Dr Marie O’Shea’s recently published report, on the effectiveness of the State’s abortion legislation, called for widespread changes in the provision of abortion services. Recommendations include the end of the three-day waiting period for someone contemplating abortion, the decriminalisation of abortion, easing the restrictions on abortions in cases of fatal-foetal abnormalities and more widespread availability of abortion services throughout the country. (There was not adequate provision of services in some areas).
Marie O’Shea claimed that the proposed changes to the abortion legislation are not “the start of a creep towards a more progressive regime.” She reminded us that the operation of the Health-Care Act which allowed for legalised abortion had to be reviewed after three years. Dr O’Shea added that “the inclusion of this provision reflects good practice in the modern day design and roll-out of health services which are evidence-based, piloted and adapted to ensure they are capable of achieving their objectives and of being implemented before being fully rolled out.”
I appreciate that I have little credibility when sharing some reflections on the provision of abortion services. I will never experience the trauma of an unplanned pregnancy, nor the devastating impact on parents being told that their child in the womb will not survive birth, or the awful violation and degradation experienced by women pregnant as a result of rape or incest. But I would like to raise a few issues as a contribution to the debate on abortion services in our country.
First of all, in relation to the claim that new health services must be reviewed to ensure they are capable of achieving their objectives, surely the views of those availing of the services and how it is has impacted on them should be a priority. There is no evidence of dialogue with women who availed of abortion services. What impact did it have on their mental health? If a new vaccine were to be introduced and piloted, it would be incumbent on the manufacturers and health authorities to ensure its effectiveness and that it had no adverse side-effects. The manufacturer would have to interview a representative cross-section of those who received the vaccine. It would be grossly irresponsible not to do so. I emphasise this, as trained personnel, who provided post-abortion counselling over the years, have told me of the devastating impact on the emotional and spiritual lives of their clients who had opted for abortion when faced with a crisis pregnancy.
Aontú TD, Peadar Tóibín made a similar point in relation to the recommendation to end the three-day waiting period for those deciding to terminate pregnancy. He said: “there is no analysis of the 3,950 women who did not return for the second abortion consultation after the three-day waiting reflection time, no details of the thousands of children who are alive today because of that consultation.” Marie O’Shea’s only concern was that the waiting period might cause some women to become ineligible due to the fact that abortion is available for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The lack of dialogue with women traumatised by abortion and women who reconsidered the decision indicates that the primary hermeneutical lens of the review was solely one of health-care. By that I mean that abortion was viewed primarily as a reproductive health-care issue for women. Of course it is a health care issue, in that it is the body of the women that supports the life of the unborn and their bodily integrity and autonomy must be respected. Pregnancy seriously impacts the life of the mother, etc. In some cases, medical complications do arise. But surely we cannot ignore the moral dimension.
The moral dimension was very much to the fore during the campaign to appeal the Eight Amendment. Politicians went to great lengths to assure us that abortion would be “safe, legal and rare.” Now one in seven pregnancies is terminated by abortion. I would argue that it is reductionistic to claim abortion is solely a health-care issue. Pro-choice lobby groups seem to suggest that it is only mothers who can decide when the baby in the womb can be recognised as a human being.
On the other hand, I think it is unrealistic of pro-life campaigners to expect that abortion legislation be repealed and to legislate again for that the equal right to life of mother and child. The electorate perceived that this wording put women’s lives at risk and believed it to be anti-woman. A new formula of wording will have to be developed. The law is a blunt instrument and it is impossible to legislate for all circumstances. Many on the pro-life side will argue that such a legal compromise will effectively entail cooperation with evil. But I would contend that it is material cooperation (and thus not immoral) as its primary objective is to seriously limit and reduce the number of abortions. There is a proportionate reason to justify this. Pro-life legislation will be rejected out of hand if it is perceived to put women’s lives at risk.
On the other hand, much more could be done to provide support to women in crisis pregnancies. The lack of support leads some women to feel that abortion is the only choice they have in a crisis pregnancy. Dr. O’Shea’s report does not highlight this issue. As the Government prepares to implement the recommendations of the report, politicians should also be proactive in proposing alternatives to abortion, which would both support women and protect babies. As it stands, it is hard to believe that the proposed changes are not “the start of a creep towards a more progressive regime.”