Ireland’s President Higgins, following a meeting of the Council of State on Monday July 29th, has signed the controversial “Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act 2013” into Irish law.
This legislation, which flowed from an Irish Supreme Court judgement in the X case and a subsequent decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the A, B and C case, will permit legal abortion to be carried out for the first time, up to birth, in Ireland. The enactment of the legislation has caused major controversy and is expected to be faced with legal challenges.
A challenge could be mounted on the wording of Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution, which says;
“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.”
The Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act 2013 clearly fails to treat unborn life as equal to that of a mother and as a result could be construed as failing to defend and vindicate that right.
A mother who fears that she may, at some future date, become suicidal may be granted an abortion. This has nothing to do with human rights.
Challenges are also possible on the inclusion in the Act of issues rejected in a previous referendum, without being referred back to the people, and further challenges are also possible in the area of conscientious objection or the nomination of Catholic Hospitals in the list of those in which abortion will be available.
One of the major controversies has been the dictatorial approach of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fine Gael the senior party in the current coalition government who gave a commitment before the last election, in order to secure the pro-life vote that they would not introduce abortion. Once in office however they turned their backs on those pro-life voters who supported them.
The Irish Government having first set up a group of experts decided to legislate for abortion and set up two sessions of Oireachtas hearings to examine the issues. The hearings proved to be mere window dressing and the evidence given in them was largely ignored particularly the expert psychiatric submissions, which affirmed that abortion is not and never can be a treatment for suicidal ideation.
The insistence by Taoiseach Enda Kenny of the application of the Party whip is also to be deplored. Party loyalty is of course important but it is contrary to every reasonable understanding of democracy that any deputy should be forced to vote against his or her conscience.
Some deputies were coerced and others cajoled into supporting the legislation and some simply said no and defied the party whip. Former European Minister Lucinda Creighton stood by her convictions and voted against the legislation at the high personal cost of ejection from the parliamentary party and the loss of her ministerial post. Importantly deputy Creighton, who has shown herself to be a person of high caliber made some very incisive remarks about the conduct of the body politic and the media in Ireland.
This legislation is deeply flawed and the sooner it is overturned the better.