Weekly Roundup: TDs in Disagreement, Fatal Foetal Abnormalities and the Sad Loss of an Abortion Rights Campaigner

Welcome to another ARC Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad.

Last week, we brought you a summary of the Oireachtas hearings on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 and, since then, a report (available from the Oireachtas website) has been prepared and submitted to the Joint Committee in order to assist the Government in drafting the proposed legislation.

Divisive politics

Last Friday, Micheál Martin, TD, for the first time stated publicly his support for the bill. “In my view [the bill] is fair, is drafted in good faith and is consistent with pro-life principles,” he is quoted as saying in the Irish Examiner. The leader of the Fianna Fáil party is said to be planning to hold one-to-one meetings with members to discuss the issue as the party struggles to reach agreement on its position. Of 19 Fianna Fáil TDs, 10 are not in agreement with the proposed bill, while just five in 14 senators support it.

By Monday, Martin was reportedly seeking a way to allow members of his party to abstain from voting on legislation, according to the Irish Independent. But it’s not just Fianna Fáil that can’t agree on a position: Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín has disassociated himself from his party’s views and objects to the legislation, while Labour party chair Colm Keaveney has also said he won’t support the legislation, despite action on X being a long-established party policy.

The case for fatal foetal abnormalities

On Saturday, following a meeting with Termination for Medical Reasons, a group of cross-party TDs and senators made plans to table an amendment to the legislation that would allow for abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities.

“We believe it is possible within the framework of the Constitution to legislate for this because the conditions we are talking about are incompatible with life, and therefore we think it doesn’t conflict with the Constitution,” said Richard Boyd Barrett, TD, the Irish Examiner reports.

However, this possibility was shot down by Health Minister James Reilly, TD, who said that it would be difficult to make such provisions under the Constitution, the Irish Independent reported on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the world, on Thursday, BBC News reported that the Supreme Court of El Salvador had refused to grant an abortion for a seriously ill woman carrying a foetus with a fatal foetal abnormality. The woman in question suffers from lupus and kidney failure, while her 26-week-old foetus has developed anencephaly and will likely not survive outside the womb.

The majority Roman Catholic country protects the right to life from the moment of conception and abortion is prohibited no matter what the circumstances. Despite appeals from the medical committee at the woman’s maternity hospital, the country’s Ministry of Health and rights groups, the Supreme Court rejected the request for an abotion in a four to one vote.

“This court determines that the rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child or vice versa,” the judges said. However, the one judge that voted to allow the abortion said he did so to ensure the medical staff would not be hindered in their efforts to save the woman’s life should her condition deteriorate.

Morena Herrera, director of a campaign group that supported the woman’s case for an abortion, said they are seeking a way to take her out of El Salvador to receive the treatment she needs.

Ignoring what happens on our doorstep

Going back to Monday, Fiona Gartland revealed in The Irish Times that the number of abortion pills being seized by Irish Customs has dropped by more than half in the last four years, according to the Irish Medicines Board and the Revenue Commissioners. This decline has been attributed to easier access to emergency contraception.

Gartland’s article also features a case study of a woman going by the name of Louise who took an abortion pill to terminate a pregnancy in 2010. Louise explained how she was able to go for a post-abortion check-up at a Well Woman Centre in Ireland, saying, “In Ireland they’ll help you for free afterwards, but they don’t want to help you at the time. They were very careful not to ask me how the abortion happened, they don’t want to know.”

Louise added, “I am angry because I have wanted to talk about this publicly for months. The reason I’m not [using my name] is that I’m afraid I’ll be put in jail. I face a life sentence for what I’ve done at the moment. I don’t want to be silenced; that’s what this country has forced me to do.”

Religion interfering with politics

Also in The Irish Times on Monday, Desmond M Clarke, emeritus professor of philosophy at UCC and a member of the Royal Irish Academy, presented the case that, contrary to archbishop Eamon Martin’s view, religion should be left outside the room when debating abortion legislation.

“If male clergy do not share women’s experience or moral insights, they might at least refrain from demanding that women be criminalised, on the basis of uncertain religious convictions that depend on faith. Otherwise, they are using the law to enforce their own religious beliefs on others who do not share their faith,” he wrote.

This was followed on Wednesday by a story in The Irish Times of Labour senator Mary Moran’s criticisms of her local Catholic church for the distribution of leaflets at mass that claimed the proposed legislation was dangerous and unjust. The Louth-based senator stated, “If people are being given the opportunity to stand up and give one side of the argument, I propose that the other side be given equal time.”

Meanwhile, weighing in on the debate from the Catholic side, a Vatican official compared the TDs who say they are falling in line with party policy on the abortion issue to Nazi officials defending themselves at the Nuremberg trials, according to the Irish Independent on Thursday. Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau also suggested that the Taoiseach resign from office, to which Enda Kenny responded, “My job is as head of Government is to deal with our constitution and our laws. I’m a Catholic and I don’t interfere in the messages from the church.”

In the spirit of Dr Henry Morgentaler, the campaign goes on

Finally, on Wednesday, tributes from across the world began flooding in for the late Dr Henry Morgentaler, a prominent abortion rights campaigner who died that day at age 90 at his home in Toronto.

Dr Morgentaler broke the law when he opened the first abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969. “His work changed the legal landscape in Canada, and eventually led to the 1988 landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision that gave women the right to obtain abortion care,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, speaking to CBC News. “Dr. Morgentaler was a legend, a hero, and a national treasure in both our countries, and we will miss him dearly.”

Back in Ireland, the fight for abortion rights in Ireland goes on and, on the same day as Dr Morgentaler’s death, The Irish Times reported that the HSE had begun implementing system changes recommended following the inquest of Savita Halappanavar, including the introduction of an early warning system and educating staff on septic shock.

Tomorrow, Galway Pro-Choice will be holding a demonstration to demand full reproductive choice in Ireland.