Addressing a gathering of over 800 people at the annual Pro Life Campaign dinner in Dublin on September 8, 2018, Bruton singled out one of the most vocal advocates for repeal of the Eighth Amendment, Health Minister Simon Harris.
Speaking directly to the disparaging remarks Harris made about the pro-life side after the referendum, the former Taoiseach said: “I hope that this was just elation, in the immediate aftermath of winning a political battle, and that he will now show tolerance and inclusiveness, when considering amendments to the legislation he has proposed.”
Lack of balance from Irish Government
Concerned about the tone of the debate since the referendum, Bruton said: “The Minister for Health, speaking in the Dáil [Irish Parliament] after the referendum on 31 May, did not seem to me to display the balance that one would like to see in someone who will be deciding on the detailed content of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill.”
“He spoke of the referendum result inaugurating what he called ‘a brighter Ireland.’ It will not be a bright Ireland for the little babies who will have their lives ended before being allowed to see the light of a single Irish day…He talked of the referendum result ‘consigning a misogynistic legacy to the history books.’ He did not seem to reflect on the fact that half the babies whose lives will be ended before birth will be girls. Those little girls will face the most extreme form of misogyny.”
The former Taoiseach continued: “He claimed the ‘Yes’ campaign was built on a ‘coalition of compassion.’ He thus seemed to imply that those who voted ‘No’ are not compassionate. Maybe that is not what he meant, but nothing could be further from the truth. He spoke of the referendum meaning that we are ‘maturing into a tolerant, non-judgemental, inclusive Republic.’ The Minister’s own speech was rather judgemental, and not particularly tolerant of those who sincerely disagree with him on the issue of abortion.”
No conscience clause
Bruton said, following the “Yes” vote in the May referendum, that the Government’s current proposal “requires a doctor, who has a conscientious objection to doing an abortion, to ‘make arrangements to transfer the care’ of the woman to a doctor who will do it… [thus] aiding and abetting the abortion… there is no conscience clause here.”
Expressing the fears of many, Bruton said: “Doctors who are known to oppose abortion will be targeted under this clause by people wishing to catch them out and put them under threat of criminal prosecution because of their religious or human rights beliefs. There have been examples of this sort of targeting in other fields, where there are strong but conflicting views in the population.”
Bruton suggested a practical solution to this.
“Rather than place this burden on doctors who believe abortion is wrong, it would be more sensible to publish an affirmative list of those who have no conscientious objection to doing abortions,” he said.
Referring to other sections of the Government’s proposed abortion legislation, Bruton said “it will be permissible to end the life of what is deemed a ‘non-viable’ baby, at any stage in the pregnancy, if allowing the baby to be born would pose a ‘risk’ of serious harm to the mental health of the child’s mother. Again this is a very loose ground for ending a life. It involves the doctors in making a prediction about the future mental health of the mother after the baby might have been born. Whatever about adjudicating about present mental health, deciding about future mental health is completely speculative. And on the basis of that speculation, a baby’s life is to be ended. Indeed it is arguable that having an abortion is more likely, at some stage in the future, to trigger mental problems.”
‘False compassion’ and the real concerns of the ‘no’ voters
Bruton challenged the Irish Government to take on board some of the concerns of those who voted “No,” saying, “In a mature Republic, one would listen to, and deal respectfully with, the arguments and values of the other side, on any important issue …[Instead] the mantra of ‘compassion’ was deemed sufficient to end all argument about the basic question of when life begins, when a life becomes a human, and hence when it ought to acquire human rights.”
In addition to encouraging people to lobby for amendments to the legislation, Bruton also called on pro-life supporters to play an active role in proposing positive alternatives to abortion.
“It is unclear what the new shared values of Irish society are to be,” he said. “The referendum did not end the debate. If life is not the primary value, what is? To fill that vacant space, and drawing on the most modern medical knowledge, the pro-life arguments will need to be made, over and over again, to the young people of Ireland and to the generations that will succeed them.”
John Bruton concluded his address with these words: “Notwithstanding the change in the law, the number of abortions can continue to be reduced, if people are convinced that there is a better and more just way. Lighting that way forward is the real route to a brighter Ireland.”