Irish bishops: the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights

2012-12-05 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The Irish Bishops have issued an initial response to a report by a government appointed expert group into the European Court for Human Rights judgement in A,B and C versus Ireland, which states that legislation to regulate access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland is “constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound”. The Bishops, who are currently in their winter meeting in Maynooth, state that the report “has put forward options that could end the practice of making this vital ethical distinction in Irish hospitals. Of the four options presented by the Report, three involve abortion – the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child. This can never be morally justified. The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights does not oblige the Irish Government to legislate for abortion”. The Bishops also question why the Report does not propose a referendum on the issue of protecting the life of the unborn which is enshrined in Ireland’s constitution. Tuesday evening thousands of people descended on parliament buildings in Dublin for a candle light vigil calling on the government to uphold its promise to protect life. Below the full statement of the Irish Bishops:

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Initial response by the Irish Catholic Bishop’s Conference to the Report of the Expert Group on the Judgement in A, B and C v Ireland
A society that believes the right to life is the most fundamental of all rights cannot ignore the fact that abortion is first and foremost a moral issue.

As a society we have a particular responsibility to ensure this right is upheld on behalf of those who are defenceless, voiceless or vulnerable. This includes our duty as a society to defend and promote the equal right to life of a pregnant mother and the innocent and defenceless child in her womb when the life of either of these persons is at risk.

By virtue of their common humanity the life of a mother and her unborn baby are both sacred. They have an equal right to life. The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of a mother. Where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are morally permissible provided every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby.

Abortion, understood as the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby, is gravely immoral in all circumstances. This is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby.

Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice. This has been an important factor in ensuring that Irish hospitals are among the safest and best in the world in terms of medical care for both a mother and her unborn baby during pregnancy. As a country this is something we should cherish, promote and protect.

The Report of the Expert Group on the Judgement in A, B and C v Ireland has put forward options that could end the practice of making this vital ethical distinction in Irish hospitals. Of the four options presented by the Report, three involve abortion – the direct and intentional killing of an unborn child. This can never be morally justified. The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights does not oblige the Irish Government to legislate for abortion.

Other aspects of the Report also give rise to concerns. These include, but are not limited to the fact that:
    The judgement of the European Court of Human Rights permits options on this matter of fundamental moral, social and constitutional importance that are not offered by this Report. This includes the option of introducing a constitutional prohibition on abortion or another form of constitutional amendment to reverse the ‘X-case’ judgement.
    The Report provides no ethical analysis of the options available, even though this is first and foremost a moral issue and consideration of the ethical dimension was included in the Terms of Reference.
    The Report takes no account of the risks involved in trying to legislate for so-called ‘limited abortion’ within the context of the ‘X-case’ judgement. The ‘X-case’ judgement includes the threat of suicide as grounds for an abortion. International experience shows that allowing abortion on the grounds of mental health effectively opens the floodgates for abortion.


The Report also identifies Guidelines as an option. It notes that Guidelines can help to ensure consistency in the delivery of medical treatment. If Guidelines can provide greater clarity as to when life-saving treatment may be provided to a pregnant mother or her unborn child within the existing legislative framework, and where the direct and intentional killing of either person continues to be excluded, then such ethically sound Guidelines may offer a way forward.

A matter of this importance deserves sufficient time for a calm, rational and informed debate to take place before any decision about the options offered by the Expert Group Report are taken. All involved, especially public representatives, must consider the profound moral questions that arise in responding to this Report. Abortion is gravely immoral in all circumstances, no matter how ‘limited’ access to abortion may be.