Sister Eugene Nolan, one of two nuns on the board of the Mater hospital, said yesterday that the Mater will not be performing abortions, even though the board of the hospital has said it will comply with the new Protection of Life during Pregnancy Act, which outlines when an abortion can be performed to save a woman’s life.
She told the Irish Times that the board had considered a legal challenge to the Act: “But we don’t have the money to take on the Government. We are caught and we are back to ‘He who pays the piper calls the tune’. What could we do? Go down to the orthopaedic ward and say: ‘There’ll be no more hip replacements because we have to mount a legal challenge’?”
It’s not clear whether she or the hospital board raised the topic of hip replacements. But whoever it was, they seem to recognize the ethically obvious position that being able to continue to perform hip replacements should be a higher priority for a hospital than refusing to perform an abortion for a woman whose life is under threat.
Does this indicate that they also recognize that performing an abortion under the new Act is not ethically the same as killing a child? Because if they did believe that abortion was ethically the same as killing a child, surely refusing to kill a child on the basis of this Act would be more important ethically than continuing to perform hip replacements?
Certainly the Irish people, through various referendums and opinion polls, do not collectively believe that abortion is ethically the same as killing a child.
We know this because we passed a referendum in 1992 allowing a woman to travel abroad to have an abortion, and to get information on how and where to do so, and that was regardless of whether or not there was a threat to her life. Surely we would not have passed a referendum allowing adults of any gender to travel abroad to kill a child, and to get information on how and where to kill a child?
We know this because we have refused to pass two referendums, in 1992 and 2002, that would have prevented a suicidal woman from having the right to an abortion. Surely we would have passed both of those referendums if we actually believed that abortion was ethically the same as killing a child? Surely we would not allow an adult of any gender to kill a child because they were suicidal?
We know this because successive opinion polls in 2013 have shown that a majority of Irish people support the right to abortion in a wider set of circumstances than the current Act allows, including when a woman is pregnant through rape or incest, or when a fetus has a fatal abnormality, or when there is a threat to the health of a pregnant woman. Surely we would not endorse killing a child to address these tragic circumstances? Surely the fact that we do endorse abortion in these cases means that we do not consider abortion to be the same as killing a child?
We may be prone to adding abstract religiously inspired moral diktats into our Constitution and laws, that put a grown adult woman on an ethical par with a single-cell zygote.
But when it comes to actual real-life situations, with actual real-life people facing actual real-life dilemmas, our collective compassion and empathy and reciprocity and fairness enable us to recognize the ethically right thing to do.
Abortion is not ethically the same as killing a child, and pretending that it is serves only to cause extra unnecessary psychological stress for women who are facing the choice of whether or not to continue with a pregnancy.
We must campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution, to enable us to pass an abortion law based on compassion and human rights and personal autonomy and the medical needs of pregnant women, and not on religiously-inspired moral diktats.
Edit: Here is my contribution to a debate earlier this year on why we should support the right to legal abortion: