07Jan Have we the right to insist no woman can ever have an abortion in Ireland?

I was quite happy  not to think about how I felt about the deliberate ending of pregnancies, until the issue burst into the communal conscience again with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar (may she rest in peace and may her loved ones find consolation).
For the last two months I have found myself agonising over my own stance, because I just can’t seem able to come to any conclusions. I am doubly troubled, in the sense that I’m not clear about my OWN feelings about the wilful ending of pregnancy and, even if I were sure of my own feelings, I’m not sure if I think MY feelings should determine the way I’d like to see our law-makers proceed.
I have read and listened to the people who argue on both sides of the question – on the one side, those who are clear in their views that the ending of the life of the unborn is always wrong, always murder and, way at the other end of the spectrum, those who believe each woman has the absolute right to decide for herself what should happen to, and in, her body.
I have also heard and read the more nuanced stances of those who recognise that there are times when the life of the mother has to be saved even if, by doing so, the unborn baby has to lose its chance at life. I’m aware of the view that would see that giving a morning-after pill to a girl/woman who has been raped is a right and morally justifiable and thing to do.
I am clear in my mind as to how I feel about terminating the pregnancy of a woman whose life is in danger – I feel her life must take precedence over the life of the unborn in that case.
But where do I stand on the question of the deliberate terminating of an unwanted pregnancy, the deliberate denying of a potential life? Very uncomfortable and very uneasy because I always try to get into the shoes of so many different kinds of people!
So, perhaps the best place to start is with my own experience. I’m a mother of two – a woman who was blessed to be in a stable relationship with the father of my (prospective) children, who has always had a wonderful support system of family and friends around me and a nicely comfortable, secure profession. I LOVED becoming a mother – both of my boys were wanted and desired and loved before they were even conceived, if that’s possible!
I loved my babies when they were in the womb – I cherished them and talked to them and felt myself wrapping them in my love and preparing to dedicate myself to making their formative years the best I could make them. So, basically, I loved the nine months that my babies spent in my womb.
But this isn’t The Waltons!  Pregnancy was a long and difficult time in ways – the nausea at the start, the feelings of being like a beached whale as time went on, the utter discomfort and aches and pains that even the most straight-forward of pregnancies brings along with it and ultimately the utter agony of childbirth itself, were all part of the package.
Because I already wanted and loved my babies, they were a very small price to pay and I have never, for even a nanosecond, had even the slightest regret or wish that things were different. I am very much aware of how blessed I am to have two incredibly fantastic sons (and I’m still with their wonderful father and have my great family and friends around me too!). I thank God daily.
But what of those who are not so blessed in the circumstances in which they become pregnant?  What about the woman who is raped; the stressed out mother  who’s already at her wit’s end looking after young children, who’s partner has left and who has no support system to fall back on? What about the victim of incest? What about the teenager who’s terrified about what’s happening to her body? And there are so many more “What abouts”!
Is it truly right and morally justified to demand that such women carry a burden (literally!) that they find unbearable? If every moment of every day is spent in horror and anguish that the ‘growth’ inside them is something they cannot bear and that will have consequences for the rest of their lives, have I the right to say “You must do so”? And who knows what effect the feelings of such a woman might have on her unborn? If feelings transmit themselves into the womb (and I felt MY feelings of love did transmit themselves to my as yet unborn babies), then what kind of a start is it to come into the world unwanted, unloved and a cause of anguish?
Before somebody rushes to tell me that there are supports in place for women who find themselves with unwanted pregnancies, I acknowledge totally that such supports exist and thank God they do. I have no doubt that they have helped many a woman through such a difficult time and that such women are deeply grateful that they went through with their pregnancies and, no doubt, came to love their babies. I imagine that only in very rare instances do mothers reject their babies once they’re born.
But I don’t think we can assume that such wonderful organisations meet the needs of every woman who finds herself pregnant. For the woman who has a deep belief that, from the moment of conception, the developing embryo is a real new life, then such organisations are undoubtedly a Godsend (literally).
But what about the women who, in all conscience, don’t have the belief that life begins at the moment of conception, who, in their heart of hearts, believe that what is growing inside them is a collection of cells until they begin to develop into different constituents of human organs? (and at what stage does that happen? The medical profession can’t seem to agree, so who do we believe?)
Do I have the right to say to such women “Your view is wrong”? I imagine such women can see, with a totally clear conscience, that having an abortion is totally justifiable and morally right in certain circumstances. They won’t suffer any long-term negative effects.
In a sense, I envy those of you who are absolutely certain that you have the truth – on either side of the argument. You don’t have to face these difficult questions, you don’t find yourselves getting so far along one particular path only to come up against another fork in the road where you have to choose again. And yes, I DO pray for guidance. But my answers so far are of the “Keep looking” variety!
What I’m feeling quite strongly right now is that, while I don’t think I could ever have an abortion myself (it’s irrelevant at this stage of life anyway!) I haven’t the right to insist that the society I live in demands that no woman should have access to abortion within its boundaries even if her conscience is quite clear about the morality of so doing.
It scares me to put that down on paper, because straight after it comes the notion that it’s opening the door to a casual attitude to abortion – and I don’t want to see Ireland developing along those lines.
So we need to start much further back – we need to start by enabling our children to grow into maturity with a healthy, responsible attitude towards their bodies and their sexuality so that unwanted pregnancies don’t occur. I know! That will never happen. But we can aim for it and work towards it, rather than spending limitless energy fighting about what to do when it DOES happen.
I want to live in a society in which we respect diversity – in which each is encouraged to develop his/her full potential as a human being and child of God. That includes honouring and accepting those whose informed consciences have lead them along different paths than ours. Christ himself had no trouble accepting diversity, did he?
So thank you all for writing in this forum. I have no doubt that you’ll continue to give me material to think about and pray about and torture myself with for another while!

15 Responses

  1. Teresa Mee

    Jo, thank you for that comprehensive personal reflection on pregnancy and the birthing process from a mother’s perspective, and for your questions on the abortion issue. I trust no one will spoil it by responding anonymously.

    My only comment at this point is on the responsible approach of Enda Kenny’s government in embarking on a broad consultation process before moving ahead to the next stage. Unfortunately there are probably no women or mothers among the heads of Religious Bodies, and I don’t have any confidence in the opinion of the men who have shown such contempt for human life after birth.
    Hopefully there will be some mothers among the obstetricians being consulted, doubly qualified to make a valuable contribution.

  2. Caroline McCamley

    Have we the right to insist no woman can ever have an abortion in Ireland?

    Yes. The unborn are children. They are human beings. They have a right to life.

    Questioning the humanity of the unborn and questioning their right to life puts us in league with Hitler. Hardly christian??

    “The Jews are definitely a race, but they are not human.” said Hitler.

    Have we the right to insist that Hitler should not have killed the Jews because he thought they were not human? Yes.


  3. Con Carroll

    thank you, having a level head of thinking non scare mongering Compassion and understanding not been afraid to raise issues. were some wished we didn’t discuss. is all apart of this discussion.

  4. Peter Byrne

    Ok, firstly…A better question to be asking might be…what right do we have to take human life at its most vulnerable stage?

    Whatever your religious beliefs may be, abortion is an evil that hurts women and children and any civilised society should oppose it. If we don’t want to see a casual attitude to abortion then opposing it is the only option.
    Lord David Steel, the architect of Britain’s liberal abortion laws, has said the Irish Government would be making a mistake if it goes ahead with plans to legislate for termination on the grounds of a threat of suicide. At the time of drafting the Abortion Act in britain He said that he never envisaged so many abortions happening.

    In the US, over 55 million abortions have been carried out since Roe Vs. Wade (over 3000 every day).

    The estimated abortion count worldwide since the early eighties is over One Billion.

    Why is this an issue that people treat with such casualness?

    Why, on a website supposedly representing Catholic priests do we have an article that seems to suggest that it would be ok?

    Also, why are the scientific facts misrepresented when you say the medical profession cannot agree on the moment of the beginning of life?

    I can assure you that any embryology text and any doctor worth his salt will tell you that the moment of conception is the beginning of the new human life.

