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Fr Billy Swan

A few weeks ago, our local newspaper featured a story that was flagged on the top of the front page in small print: ‘Termination of Pregnancy Services Begin at Wexford General Hospital’ (Wexford People, 6th December 2023). The main headline on the front page was about a list of tax defaulters. The article about the commencement of abortion in Wexford Hospital didn’t appear until page 12. News items such as immigration, speeding fines and Green Flag awards seemed to take precedence in the pages before. When it came to the article itself, the only voices to comment on the impending provision of abortion at Wexford General Hospital were that of the Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly who welcomed the expansion of what he called ‘termination services’ to include hospitals such as Wexford. The other voice to welcome the development was Dr Aoife Mullally, whose role is described as the ‘HSE Clinical Lead for Termination Services’. Commenting on the expansion of abortion availability to 17 of Ireland’s 19 maternity hospitals, Dr Mullally complemented those ‘who have worked extremely hard to develop these services and provide high-quality, compassionate care for women’.  There were no voices of objection or concern in the article about the significance of this development and little to no commentary afterwards. It all appeared to be normal and without fuss.

Yet the language used to report this development dresses up an ongoing tragedy that we are ignoring as we try to normalise abortion as part of health care. Take for example the term ‘Termination of Pregnancy Services’. This is a euphemism for abortion that is the deliberate taking of an unborn human life. It is one of many euphemisms that are used to assuage the human conscience to convince it that the practice is acceptable and humane. But the reality is somewhat different. A child dies. This is what happens. Calling the deliberate ending of such a life as a ‘Service’ is also an imprecise and misleading description of what actually happens. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘service’ happens when someone provides another with something they need. Yet, in the classical understanding, minted by centuries of wisdom, to serve is always associated with the provision of the good. Acting justly is always about serving the cause of good for others and the avoidance of harm. Therefore, while the word ‘service’ might be an appropriate description for the provision of good concerning the care of the women involved, it certainly isn’t appropriate when it comes to the welfare of the unborn child because the intention is not to serve the good of the child but to destroy it.

In his best selling book ‘12 Rules for Life’, the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson includes as one of the twelve rules for a happy life, the directive ‘Be Precise in your Speech’. He warns that imprecise speech that becomes the norm, leads to the slippery slope of deceit and falsehoods. He writes: ‘Ignored reality transforms itself (reverts back) into the great goddess of chaos…if the gap between pretence and reality goes unmentioned, it will widen, you will fall into it and the consequences will not be good. Ignored reality manifests itself in an abyss of confusion and suffering…Don’t hide baby monsters under the carpet. They will flourish. They will grow large in the dark…Courageous and truthful words will render your reality simple, pristine, well-defined and habitable’. For Peterson, the antidote to this decay is truth and words that serve the whole of reality: ‘When things fall apart, and chaos re-emerges, we can give structure to it and re-establish order through our speech’. He then calls for a ‘courageous clarity of thought’.

Listening to this warning bell from Peterson in the light of the abortion debate, the concern is specifically for women and their unborn children. For the unborn children, attempts in the culture to sanitize the procedure of abortion and to dress it up as just another medical procedure are inevitably pushing up the abortion figures and leading to an alarming loss of life. The tragic rise in the number of Irish babies aborted since 2019 proves this. With the passing of Repeal of the 8th Amendment in 2018, Ireland crossed a dangerous moral Rubicon. Because by addressing the dilemma of Irish women travelling abroad for abortions, the solution we came up with meant that unborn children under 12 weeks gestation and those with birth defects, had no rights in and of themselves. We, the majority of the electorate and the State, took it upon ourselves to confer human rights rather than acknowledge them for what they are. This is dangerous territory for it endorses the destructive philosophy of ‘will to power’ where the dominance of someone’s will or the opinion of a majority trumps everything, even the right to life.

Over eighty years ago, the Belfast born writer C.S. Lewis recognized this problem and the consequences of its infiltration in Western culture. ‘The Abolition of Man’ is the title of a book that warns of reaping the whirlwind that destroys human nature and human beings themselves. He writes: ‘A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery’ . Despite the majority of those who voted for repeal, those who still recognize the dignity and right of unborn children to life must be a voice for the objective value of unborn life to fight tyranny and to retain our freedom of thought and service to truth.

When it comes to the question of care for the women involved, a number of questions and concerns arise. How much care is provided for them beyond carrying out the procedure in our hospitals? Does the State offer alternatives to women and families in distress because of a crisis pregnancy? What care, if any, is provided for the psychological, spiritual and emotional state of the women involved, especially for those who feel the inevitable loss and grief post-abortion? Because of the sanitized language and euphemisms now used to describe abortion, are women being duped into thinking this is normal when deep down they know it isn’t?

On reading the report in the newspaper article, the impression given is that the introduction of abortion is normal with no qualitative difference to other medical procedures that take place in our hospitals with perhaps an overnight stay for other patients. However, a little scrutiny unmasks a different reality, namely that this development for Wexford General Hospital and the other 17 maternity hospitals around the country, is not the addition of another procedure among many already taking place. Rather it represents a seismic change in the ethos of care. For the first time, Irish maternity hospitals include in their medical procedures, steps that take vulnerable life instead of the unconditional protecting and saving of human life as was before. In response to criticism of this point, and as was pointed out many times in the public debate before the 2018 referendum, this does not mean that women’s lives don’t matter. On the contrary, it is the effort to protect the lives of both mothers and their children without the intention to harm or destroy any life. I believe that current attempts to normalise the tragedy of abortion fails women because it asks them to believe that a medical procedure that they will undergo is as normal as any other procedure when science, anthropology and yes, even faith, tells us otherwise.

And when it comes to the question of alternatives to abortion offered to women, the answer is disturbingly clear. Government attempts to normalise abortion is seen with the amount of money the HSE is spending to provide it. Far more was spent to provide abortion than any other supports to women who find themselves in crisis pregnancies. There is little information about financial support available for those struggling to rear another child, possibilities of adoption or counselling services that are made available to women, especially during the three-day wait period. Little wonder then why the three-year review report on Ireland’s abortion laws chaired by Dr Marie O’Shea last year, recommended that the compulsory three-day wait period be scrapped, despite it saving about 1,000 lives per year and despite her admitting that she had not spoken to one mother whose child was among those one thousand lives saved. The message being sent to women is clear – the best solution to a crisis pregnancy is to abort. In fact, our culture is increasingly adopting a mentality that the conception of a child is the least intended consequence of sexual relations. Conception is what we don’t want to happen after sex. This mentality is impacting drastically on our birthrates that are falling and abortion rates that are rising.

To conclude. The news of the commencement of abortion provision in Wexford General Hospital, took place just before Christmas. It came at a time of global outcry for the suffering of children in Gaza. It came at a time of year when we celebrated the birth of the Christ child and listened to the accounts of the conceptions and births of some of the key figures of salvation history whose births turned the course of that same history. The tragic reality of abortion coming close to home should encourage us to rethink the termination of life as a practice and help build a truly compassionate society that cares for all the people involved – mothers, families and of course the unborn children. Dressing up tragedy with the clothes of misleading language does not serve the truth and certainly does not serve the people involved. The clothes used to dress up tragedy cannot cover over the deep tragedy of abortion nor the human lives it profoundly effects.


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