Skip to main content

In the 1980's and 1990's there was a lot of political turmoil in Ireland in response to the economic changes wrought by globalisation and the liberalisation of social mores in response to Ireland's membership of the EU. In what many interpreted as a rearguard action, the Roman Catholic Church and associated pressure groups sought to introduce constitutional "safeguards" to prevent future Irish Governments from legislating for abortion with very counter-productive results (from the perspective of their proponents).

The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution (7 October 1983) sought to introduce a constitutional prohibition of abortion by giving "the unborn" an equal right to life to the mother. However, the Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling called the "X" case (1992), found that the "equal right to life" provision of the 1983 amendment meant that Irish women had the right to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, and included the risk of suicide as a legitimate risk to the life of the mother. In addition, the Supreme Court found that the Government had a duty to legislate to vindicate that right but for 20 years Irish governments have run away from that "hot potato" issue and the almost inevitable confrontation with the Catholic Church that any such legislation would entail.

Anxious to close the suicide "loophole" in the 1983 Amendment, the Government, under pressure from the Catholic bishops, introduced The Twelfth Amendment Bill (1992) to strengthen the constitutional ban on abortion further by stating that an abortion could not be procured to protect the health, rather than the life, of the woman, and specifically excluding the risk to the life of the woman from suicide as a grounds for an abortion. This was put to a referendum in November 1992 and was defeated by a resounding 65-35% margin.

However many anomalies remained. My late wife was forced to resign from her job as the administrator of the local community education centre when she refuse to remove leaflets from the community education information centre which gave advice on where further information on "options" for unwanted pregnancies could be obtained. The spectre of the police preventing pregnant women from obtaining information on abortion services abroad and from traveling to UK to have an abortion eventually resulted in two more amendments to the constitution being passed which further weakened the effect of the 1983 ban.

The Thirteenth Amendment(23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state (to have an abortion in abroad) and the Fourteenth Amendment(23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries. A second attempt to exclude the risk of suicide as a grounds for abortion was defeated in 2002 when the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution was rejected by the electorate.

In December 2011 the European Court of Human Rights (ABC v Ireland) ruled unanimously that Ireland's failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court unanimously found that Ireland’s abortion law violates women’s human rights and that Ireland must make life-saving abortion services available.

Coincidentally with the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar(2012), an "Expert Group" reported on what actions the Government should take to legislate for the X Case judgement, and now, 20 years after the Supreme Court directed the Government to make legislative provision for abortion, the Government has finally committed to introducing legislation and regulation for abortion in 2013. Cue a histrionic reactionfrom the Catholic Bishops and associated pressure groups.

Rabbitte expresses 'surprise' at bishops' abortion statement

In a strongly worded statement, the church leaders encouraged “all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right”.

The archbishops said “public representatives must consider the profound moral questions that arise” in relation to the decision “by the Government to legislate for abortion”.

Bishop of Kilmore Leo O'Reilly this morning said he was concerned the Government’s plan would pave the way for a “liberal” abortion culture in the State.

"For the very first time in Ireland it would inevitably lead to the most liberal kind of abortion," he told RTÉ Morning Ireland. "This would be a radical change in the culture of life that we have had here in this country - and let's not make any mistake about it - it would be an irrevocable change, there would not be any going back."

The legislation would be the first step on the way "to a culture of death," Bishop O'Reilly said.

It looks like there is going to be another bitter battle to get any kind of provision for abortion in limited circumstances provided for in Irish law, which means that Irish doctors will continue to act in something of a legal limbo in those circumstances where the mother's health or life may be put at greater risk by the continuance of her pregnancy. Without wishing to prejudge the outcome of three inquiries into the Savita Halappanavar case, it seems at least likely that that legal uncertainty contributed to her death.

