Monday, January 14, 2013

Ireland, suicide & abortion

Knowing that a lot of folk who read this blog don't live in Ireland, I'm sure that what's is going on re. abortion at the moment looks pretty complicated, especially the question of the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion. That's because it is. This post isn't going to be a comprehensive look at the details, but it will hit some of the 'high-points' ...

The current situation has its roots in the 1983 Constitutional amendment. The lead up to that was pretty ugly. Anyone who was against it was labeled pro-abortion, which wasn't particularly nice in a country that was extremely anti-abortion at the time. Being against the amendment didn't necessarily make one in favour of abortion. A lot of folk felt that it wasn't needed. Why have an amendment when abortion was already illegal and Ireland so very anti-abortion? And what if the amendment was interpreted by the courts in an unexpected way? Like that could ever happen, said those in favour ...

Anyway, the amendment was carried and we got Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution which states:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.
Pretty clear, right? Well it was up until the 'X Case' where the Supreme Court said, inter alia,

44. I am, therefore, satisfied that ... that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother by self-destruction which can only be avoided by termination of her pregnancy.

The judgement is long and convoluted. I am not at all sure how the judges came to their conclusion given what the Constitution says. On the surface, it seems to fly in the face of the plain meaning ... how can the the equal right to life of both mother and child be respected in a situation where the life of one is forfeited in an attempt to rectify the mental health issues of the other? Perhaps it was their interpretation of the word 'practicable'

In any event, it is on the basis of this judgement that the threat of suicide as justification for abortion in Ireland seems a real possibility.  Some commentators are arguing that the 'X Case' judgement was deeply flawed and should be revisited. However, it would almost certainly require a further constitutional referendum to set aside 'X' & frankly I doubt if that is a likely option. There was already a referendum on that issue in 2002 which was unsuccessful, although by a vary narrow margin (the picture at the top are posters from the two sides on that campaign). 

So where does that leave us? Essentially wondering what the government is going to introduce. They seem to be promising a regime that will simply codify current practice, which essentially enshrines the principle of the 'double effect' - no direct abortions, but if a medically needed procedure should have the unintended effect of ending the child's life, so be it. Given the previous history of legal 'unintended effects' in this area, I'm not sure how likely it is that they will succeed in their goal. And I have no idea how they plan to cope with the area of suicide as grounds for abortion without bringing in what is effectively abortion on demand (which is what happened in England). I'm not sure the government really does either ... 

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