    I think if abortion is your cause it’s possibly time you guys stopped waving the Catholic flag. This is a simple issue…can you kill a person to facilitate another person…and the answer is no.

    So yes…we as a society absolutely have the right to deny abortion to women because they have no right to kill their children. It’s not about women’s rights it’s about HUMAN rights.

  5. Wendy Murphy

    Thank you – I have long awaited some balance and compassion on this. I have despaired about what I have often read from the US on this topic – but some comments from Ireland are equally upsetting. Talk of ‘baby-killers’ and Hitler seems to be commonplace.
    As you say, you can discuss cases such as incest, rape etc and be reasonably assured of some sympathy at least for the mother.
    I assume, though, that many women, with hopefully their partners, for whatever reason, (and who really is to judge?), make a rational decision in the early stages of pregnancy, abide by it, and get over it – not without soul searching and/or some anguish maybe (the human condition!), but – can we not also acknowledge, for many, undoubtedly profound relief?
    An embryo is not a living breathing baby – untold harm is being caused by the insistence by some that it unequivocally, indisputably always is. There is also often a marked preference by some to champion the unborn over the already living, breathing, decision-making and sometimes suffering, existing human beings. This preference seems particularly perverse and even sinister to me.
    I have known of 2 women who had early abortions. Both made mature decisions for different reasons. For one woman, it was her first pregnancy that she felt she could not continue with – she went on to have a wonderful family of 4 children and is now a grandmother – no regrets. The second had already had 2 children, extremely difficult births and felt she couldn’t continue with the third – again, a lovely family, and no regrets, in fact the opposite – thanks and relief.
    I myself have dearly-cherished teenage grandchildren. My ideal for them, boys and girls, would be, first priority – that fertility and contraception topics would be openly and frankly discussed at home (if possible, not always easy for some),and at school and in medical settings, doctors, clinics etc, frequently, taking every opportunity from an appropriate age – so that it eventually becomes absolutely commonplace that almost no-one needs to resort to abortion. And before the predictable outcry ‘your grandchildren should just say no!’ Come off it, I’m writing about common sense, normal human development and health here, psychological, physiological, spiritual and emotional.
    I do think there is an ongoing debate to be had about the timing and age limits for abortion. We should continue to talk openly and scientifically about this, again avoiding hysterics if possible. I would like to hear more from medical professionals about their views, and the impact on them of the distressing, or even unacceptable situations they may encounter. Decisions about legal limits should take all these views into consideration. It goes without saying that no-one should be forced to take part in procedures they conscientiously object to. I suspect though, that there are many medical professionals in this field who give a very high priority to the health and welfare of the mother over and above all other considerations, as I myself would.
    There will, inevitably, as there always have been, very very difficult and distressing decisions to be made about individual cases. I sincerely hope these will become fewer as time passes, and that we become more understanding, compassionate and skillful in dealing with them.

  6. Raymond McIntyre

    Someone’s personal ”belief” in whether the embyro in their wombs is a ”developing life” is neither here nor there. Science tells us that human life is present from conception and our ”personal beliefs” cannot alter scientific fact. The human right to life is supported by science not by ”belief”. If I have a deeply seated ”personal belief” that all convicted rapists should receive the death sentence does that justify my ”killing ” of a convicted rapist or the legal provision for the death sentence in certain cases? I think not.Let’s stick to the science please.

    The famous French geneticist Jermoe L. LeJeune, while testifying before a Senate Subcommittee, asserted:

    ”To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.”
    You did not come from a zygote….You once were a zygote.
    You did not come from an embryo…You once were an embryo.
    You did not come from a fetus….You once were a fetus.
    You did not come from an adolescent…You once were an adolescent.

  7. Joe O'Leary

    ” Science tells us that human life is present from conception”

    Yet it was an Irish bishop who pointed out to me a long, long time ago that it is not individual human life since it can split into two or two can fuse into one up to 14 days or so after conception.

    Jérôme L. Lejeune is “famous”, as far as I can gather from Google, only for his 1981 statement endlessly recycled by prolifers.

