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Abortion Law Embroiled in Controversy as Pregnancy “Terminated” on Suicide Grounds

by | Aug 18, 2014


Editor’s note. This update comes from the Irish pro-life organization Family & Life.

Bishop Kevin Doran

Bishop Kevin Doran

The highly controversial “suicide clause” of Ireland’s abortion law (Section 9 of the Act) has been invoked for the first time, according to newspaper reports. The Irish Independent reports that a woman sought an abortion, claiming to be suicidal. Her case was assessed as required by the abortion legislation passed last summer. The psychiatrists on the panel determined her life was at risk as she had suicidal thoughts and that the only way of averting her suicide was by granting her an abortion.

But the consultant obstetrician said the baby was viable and could be delivered. The decision was made to terminate the pregnancy by delivering the baby by caesarean section. The child was born two weeks ago at between 23 and 25 weeks and is understood to be doing as well as can be expected, but remains in a very vulnerable situation with a greatly increased chance of lifelong and serious disability as a result of the extremely early delivery.

This scenario was predicted by Family & Life in its critique of the abortion legislation last year (see e.g. p.52), and both politicians and obstetricians were warned of the problems that would arise. We also criticised the legislation for its failure to provide any genuine clarity to medical practitioners in such an event. The woman in this case wanted an abortion, not simply a “termination” of her pregnancy by early delivery. She initially refused to have the baby delivered and went on hunger strike. The HSE [Health Services in Ireland] went to the High Court to get a care order to prevent her from starving herself. Before a second court date at which the HSE was due to set out its care plan, the woman agreed to have the baby delivered.

In our critique of the legislation last year we expected that a hypothetical obstetrician would refuse to deliver a child at such a severely premature stage in the absence of any medical justification. As Bishop Kevin Doran observed, such an intervention is “really unethical”. Bishop Doran said the baby was delivered in an “untimely fashion when there was no physical reason for doing so”. He told the Irish Independent: “The removal of a child from the womb in that kind of context is really unethical and there is no other way of putting it. It was far better that the child was removed from the womb to be saved than to be aborted, but it is not natural.”

Advocates of abortion are characterising this case as the unjust refusal of an abortion, and are now calling for a referendum to remove Article 40.3.3 from the Constitution. Among those calling for the removal of the right to life of the unborn are Labour ministers and other leading members of the Labour Party.

The subtext of pro-choice activists’ commentary on this case is that the baby’s life is “wrong” and “unjust”. They believe that it is unfair that the baby in question was not aborted, a baby who is currently alive and still in a position of great vulnerability.

The baby is now expected to be taken into care. A court order preventing the identification of the woman is also in place but it is reported that she is not an Irish national.