DUBLIN (CNS) -- An Irish bishop
and pro-life activists insisted that any legislation to provide abortion
in limited situations would inevitably lead to widespread abortion.
"If abortion is introduced, even on a very limited basis, it becomes
widespread," Bishop William Murphy of Kerry said during a radio
interview Nov. 29.
Days earlier, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny promised "swift action"
after a report by a study group recommended that the government
introduce legislation to provide for abortion in limited circumstances.
In practice, abortion is illegal in Ireland. However, a controversial
1992 Supreme Court judgment -- known as the X case -- found that there
is a constitutional right to abortion where there is a substantial risk
to the life of the mother, including the risk of suicide, up to birth.
Six successive governments have not acted on the issue. However, the
European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2010 that Ireland must clarify
when women can access abortion under the 1992 ruling.
The expert group was charged in January with advising the government in response to the European Court ruling.
The Pro Life Campaign, Ireland's largest pro-life lobby, has said that
it does not support legislation or statutory regulations on abortion in
line with the expert group report.
Cora Sherlock, the campaign's deputy chairwoman, described the 1992 Supreme Court decision as "deeply flawed."
Instead, the Pro Life Campaign is advocating for guidelines for medical professionals to consider.
She said the organization consistently has supported women receiving the
medical treatment needed during pregnancy as well as for practical
steps to protect the life of the unborn child.
"On the one hand, you have abortion where there is never an intention to
save the life of the baby," she said. "The only intention is to end the
life of the baby, and there's no treatment being given to the mother.
"On the other hand, you have medical treatment which may have the
unwanted side effect of ending the life of the unborn child. But that is
an unwanted side effect. It is not something that anyone wishes for,
and it is deeply regretted when it happens.
"That is what the majority of people in this country have said in
consistent independent opinion polls that they support, and that will
not be achieved through legislation or regulation," Sherlock said.
Ireland has been gripped by the issue of abortion in recent weeks after a
31-year-old woman, Savita Halapanavar, died while being treated for a
miscarriage. Her husband claims that she was denied the termination of
her pregnancy because of Ireland's ban on abortion and the decision led
to her death.
However, medical professionals have pointed out that current Irish law
allows for intervention to save the life of a mother even if it results
in the unavoidable and unintentional death of an unborn child.
In his radio interview, Bishop Murphy accused campaigners seeking to legalize abortion of attempting to "hijack" the tragedy.
"The suggestion that, because of this country's pro-life ethos, pregnant
women are denied medical treatment is simply not true," he said.
The bishop warned that if the government adopted legislation based on
the results of the X case, unlimited access to abortion would be
introduced to Ireland.
"That will be the crack in the dam or the beginning of the slippery slope," he added.
Pro-life activists want the government to move to overturn the 1992 judgment.
"The most important option, not contained in the report, is to reverse
the Supreme Court decision of 1992, which would allow for abortion up to
birth," said attorney Caroline Simons, who advises pro-life groups.
"If people do not want to introduce such an abortion regime in this
country, this is the only political option, and it has to be
confronted," she told Catholic News Service.
Doing so would mean ultimately putting the question of overturning the X
case to the people by way of a constitutional referendum.
Simons said she supports medical guidelines rather than legislation.
"These guidelines can explain the underlying principles of medical care
in Ireland and, in particular, that women in pregnancy should receive
all essential medical treatment needed to safeguard their lives, even
where this unavoidably results in the death of the baby, but where the
duty of care to preserve the life of the baby as far as practicable is
also upheld," she said.
"The X case is being presented by those who support abortion as very
restrictive. The reality is that the X case does not provide for a duty
of care to preserve the life of the baby in the course of medical
interventions to safeguard the life of the mother," she explained.
The issue is proving contentious for Kenny. Reports from a Nov. 28
meeting of senior leaders within his political party indicate that many
legislators would defy the government and refuse to support an abortion
The Irish Parliament is planning to discuss the issue in January. A
motion calling for legalized abortion, introduced by an independent
member of Parliament, was expected to be defeated in a vote in late