  8. pew view

    While open discussion is always welcome, it is surprising to find such a pro-choice pitch on a Catholic site.
    Some bullet responses to some of the arguments raised:

    Jesus welcomed “ diversity” . How so ? Jesus invited diverse people to follow him. He offered what was described as “ hard teaching “. Check out John 6 for instance and the comments of Jesus on the indissolubility of the marriage contract which also caused great unease among many of his listeners in Matthew. If one does not understand the place of the Cross in Christian life one cannot make any sense of the Church’s teaching on many things especially on issues like those currently being debated in Ireland.

    Your correspondent speaks of hard cases and how she knows women who have had guilt free abortions, as it appears to her. Firstly lack of guilt does not mean there was no wrongdoing. Many people who do things that your correspondent would abhor have no pangs of conscience. Conscience like any of our faculties can atrophy. The other point is that the statistics and the studies do not bear out her argument that abortion does not ordinarily have significant adverse consequences. Check out some studies as recently reported on the Sunday Business Post where the conclusion was that abortion is far more likely to be suicide inducing than life birth. I also ask why is post-abortion counseling such a big part of the abortion industry, in the UK for instance? Why do abortion clinics so jealously guard their monopoly on this type of publicly- funded counseling? A back bench Tory MP called Nadine Norries failed recently to open counseling for post abortion women to independent agencies including those provided by religious denominations. I think the answers to these questions are self-evident.

    Your correspondent argues for exceptions for hard cases focusing on rape and incest. This is the same argument advanced by the likes of Ivana Bacik who is an advocate of abortion on demand. This type of argument has paved the way for the abortion culture we now see in the UK and the US as well as elsewhere. This is not to say that there are not hard cases that deserve great sympathy and understanding. However, if life is sacred and each life has an equal claim on existence and protection then the manner of its conception is not relevant. Again, we come back to the Christian understanding of the Cross. Many people have great burdens to carry that need the support of many others. You cannot solve all your life crises by simply discarding he burden. It is often not possible. The mother who aborts an unwelcome baby in the womb may be the mother who later in life has to care for a child with severe disability or injury. She will certainly have to bear some burdens however they come as that is life. Our hedonist, secularist culture which is so infiltrating the thinking of people of religious affiliation is a culture of quick-fix, ‘pill for every ill’ and a strident focus on rights that overlooks obligations to others and the common good.

    Contrary to what your correspondents argue there is no dispute among scientific people about the beginnings of life. Check out Professor William Reville’s articles on the subject in recent times. Life and all its potential unfolding is present from the moment of conception. That of course if not to say that all scientists agree that life at all its stages deserves the same level of protection.
    With regard to the early stages of life,your correspondent mentions the morning after pill. This is hardly relevant to a discussion on abortion, even though it is a moral question in its own right. Abortion is about the termination of an affirmed pregnancy.

    Your correspondents speak of the “ broad “ expert consultation sought by the Kenny government. To get precise detail on the background and affiliation of the people involved check out the webpage of Ireland Stand Up. You may revise your opinion.

    It is disingenuous of your correspondent to claim that better education in sexuality and relationship will eliminate the unwelcome pregnancies that lead women to abortion. That has not been the experience of other countries where very broad education on such matters has been an integral part of the curriculum in schools and colleges for decades. It is in any case all the hard scenarios such as rape and incest for which she now wishes exceptions to be made, cases that no amount of education can eliminate. These are the cases that open the gates to the progressive legislation we have seen elsewhere. It is interesting that in this instance she makes no reference to the absurd X case ruling that allows the threat of suicide as a basis for abortion. This of course would somewhat weaken the argument for choice in indisputably hard cases. Yet this is the core basis for our government’s framework for legislation. I say core because this is the framework that allows for maximum access to abortion. It is the X case more than any other that will set the parameters for abortion. Anyone with their eyes open must see just as accommodating these parameters will be.

    Finally it is also disingenuous to claim that those with reservations of conscience will be exempt from any involvement with abortions. The fact is that laws once passed have universal application. She should acquaint herself with the recent case in the UK where two Scottish midwives were dismissed because they would not offer ancillary support to colleagues performing abortions. In the US the consciences of millions of taxpayers are violated as public money is given to agencies that provide abortion.