Personally I have a lot of tolerance for people of good faith having genuinely different views on the morality of abortion in various circumstances, but no tolerance at all for people trying to impose their moral or theological views on others by force of law. Consequently I have drafted the following - somewhat intemperate - Letter to the Editor for publication in Irish newspapers. I would welcome your advice on whether I should amend it or submit it as drafted.

No one seeks to deny the Catholic Bishop's right, as private citizens, to involve themselves in the debate on abortion. Furthermore, everyone would expect them to exhort their faithful to abide by Catholic teaching, and to impose any internal disciplinary processes they think appropriate for those Catholics who fail to abide by their teaching.  However when they seek to enforce Catholic theology by force of secular law on all including non-Catholics I have a very big problem indeed. I never voted for them or submitted to their authority and I would urge everyone to resist such theocratic imperialism up to and including civil disobedience towards any such laws they successfully manage to impose.

It matters not a wit that many non-Catholic also take a dim view of abortion. They are also free to abide by and to exhort others to abide by their principles. The issue is the proper scope of secular law,  and the intrusion of such law on the human rights of women whose health and life is imperilled by their pregnancy. The "unborn", particularly those in the first trimester, are not recognised as persons in either state or church law, and this is for good reason: They are entirely dependent for their lives on their mother. It is for the mother, and the mother alone, to decide what risks she is prepared to take in order to bring her pregnancy to term. No one has the right to impose a pregnancy on her against her will. The gift of life is just that, a gift, to be accepted or refused, not a sentence to be imposed.

It is utterly repugnant for the Catholic Bishops to seek to label all those who disagree with them as purveyors of "a culture of death" -  just as it is insulting, for the "pro-life" movement, to portray themselves as more "pro-life" than anyone else. The truth is that they are religious fanatics intent on imposing their theology on others by force of secular law  when they cannot do so by force of persuasion or evangelisation. The Irish state is not, and should not be, an instrument for enforcing Catholic or (or indeed fundamentalist protestant) theology.  It is a state which depends on the willing consent of the vast majority of its citizens to the laws which it enacts. We do not need another civil war on moral issues with all the strife and discord that that entails before the basic human rights of mothers are recognised.

The Bishops, too, rely on the state to enforce their right to practice their religion freely within the state. For them to interfere in the basic human rights of a pregnant women is tantamount to my campaigning to make Catholic teaching and practice illegal within the state. I expect the Catholic Bishops to have as much respect for the freedom of pregnant women to make the best choices regarding their pregnancy as I have for their right to practice their religion and to advise their faithful within the state. My respect for their right to practice their religion will decline in direct proportion to their lack of respect for the rights of pregnant women to follow their own conscience.

Has it really come to the point where people of principle and regard for human rights must oppose the very continued existence of the Catholic Church in Ireland?

Originally posted to Frank Schnittger on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 12:13 PM PST.

Also republished by Abortion, Pro Choice, Shamrock American Kossacks, and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Send it as is!! (13+ / 0-)

    In fact, it's alot more polite than I would have phrased it.  :)

  •  It sounds great (15+ / 0-)

    This is an excellent letter that is well-argued and laid out (says the college professor grading end of term papers).  I think it is extremely respectful but firm - exactly the right tone.  Well done.

  •  It is very simple. Ireland can either get in (16+ / 0-)

    line with the EU and issue legislation in keeping with the EU standard or they can leave the EU. This issue should have been settled with the baby X case. All parties in the Republic have acted cowardly.

    One of the demands of the RC church is to make the vote a free vote where members are free to vote their conscience instead of the party line. Enda Kenny has indicated that this will not happen and should stick to his guns. Ireland is very different than the last referendum and the church has lost a lot of influence.

    How dare a group of bishops who conspired to protect pedophile priests and endanger children to protect the institutional reputation of the church lecture anyone on morality. They should don sack cloth and ash and spend a year sleeping barefoot on St Patrick mountain in penance. And resign their positions immediately.

