Ireland may not remain a tiny green speck forever

The following was published in The Catholic Herald, 12/12/09

Ireland may not remain a tiny green speck forever
British pro-lifers must rush to the aid of their embattled Irish counterparts, says Mary O'Regan 12 December 2008

You may be familiar with a map of Europe coloured red, green and yellow. Most of the map is awash with red: the countries with liberal abortion laws. Poland is yellow, its laws allowing for exceptions. But out in the Atlantic, pro-life Ireland is coloured green. The visual effect is astonishing: how did it come about?

In 1967 it was assumed inevitable that Northern Ireland would implement the Abortion Act. Not only does it not apply there today, but "antediluvian" Victorian legislation - the Offences Against the Person Act - is still in place in Ireland, criminalising all social abortion. A doctor performing abortions in England or France is just another doctor; in Ireland he risks imprisonment.

Abortion is allowed in Northern Ireland only if the pregnancy carries a serious threat to the mother's life. But one key fact is often overlooked: the mother seeking this abortion must be a Northern Irish citizen. Yet every other major aspect of the British healthcare system and the Department of Health guidelines are followed. Hence the continuous and often brash attempts by pro-abortion lobby groups to coerce Northern Ireland into readily available abortion. Northern Ireland gives hope to the British pro-life taxpayer who knows that their taxes do not fund abortion in this one corner of the United Kingdom.

But what if the Republic of Ireland were to legalise surgical, social abortion? This would reduce Northern Ireland to a tiny speck of green on the map. Northern Irish women would be in a position to travel over the border and have an abortion while still on the island of Ireland. Will this become possible?

Two women from the Republic and one from Lithuania are currently claiming that their human rights are dishonoured through the "deficiencies" in Irish abortion law. They have applied to argue their case before the European Court of Human Rights, invoking the Charter of Human Rights. The Charter promises to protect the rights of everyone, while excluding mere mention of the unborn. The European Court of Human Rights has, in fact, refused to acknowledge a right to life of the unborn child.

Many Irish legal commentators believe the women, named A, B, and C, have "excellent" chances of victory. What may delay their case is that the European Court of Human Rights might consider that the women have not exhausted the domestic legal system, ie their case has not gone to trial in the Irish courts.

What if it is presented first to the Irish courts? The Irish court may chose to modify the Offences Against the Person Act, the wording of which would not be out of keeping with the literature of Dickens. You can see why "progressive" pro-abortion campaigners turn purple with rage on hearing the words "intent to procure... miscarriage".

Moreover, the Republic of Ireland's 1937 constitution offers full protection to the unborn from the moment of conception. What is certainly in women A, B and C's legal advantage is that since the early Nineties the constitution has been undermined by "difficult cases".

The 1992 "X" case was the most influential. It involved a 14-year-old girl, a rape victim who was granted permission to have an abortion in Britain. There was no physical risk to the mother's life. Three out of five judges in the Irish supreme court granted Miss "X" the right to travel on the grounds that she was suicidal. There was no provision in the constitution for travelling for an abortion, evincing the judgment as a breach of the constitution.

Patricia Casey, professor of psychiatry at the University of Dublin, concluded in 1992 that pregnancy reduces the risk of suicide in women by a factor of six. In essence, expectant mothers are six times less likely to take their own lives. This medical evidence was ignored. Noted legal counsel in Ireland are of the opinion that the A, B and C case may carve "exception" status in Ireland's pro-life laws, in the wake of the "X" case.

But if they are not successful in the Irish courts they will have recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. Three very hard cases will then be presented to the European Court.

One woman took the morning-after pill but became pregnant nonetheless. She was informed by two doctors that the pill had given rise to the risk of an ectopic pregnancy; she had an abortion in Britain. Another woman had cancer in remission and was worried about the consequences of a pregnancy. The third woman, whose children were placed in care at the time she became pregnant, felt a fifth child would damage her chance of reunification with her born children. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) is backing the case as part of its campaign to pioneer social abortion services in Ireland. The IFPA has said the case is "very strong". We should also want to bear in mind that in 2007 the European Court of Human Rights instructed Poland to guarantee access to legal abortions.

The court's rulings are not binding, yet if they are contrary to the laws of the nation they do undermine the country's legal authority. Should the Republic of Ireland be successfully directed to enforce pro-abortion laws Northern Ireland may become very much the bullied child. It will be that speck of green in northern Europe. The UN Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has decried the so-called "punitive provisions" for women seeking abortion in Northern Ireland. CEDAW has harassed more than 60 nations about their abortion legislation. Simultaneously, the Alliance for Choice campaigns to extend the 1967 Act.

Ireland's green map colour also signifies naïveté; abortion has remained illegal right through the sexual revolution and during many attacks on the pro-life laws. What can citizens of neighbouring countries do? A continuous flow of pro-life support from Britain is needed: from letters, e-mails, even to phone calls to the Irish media and the political establishment, calling on them to uphold the tenets of the Irish constitution. This could entail funding good pro-life institutions. The hazards of legalised abortion must be made known, especially by the people who now live with its consequences every day.


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