Irish Catholic Journalist Michael Kelly Sheds Light on Ireland's Abortion Debate
Some 25,000 people gathered in Dublin's Merrion square on Saturday to rally for the protection of the unborn in Ireland, making an appeal to the government: Keep your promise!
Unite for Life was organized by the Pro Life Campaign, Youth Defense, the Life Institute, and Family and Life, in response to a recent statement by the government promising to implement legislation that would permit abortions in cases where the mother is at risk of suicide.
Speaking with ZENIT, Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic, remarked how the objective of the event was not about religion, but about human rights. [The organizers] were very strong in underlining the fact that people of all religions, and no religion, have very often shared a common value around the protection of unborn life.
Noting that it was striking from the rally the number of young people there, and striking the good atmosphere that was there, Kelly said that the pro-life movement is often mischaracterized as comprised of old and very religious people.
In many ways, the atmosphere was carnival like: there was popular music, and many young people handing out posters, and signs, and candles. But here, also, was a sense of determination.
Kelly said many of those participating in the vigil carried signs that read: Fine Gael, keep your promise! referring to a promise made by politician Enda Kenny, leader of the Fine Gael political party, who had promised before the last general election not to introduce abortion legislation.
He recounted how, at one point in the evening, the organizers called Kenny's cell phone over the loud speaker. It went to his voicemail, and they left a voicemail message for him with 25,000 people chanting in the background: 'Keep your promise!'
The rally was good humored, but there certainly was a strong sense of determination, he said.
Catholics speaking out
Around 2,000 people attended a prayer service and hour of Eucharistic Adoration before participating in the vigil, which was presided over by Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.
With regard to the role of the Catholic hierarchy in the pro-life movement, Kelly explained that new coadjutor archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, like many of the bishops, has been very strong and has taken a very strong stance. … He's laid down a very clear marker that it is the responsibility and the duty and the right of the Church to speak out on this issue.
The Church is showing strong leadership in this which hasn't been easy for them in many ways because they have lost a lot of moral credibility around the issue of abuse in Ireland. But they are taking a very strong leadership role on this one.
Kelly noted that it is difficult in Ireland to accurately assess public opinion with regard to abortion due to misleading information.
There is a lot of confusion in Ireland around the issue of abortion, around the issue of life-saving treatment for a mother. Sometimes the impression is given that women are dying regularly in Irish hospitals because they're dying of abortions.
Present at the rally were obstetricians who affirmed, as physicians, that they are fully free to act as they feel necessary to intervene to save the life of the mother while trying to save the life of the unborn child as well.
Another point of misunderstanding pertains to terminology, and the difference between a deliberate abortion, and a medical procedure – performed to save the life of the mother – which indirectly results in the death of an unborn child.
The manner in which opinion polls are worded, Kelly explained, can lead to further confusion. If you ask a question in opinion polls: 'Do you think abortion should be allowed to save the life of the mother?' quite often you get a high percentage of people saying yes, because they feel that is sometimes necessary. If you ask the question: 'Do you believe that abortion should remain illegal while women in pregnancy receive all necessary medical life-saving treatment?' you get very high number of people answering yes to that as well.'
There is a lot of confusion around the terms at the moment. That is why the pro-life advocacy groups in Ireland are working very hard at the moment to try and educate people about the terms, and about current medical practice.
History of abortion in Ireland
Ireland remains one of the few countries in the world where abortion is illegal, having outlawed the practice in the 19th century, through the passing of the 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act. In 1983, a constitutional amendment was passed by a large majority vote, establishing that the unborn child and mother had an equal right to life.
The question of the unborn child's legally-protected right to life was raised again in 1992 when a young rape victim, claiming she was suffering from suicidal tendencies as a result of having become pregnant by her aggressor, took her case to the Supreme Court with the claim that she had the right to an abortion. The Supreme Court declared that abortion was permitted by the constitution when it is used as a medical treatment for pregnant woman suffering from suicidal ideation.
Kelly explained that the Supreme Court's decision was very controversial at the time, because they did not hear any psychiatric evidence that, for example, an abortion would be an effective treatment of suicidal ideation. They heard no such evidence.
The abortion debate was ignited again last October when a young Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, was admitted into hospital to be treated for a miscarriage, where she died several days later from an infection. Although the case is still under investigation, pro-abortion advocates claim that Ireland's anti-abortion laws kept her from receiving treatment that would have saved her life.
Kelly said that in spite of claims that anti-abortion laws place women in danger, doctors point out – and this is supported by the World Health Organization and UNISEF – that Ireland is one of the safest countries in the world to have a baby and be pregnant. Under the current situation, doctors do regularly intervene to assure that the mother has all necessary medical treatment, even if that sometimes results in the unintentional death of the child.
Sometimes the false impression has been given internationally that Irish doctors value the life of the unborn child above the life of the mother, and that is clearly not the case.
In December, the government promised that it would implement what it has described as limited abortion, with Kenny proposing that the legislation would allow for abortion in the risk of suicide.
A lot of people are saying that will open the floodgates, Kelly said. That will create a situation, because how do you judge whether someone is suicidal ideation? How do you judge the severity of that? That's caused a lot of political tension within [Kenny's] own political party.