  •  Mmm ... a couple of suggestions: in the second (12+ / 0-)

    paragraph, it's "whit" - "a small amount" - not "wit". And you have secular law intruding on human rights ... I'd have secular law "conflict" with human rights. Or talk about whether religious law should be allowed to control secular law where religious law denies the human rights of the larger community ...

  •  A lot of experience (5+ / 0-)

    I have a good record of getting letters to the editor printed in newspapers.  This is a good one but too long.

    The last two paragraphs do nothing to further your argument.  Just cut them out.  Nothing will be lost.  Your case is made and made well long before you get to those last two paragraphs.

  •  I would edit this bit: (7+ / 0-)
    It is a state which depends on the willing consent of the vast majority of its citizens to the laws which it enacts. We do not need another civil war on moral issues with all the strife and discord that that entails before the basic human rights of mothers are recognised
    .

    to:

    We do not need another civil war on moral issues with all the strife and discord that that entails before the basic human rights of women are recognised.
    You need to clean up a couple of other sentences, read it out loud, you'll catch them right away.

    I love the Republic, I hope to one day have a small place out in the West where I can spend a few months of every year. Time and again though, I am reminded that in so many ways that much of Ireland's culture and society is still a couple of generations away from reaching cultural norms I experience here. The first time I encountered the original Irish Constitution, while reading a biography of de Valera I was stunned.

    Here's hoping that people look beyond the Church's disinformation campaign and push for laws and regulations that allow women to have an abortion without traveling to another country, or die in a hospital because no doctor will perform the procedure that would save her life.

    Think you've written a good piece, but it probably will be shortened, if published at all. Good luck, and thank you for speaking up and supporting the rights of women.

    "We have two parties in this country right now. One party is a center-right party that believes that it is unseemly to let old people die in the streets. And the other party is insane." Charles P Pierce

    by NMRed on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 07:04:37 PM PST

    •  I would agree... (8+ / 0-)

      ... with changing "mothers" to "women."  

      A woman is a woman before she's a mother, and some women do not wish to be mothers at the time they seek an abortion.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Then, there was the case of my maternal grandmother - mother of five living children, ages 15 down to two - my mother was 13.  Sixth pregnancy, she developed pre-eclampsia which killed the fetus at six months.  On the back of her death certificate the doctor has written that the fetus died in March.  He prescribed bed rest and waited for her body to expel the dead fetus naturally.  It never happened.  The end of May she went into labor at term, rushed to the hospital, emergency surgery was done, but it was too late to save her.  She died of blood loss, parturition effort and toxemia of pregnancy [old term for pre-eclampsia].  One of my aunts told me she used to sit by my grandmother's bedside and hold her hand while my gram cried and cried and cried because she knew her baby was dead and she was in physical pain from the effects of her body being poisoned.  The doc even made a death certificate for the fetus: baby boy, of six months gestation but carried to term.

      One of Gram's sisters was often heard at family get-togethers loudly saying that her sister's death was unnecessary and that if she had been a cow or a horse she would have been treated more humanely.  [True.  A vet would have removed a dead fetus and saved the farm animal.]

      Religions and/or governments who make laws based on religious doctrine interfering in the lives of pregnant women are the bane of many women's existences by trying to punish women for either rape or willing sex, and the cause of the deaths of many more women because of antiquated laws.

      IMHO, an organization of theoretically celibate men have NO right to dictate to a woman what she may or may not do or decide regarding any pregnancy she has.  Period.  All laws regarding abortion should be removed from all law books.  It's a medical matter.  It's no one's business what a woman decides!  Sometimes an abortion is medically necessary to save the life of the mother (and I'm pretty sure when a fetus is already dead it can't be considered a true abortion anyway), and only antiquated laws brought about their deaths.  Going backward to standards from the Dark Ages denies the autonomy of women who gained their rights because women in past and present generations died under old laws.

      Religious "leaders":  Keep your noses out of women's vaginas and uteruses!!!  You have NO business dictating morality or medical advice, given your history of sexually abusing children (both boys and girls).  STFU!

