DUBLIN, August 9, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com)  – The Irish government has told a Catholic hospital that there will be no opting out of the new law legalizing abortion, and that requires hospitals to do the procedure. The health minister was responding to comments last week by a board member of Dublin’s Mater Misericordiae University Hospital that the hospital would not be complying with the new abortion law.

Mater Hospital is one of the 25 institutions named in the so-called “Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act” where abortions must be carried out. Fr. Kevin Doran, a board member of Mater said, “The issue is broader than just abortion. What’s happening is the Minister is saying hospitals are not entitled to have an ethos.” 

“The Mater can’t carry out abortions because it goes against its ethos. I would be very concerned that the Minister [for Health, James Reilly] sees fit to make it impossible for hospitals to have their own ethos.

“The issue is broader than just abortion. What’s happening is the Minister is saying hospitals are not entitled to have an ethos.”

An official with the Department of Health, however, has responded that the right to conscientious objection does not apply to institutions: “While the legislation does provide such a right to an individual, it does not apply to a hospital.” 

Doran said, however, European law protects religious institutions from being forced to act against their religious ethos. “I believe that Catholic voluntary hospitals as a body must make it clear, both to legislators and to their own staff, that while they will always provide life-saving medical treatment for women in pregnancy, they will uphold their ethos and will never facilitate or tolerate the deliberate termination of human life, at any stage,” he said. 

The hospital said last week that they are still in the process of drafting their response to the legislation. Mater hospital is owned by a parent company made up of a number of different Catholic institutions, including the Sisters of Mercy, the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, the Catholic Nurses’ Guild of Ireland, the Society of St Vincent de Paul and the medical consultants of Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and the Children’s University Hospital.

Of the 25 institutions named in the legislation as having a requirement to conduct abortions, several others are owned or founded by the Catholic Church or Catholic religious orders. Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe was opened in 1945 by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood at the invitation of the bishop of the diocese of Clonfert. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, was founded by the Medical Missionaries of Mary and was taken over by the then-North Eastern Health Board (now the Health Services Executive) in 1997. St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, was founded in 1834 by Mother Mary Aikenhead, the foundress of the Religious Sisters of Charity. 

Liam Gibson, Northern Ireland development officer for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), told LifeSiteNews.com that the legal situation is serious for Catholic hospitals in Ireland who want to refuse to participate in the government’s abortion plans.

“The government has made it absolutely clear that they are not going to allow any latitude on the obligation to conduct abortions in all the named hospitals,” he said in an interview today. “They don’t recognise any conscientious objection for institutions on the grounds that abortion is a ‘human right,’ so conscientious objection doesn’t apply.” 

He spoke of plans in some quarters to bring legal challenges against the new law, based on several constitutional principles, including the right of religious organisations to conduct their own affairs according to their religious ethos. 

Much of the problem, however, lies in the fact that most Catholic hospitals are “Catholic in name only” and have long since given up financial control to the government’s Health Services Executive. Each hospital has a unique situation with regards to the relationship between the Church and the government, including complications with the various religious orders and bodies that founded them. 

“There might be some room for a challenge,” based on Catholic ethos, he said, “but at the moment it doesn’t look like the hospitals are in a position to insist.” 

“There are several questions being raised on the constitutionality on the obligation to protect the rights of unborn children,” Gibson said. “The government, however, are insisting that this has been taken into consideration.” 

Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said that one legal challenge possible against the abortion legislation was in the area of conscientious objection or in the case where a Catholic hospital was being forced to set aside their ethos of protecting human life.

“The ethos of the Mater does not include the deliberate taking of human life, and this legislation allows abortion until birth, so clearly the Mater, and other Catholic hospitals will need to now stand up for their ethos,” she said.

She added that it should be the ethos of every hospital to protect human life, and noted that one of the most vocal opponents of the legislation, Dr. Sam Coulter Smith of the Rotunda Hospital, belongs to the (Anglican) Church of Ireland, but reflected the views of the majority of Irish doctors who were opposed to the deliberate killing of unborn children. 

The issue will doubtless eventually go as far as the Supreme Court, but Gibson was not optimistic. “Whether the Supreme Court would agree with the government or with critics of the Act is pure speculation at this stage. There’s a possibility that they could find in favour of the pro-life objections, or discount them entirely. 

“The judiciary have not got a very good track record on questions of the unborn,” he added. “In every case that has come before them on these issues, the rights of the unborn have been diminished.”

Asked whether there are moves to launch legal action to overturn the law itself, Gibson declined to name names “for now” but said that several parties are considering options. “There are several options, but there is no magic bullet that will wipe out the legislation or overturn it,” he said. “It will be a long and difficult processes to reverse it either in the courts or through the political process.” 

Gibson also lamented the lackluster response to the crisis by the Catholic hierarchy. He told LSN that the bishops have yet to make any movement on warnings in May this year that if the bill passes, pro-life doctors will need legal and financial support when they come into inevitable conflicts with the new law.