    Your correspondent needs a reality check.

  9. Stephen Edward

    The writer does not appear to be undecided in this matter as she claims. She is clearly making a case for abortion where there are ‘difficult circumstances’ and confirms this when she states that she has only personally known happy guiltless outcomes when a decision to kill a baby was made.

  10. Elizabeth

    I wrote these words in response to another article on this website but they’re relevant here too:I think that Catholics are not trying to save the unborn but are trying to save souls.
    St Augustine thought the soul entered the body when the unborn took on human form. That is not at conception or anywhere near conception.
    I don’t know of any declaration that the soul enters the cells at conception.
    An unborn baby can’t be baptised. An unbaptised soul can’t go to heaven.
    One third of pregnancies end in miscarriage – where do those souls go?
    Since Limbo was abolished(?) where did the waiting souls there go – -where are they now?
    Our Pope could save a lot of worry by declaring that miscarried and aborted babies’ souls go to heaven.
    Does any person of faith really believe that a woman should be forced to give birth against her will – -particularly in the case of rape or incest, but otherwise too. Forced.
    A woman or girl who has an abortion at 10 weeks of a few cells without a soul is deemed to have sinned but the same person hasn’t sinned if she gives a real living conscious baby away.
    I think this attitude has been bred in Ireland by The Catholic Church. Before there was access to abortion women and girls were ‘sent away’ to give birth if the pregnancy wasn’t legitimate. In the 19203, 30s 40s many women killed their newborn babies rather than have the shame of illegitimate birth.
    These are deeply unnatural and inhuman acts but adoption is still seen as a better option than abortion. Adoption is cruel to the mother, abortion is not (unless she is made to feel guilty by the Church)
    The Church used to let a woman die in childbirth if the baby could be saved at her expense because the baby hadn’t had the benefit of baptism so my thoughts are relevant.

  11. pew view

    Elizabeth might consult the Church’s Catechism to get its position on stillborn, aborted and miscarried infants’ and salvation.
    St Augustine would have known nothing of Bioscience and probably would only know a cell as a monk’s place of prayer.
    Adoption is a trauma for a woman and would hardly be recommended even though the current zeitgeist is very easy with it and sees no problems with surrogacy and adoption from poor countries for affluent childless couples in the West.
    To say abortion is less traumatic than adoption or not traumatic at all is to fly in the face of evidence.

  12. Darlene Starrs

    Human beings do manage to create the most “mind-bending” and “confounding” situations. There is a severe drug problem in Vancouver, and to prevent disease transmitted through needles, there is a “needle van”, where drug addicts have access to clean needles. Abortion clinics were established to prevent women from having babies aborted with coat hangers. The list can probably go on and on. Our starting and ending point, as Catholic Christians, in all situations is always to act in the “Integrity of Christ”. Determining what would be the “Integrity of Christ” in this situation, of abortion, needs a lot of consultation by a lot of people!

  13. pew view

    Darlene that is true. We must bring a Christlike mindset to all problems and conundrums. It is a bit of a stretch to say that abortion clinics are only for the reason you say.

  14. JoannaDW

    All I can say is God bless you abundantly. I am an Irish (as well as a French, English, German, and Lithuanian) Catholic myself (although I don’t live in Ireland) and nothing makes me happier than hearing people say what they really think. I believe that even when people are wrong, nothing happens if we can’t talk about it.

    It is my personal conviction that laws against abortion are not practical, do not serve the greater good, and it is not the province of government to regulate those things. If the fetus has “personhood,” and abortion is murder, then what happens if I take a danger drug during pregnancy? Am I guilty of negligent homicide or something? Sorry to ramble, but it meant so much for me to read this. Best of luck to you and yours.

  15. A Religious Pro Choicer – Stephen Spillane | Consider the Tea Cosy

    […] an article on the website for the Association of Catholic Priests. The title caught my eye- “have we the right to insist no woman can ever have an abortion in Ireland?” That is the crux of the argument for […]

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