Sean O'Domhnaill said: "The legislation would turn doctors into abortionists. Abortion has no role in modern medicine. Termination is a medieval response to crisis pregnancies."

Dr. Jacqueline Montwill said "The appropriate treatment for any suicidal patient is to ensure their safety either at home or at hospital, to offer psychological support and counseling and psychotropic medication."

Many Irish doctors also wrote letters to the editor. There were letters on both sides of the debate, but it was the pro-life doctors who wrote most convincingly against the bill.

One letter was signed by 56 Irish doctors. All of them had grave concerns about the suicide clause: "Many of us have practised in jurisdictions where such legislation was the first step towards what has become abortion on demand." They said there was no evidence in the "psychiatrist evidence heard by the Supreme Court in 1992" and in the "statements of the psychiatrists called before the Oireachtas Health Committee hearings in 2012" that supported the suicide clause. (This quote and the following quotes are all from letters to the editor as reported by the Irish Times - 5)

Another letter stated: "Recently more that 100 psychiatrists signed a statement saying that legislation, which would allow abortion for threat of suicide, has no basis in medical evidence."

Dr. Sam Coulter stated that the suicide clause "posed major ethical dilemmas for obstetricians and could lead to an increase in women seeking terminations."

Dr. Ruth Foley said: "If the Bill is passed, and some doctors authorize terminations for women whose risk of suicide could have been managed by other treatments, how would anyone know about it? How would these doctors be held to account? If politicians have no satisfactory answer to this question, then passing this Bill in its present form including suicide is an irresponsible and reckless act."

There were some doctors who weren't against the change. But the most they could say in its defense were arguments like Dr. Holohan, who said : "We simply cannot say that the circumstances of a real and substantial risk to a woman's life could never occur as a consequence of suicidal ideation."

I think Canadian doctors and politicians can learn from the example and tenacity of these Irish doctors and politicians. They need to speak up more often, and more loudly.

Yes they will be marginalized, scorned and ridiculed by the strong and vocal pro-abortion lobby, as well as by their peers. My hope is that they will speak up anyway. The rest of us are not giving up the fight. Why should they?

2) TD stands for Teachta Dála, and is a member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament
5) Letters to the Editor in the Irish Times

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