      Sorry.  Obviously, this is a hot button issue for me because of what happened to my maternal grandmother; I heard about her death a minimum of once a month my entire life until my own mother died; Mom never got over her mother's death, and then died the day after the anniversary of her mother's death.  My paternal grandmother was a midwife, and she had the largest funeral ever held in that little community church because she'd attended at the births of so many of the people there; people who were there told me there was standing room only.

      I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

      by NonnyO on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 12:11:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is graceful, powerful, irrefutable... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Schnittger, radarlady

    Send it as it is!

    I particulary liked this comparison, which I hadn't heard before:

    "For them to interfere in the basic human rights of a pregnant women is tantamount to my campaigning to make Catholic teaching and practice illegal within the state."

  •  What bullshit on the part of the catholic church. (11+ / 0-)

    "In a strongly worded statement, the church leaders encouraged “all to pray that our public representatives will be given the wisdom and courage to do what is right”. [...] The legislation would be the first step on the way "to a culture of death," Bishop O'Reilly said."

    Your f*cking church MURDERED a young woman whose fetus had no chance at life by refusing to allow laws to allow her to abort that child. You have zero integrity, zero legitimacy, and zero say in what's happening, you pompous, misogynistic ASSHOLES.

    "Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism." - Hubert Humphrey

    by Killer of Sacred Cows on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 07:25:57 PM PST

  •  Well, considering they apparently were unwilling (5+ / 0-)

    to even give her an epidural (which can be kept in for days if necessary) or other strong pain relief medication I would go with the fact that they are just sadistic fucks.

    You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

    by Throw The Bums Out on Wed Dec 19, 2012 at 08:49:12 PM PST

  •  I wouldn't change a thing (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Schnittger, Ian H

    Well balanced and not intemperate at all.

    But will they publish the entirety with that word count?

    Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you're always afraid. You step out of line, the man come and take you away. - S. Stills

    by ask on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 06:45:55 AM PST

  •  My only dispute (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Frank Schnittger, bontemps2012

    is with these statements:

    The "unborn", particularly those in the first trimester, are not recognised as persons in either state or church law, and this is for good reason: They are entirely dependent for their lives on their mother. It is for the mother, and the mother alone, to decide what risks she is prepared to take in order to bring her pregnancy to term.
    The first line seems to equate state and church law, as if to say that if one of them recognizes a fetus as a person, that would be sufficient. Clearly you agree that even if church law recognizes the fetus as a person at conception, that would not be sufficient to compel the state to so recognize. I would omit the reference to church law in that sentence and just refer to state law.

    The second sentence only refers to "risk", which I take to mean the life and health of the pregnant woman. But this is too narrow, for there are other reasons to consider abortion.  even the U.S. Supreme Court has not gone so far as to allow a state to limit first trimester abortions to reasons of the woman's health and safety. I think it would be better to state that "it is for the woman, in consultation with her doctor, to decide whether to consider abortion or to carry the pregnancy to term."

    Just my two cents.

  •   Open Letter to Archbishop Diarmuid Martin: (0+ / 0-)

    The Gift of Life

    Dear Archbishop,

    No one seeks to deny you your right, as a private citizen, to involve yourself in the debate on abortion. Furthermore, everyone would expect you to exhort your faithful to abide by Catholic teaching, and to impose any internal disciplinary processes you think appropriate for those Catholics who fail to abide by your teaching. However when you seek to enforce Catholic theology by force of secular law on all, including non-Catholics, I have a very big problem indeed. I never voted for you or submitted to your authority and I would urge everyone to resist such theocratic imperialism up to and including civil disobedience towards any such laws you successfully manage to impose.

