Fr Billy Swan
Last weekend, thousands of people around the country took part in the annual ‘Rally for Life’ with many virtual and real events taking place. The purpose of the ‘Rally for Life’ each year is to celebrate the dignity of all human life including the lives of the unborn and to support a culture of life where the right to life is acknowledged in itself and not conferred by others who decide who lives and who dies. With each passing year, this message becomes more important and the light of the human dignity it upholds shines brighter in the midst of the dark clouds that have gathered since the repeal of the Eighth Amendment in May 2018.
In the run up to the referendum, no one denied that there was a problem with unwanted pregnancies with almost 4,000 Irish people per year travelling to the UK for abortions. What the Pro-Life campaign argued was that repealing the 8th Amendment was not just a simple case of those women being cared for at home – that the issue was not just the location of where these abortions took place. Pro-Life people predicted that legalising abortion would lead to a large rise in the number of abortions taking place because the constitutional right to life of the unborn would be removed and abortion would be normalised in our culture. To counter this argument, the Taoiseach at the time and most of his government colleagues tried to soften the blow and assuage the conscience of those whose ‘Yes’ vote might be a contributing factor in the increase in the number of deaths. They did this by insisting that the introduction to abortion on demand in Ireland would be ‘safe, legal and rare’. They did this knowing that in every other country where abortion was legalised, the numbers shot skywards after it was introduced.
In recent weeks, the records for the second full year since abortion was legalised, have been published. The official abortion figures for 2020 released by the Department of Health show a massive 70% increase in abortions since 2018, the year prior to the introduction of abortion. A total of 6,577 women had an abortion in Ireland in 2020. That is slightly down on the figure of 6,666 in 2019, but the ratio (number of abortions per live births) is up, because fewer women became pregnant last year, so it is very bad news. Commenting on these figures, a Pro-Life Campaign statement read: ‘In the space of only two years, everything that the pro-life movement warned would happen has sadly come to pass’.
The latest figures are a damning indictment of Government policy that cravenly pushes abortion and treats with disdain positive alternatives. They also expose the lie that abortions would be ‘rare’ if they were legalised. The latest abortion statistics draw little comment from the mainstream media. It’s as if politicians and media commentators don’t want to take responsibility for what they have created. The numbers are published as if the shocking statistics are morally neutral. On the third anniversary of the repeal of the 8th Amendment in May this year, RTE were shamelessly biased in the airtime they granted to those who were arguing for an even more liberal abortion regime. RTE boasts in a current advertisement campaign that ‘Truth Matters’. Not all truth it seems; especially not truth that is inconvenient.
Take for example the issue of pain relief for victims of late term abortions carried out in Ireland. In addition to the massive increase in abortions, we’ve seen from the recent study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology that babies who survived late-term abortions under Ireland’s new law have been left to die without receiving any palliative or medical care. Voters were promised that nothing as horrifying and inhumane as this would ever happen. And yet it did happen and is happening.
In recent months, only 11 courageous TDs backed a Bill put forward by Carol Nolan TD for the mandatory administration of pain relief for children about to be aborted. Such anaesthetic procedures are common place, I understand, even in veterinary medicine. It seems that animals are protected from pain but human beings are not. Why is there not outrage over this? We can only conclude that we are selective concerning what we choose to be outraged about. We see what we want to see, but not all there is to see. This is what happens when we refuse to face a truth that condemns us.
Then there was the passing of a Bill by the European Parliament making abortion a ‘human right’. All Irish MEP’s voted in favour of the Bill. The report does not have the force of law behind it, but it is all part of an effort to shift the EU in an ever more pro-abortion direction, to make a ‘right’ to abortion a ‘European value’. It also undermines religious freedom by failing to recognise conscientious objections to informal and formal co-operation with abortions. Even the European Court of Human Rights held that a woman’s right to privacy does not imply a right to abortion. It deceitfully claims that the denial of abortion on grounds of religion or conscience “endangers women’s lives and rights” and it also “hinders access to prenatal screening”. We know that prenatal screening is often used to select and abort children carrying a disability, such as Down Syndrome. Conscientious objection, which is recognised and protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, is presented in the report that led to this Bill as “refusal of medical care”.
This development also strengthens the case of Euro sceptics who believe that the EU is interfering with the sovereignty of member states and imposing its own morality and ideology upon them. The European Union cannot impose the “right to abortion” on its members and this is particularly significant as Malta, for instance, is an EU state and has resisted international pressure to liberalise its abortion laws so far. Only a few weeks ago, we saw how Hungary was threatened with expulsion of the EU for passing a law that censored contents of sex education programmes which, it argued 'children of a certain age can misunderstand and which may have detrimental effect on their development at the given age, or which children simply cannot process and therefore cause confusion'. These concerns echo the same concerns of many parents in Ireland today.
Then there is the tragic case of Baby Christopher Kiely who was aborted in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street following a misdiagnosis in his case. Again, in the run up the referendum in 2018, we were told it was scaremongering to suggest misdiagnoses would occur in the detection of life-limiting conditions resulting in the deaths of unborn babies. A few weeks ago, we learned about the High Court settlement after baby Christopher was aborted following a misdiagnosis, leaving his parents bereft and devastated. This tragic case raises many questions. How many other babies were aborted in similar circumstances under the new law? Now that it is known that the child was perfectly health, he is given a name. What about those whose bodies or health were not perfect? Do they not deserve a name too?
The possibility of a tragedy like this was raised at the Citizens Assembly before the referendum as the case was made that allowing abortions up to full term for children with a fatal foetal abnormality did not allow sufficient room for misdiagnosis and was too broad a term on which to allow an abortion to proceed. Little wonder that baby Christopher’s parents are calling for an independent enquiry to establish the full facts of what happened, how many other times this tragedy has happened and for the implementation of standards to prevent it from ever happening again (See Breda O’Brien, ‘Independent review Crucial in Baby Christopher Case’, the Irish Times, 26th June 2021).
Thankfully, not everything is dark and gloomy for the light of conscience can never be extinguished. As more questions are being asked about the implications of the repeal of the eighth Amendment, it seems clear that the moral problems associated with the legalisation of abortion in this country simply refuse to go away. As more comes to light about how the new law is operating, the demand for answers will grow and changes will start to happen. The fast-track way abortions are taking place without a single mention of positive alternatives is undoubtedly contributing to the massive increases over the past two years. This is why organisations such as ‘Gianna Care’ are so inspirational because they provide support and positive alternatives to people involved in crisis pregnancies. They do not just ‘talk the talk’ but ‘walk the walk’ with people in challenging circumstances, providing friendly and practical support and opening up hope that abortion is not the only way forward.
These groups, along with Pro-Life people across the country will be needed to reverse the situation we find ourselves today, where chilling abortion statistics mask an unfolding tragedy and a terrible loss of life.