Changes to the Human Life in Pregnancy Bill
On Thursday 22nd of November 2001, the Mother and Child Campaign launched its Campaign for Change with regard to the government's proposed amendment and accompanying legislation.
Reasons for Changes sought
The Mother and Child Campaign has been extremely conscious of our responsibility to analyse the Government’s abortion proposal carefully and give a response that is measured and accurate. We have consulted widely, not just seeking medical and legal opinion, but also the input of the entire pro-life movement.
It is with profound regret that the Mother and Child Campaign has been forced to the conclusion that the Government's proposal is not one which we can accept in its current form. All of us arrived at this decision with extreme reluctance; after almost ten years of demanding a referendum we were all looking forward optimistically to an enthusiastic and successful YES campaign. It is therefore very regrettable to have to report that the proposal as it stands is inadequate and flawed. We did not of course come to such a decision lightly. Nonetheless, we began this struggle ten years ago on the firm principle that the fullest possible protection for both mothers and their children was the only goal worth striving for, and, regardless of the difficulties we have faced since, or will face in the future, that is the principle we must maintain.
It has been stated that the acceptance of the Government's proposal in its current form would amount to a major departure from the position which Pro-Life groups have held over the past decades. In particular, the Government's decision to limit the scope of the amendment to "unborn human life after entry into the womb of a woman" has been seen as implicitly abandoning the campaign to achieve full protection from the moment of conception, or more specifically fertilisation. In this context the position of the Mother and Child Campaign has, of course, been the subject of much media speculation.
We can confirm that there has been no such change in the position of the Mother and Child Campaign. Our belief has been, and remains, that the dignity of the individual human being demands the fullest protection of the fundamental right, namely the right to life, and that such protection must be from the moment of humanity, the moment of conception.
The Government's proposal in failing to provide such protection under the law from the moment of conception falls far short, not only of what we have campaigned for, but what the Irish people have consistently demanded. As such it is unacceptable.
Moreover, we believe that the omission of specific protection of the unborn child before implantation is not merely accidental, but is made deliberately and with a purpose. That purpose may be seen clearly in the vote by the European Parliament [Wednesday 17th Nov 2001] to fund within the Union with the sum of 300 million euros research on what is euphemistically termed "surplus embryos", that is human beings in the most early stages of life, and when they are at their most vulnerable.
This must be set in the context of the ongoing Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction in this country, which is of course where the so-called "surplus" human beings will be created. The Commission has already stated that the definition of "unborn" in the Irish Constitution remains to be adjudicated upon and that this issue is of crucial importance.
As such, the Governments abortion proposal cannot be viewed in isolation. It is part of a wider agenda. The enactment of this amendment, with the removal of Articles 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, and its replacement with the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act 2002 with the definition of abortion as being the "intentional destruction" of "unborn human life after implantation in the womb" is designed to pave the way for legislation in Ireland for embryo research and a cashing in on the funds available for such research, not to mention the multi-million euro industry that could be created from the results of such research. The Taoiseach, himself, was surprisingly candid in stating the government's view when he said, "The Government's proposal recognises that it is not practicable to attempt to protect by the criminal law of abortion the fertilised ovum prior to implantation in the womb of a woman." While rejecting the Taoiseach's assertion that it is not practicable to provide protection for the unborn child from the moment of conception, it is noteworthy that the government believes that no such protection is provided for.
The Mother and Child Campaign cannot, in conscience, support or be a party to any proposal which would expose the most innocent and vulnerable human beings to the monstrous experiments involved in embryo research. Alone this amounts to reason enough to oppose the amendment.
Conscious, however, of the need to play a constructive role in the process we decided to make public at the Committee stage of the Bill, our serious concerns.
At this point we are bound to warn the Government that the failure to present a truly Pro-Life Amendment is to guarantee the defeat of such an amendment, and so to carry the abortion controversy into the next general election and beyond. Surely, even now, common sense can prevail upon them to avoid such a course.
The purpose is, of course, to present a case against the current wording to the public which is easily understandable, as opposed to more complex legalistic and constitutional arguments. This is notwithstanding the other serious objections we presented to the government.
On Thursday 25th November, the government’s proposal has passed through the Select Committee stage and has been passed by Dail Eireann. There were two amendments in the Committee stage, the definition of "an order" which affects what may be an "approved place" for the purposes of Section 1 subsection 2 of the Bill and the deletion of "counsels" from Section 2 subsection 3 which thereby allows counselling agencies to counsel a breach of the Bill. The first change which requires orders to be placed before the Oireactas for approval is certainly an improvement while the second is a dramatic dis-improvement. Altogether the most seriously objectionable elements of the Bill remain unchanged.
The Bill proceeded to the Seanad, where further amendments may be made, though the Government is currently maintaining a stubborn stance in defiance of public opinion and common sense.
Billboard Type 2 on display in Dublin City Centre