    It matters not a whit that some non-Catholics also take a dim view of abortion: They are also free to abide by and to exhort others to abide by their principles, although the Anglican Communion (Church of Ireland) has long recognised the right of women to have an abortion where their lives are at risk. The issue is the proper scope of secular law, and the intrusion of such law on the human rights of women whose life is imperilled by their pregnancy. The "unborn", particularly those in the first 24 weeks of gestation, are not recognised as persons in either state or church law, and this is for good reason: They are entirely dependent for their lives on their mother. It is for the mother, and the mother alone, to decide what risks she is prepared to take in order to bring her pregnancy to term. No one has the right to impose a pregnancy on her against her will. In cases of rape, the forced imposition of continued pregnancy makes you complicit in that rape.

    The gift of life is just that, a gift, to be accepted or refused with free will and good grace, not an act to be criminalised, or a sentence to be imposed and endured.

    It is utterly repugnant for the Catholic Bishops to seek to label all those who disagree with them as purveyors of "a culture of death" - just as it is insulting, for the "pro-life" movement, to portray themselves as more "pro-life" than anyone else. The truth is that they are intent on imposing their theology on others by force of secular law when they cannot do so by force of internal discipline, persuasion or evangelisation. The Irish state is not, and should not be, an instrument for enforcing Catholic (or indeed protestant) theology. It is a state which depends on the willing consent of the vast majority of its citizens to the laws which it enacts, and citizens are free, as citizens if not as adherents, to dissent from the teaching of their religious superiors.

    We do not need another civil war on moral issues with all the strife and discord that that entails before the basic human rights of women are recognised. The Supreme Court, in a landmark ruling called the "X" case (1992), found that the "equal right to life" provision of the 1983 amendment meant that Irish women had the right to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk because of pregnancy, and included the risk of suicide as a legitimate risk to the life of the mother.

    The Irish people have now voted in four referendums to underscore that right: The Twelfth Amendment Bill (1992) intended to restrict the availability of abortion by stating that an abortion could not be procured to protect the health, rather than the life, of the woman, and specifically excluding the risk to the life of the woman from suicide as a grounds for an abortion was defeated by a resounding 65-35% margin.

    However other anomalies remained. My late wife was forced to resign from her job as the administrator of the local VEC Community Education Centre when she refuse to remove leaflets from the community education information centre which gave advice on where further information on "options" for crisis pregnancies could be obtained. The spectre of the Gardai preventing pregnant women from obtaining information on abortion services abroad and from travelling to UK to have an abortion eventually resulted in two more amendments to the constitution being passed which strengthened the rights of women to access to information and abortion services.

    The Thirteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit freedom of travel in and out of the state (to have an abortion in abroad) and the Fourteenth Amendment (23 December 1992) specified that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries. What is the moral difference between a woman having an abortion in the UK or in Ireland? A second attempt to exclude the risk of suicide as a grounds for abortion was defeated in 2002 when the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution was also rejected by the electorate.

    And yet, for 20 years, under pressure from yourself and your colleagues, the Government has done nothing to vindicate these rights or to safeguard health care workers caught up in unenviable life and death situations in a legal vacuum created by the failure to legislate as the people and the Supreme Court decided. In December 2011 the European Court of Human Rights (ABC v Ireland) also ruled unanimously that Ireland's failure to implement the existing constitutional right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman's life is at risk violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and so finally, now, out of shame and embarrassment, the Government has been forced to act.

    As an Archbishop, you will never have to face the risks of a crisis pregnancy, but you too rely on the state to enforce your right to practice your religion freely within the state. For you to interfere in the basic human rights of a pregnant women as decided by the people and the Courts is tantamount to my campaigning to make Catholic teaching and practice illegal within the state. How righteously outraged would you be then? In past centuries Catholicism was persecuted in Ireland. Must you now persecute those do not recognise your authority or obey your teaching? Has it really come to the point where people of principle and regard for human rights must oppose the very continued existence of the Catholic Church in Ireland in order to preserve their most basic freedom and human rights?

    Kind regards...

  •  The Irish are too brilliant (0+ / 0-)

    not to realize the Catholic Church is an Ur Corporation, whose chief function is to keep the pews and collection plates filled.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site