ROME, May 7, 2013 ( – An American scientist and ethicist has blasted the Irish government’s “Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill,” which would legalize abortion in cases of threat to the life of the mother, including threat of suicide, for including an erroneous definition of human life.

The government and other supporters of the bill have characterized it as allowing only “limited” abortion under “restrictive” conditions. However, critics have said that in offering ambiguous restrictions and no upper gestational age limits for abortion, the bill opens the door to abuses that could lead to an unrestricted abortion regime on the model of the UK.

But Dr. Dianne Irving, a bioethicist and former NIH biochemist, has said that the bill is even worse than most pro-life advocates know.

The “formal definitions used in this new Irish abortion bill are scientifically false,” said Irving. Specifically, the bill defines the term “unborn” “as it relates to human life” to mean “following implantation until such time as it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of the woman.”

This definition, Irving says, defies the “accurate objective facts of human embryology, known internationally for over 125 years.” Quoting the findings of human embryologists, Irving says that what implants into the uterus is not the single-cell embryo – inaccurately called a “fertilized egg” – but an older embryo consisting of about 100 cells.

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“Implantation (5-7 days post-fertilization) is not when the sexually reproduced unborn child begins to exist. That new human being begins to exist at the beginning of the process of fertilization,” she said.

The legislation says the definition was based on the 2009 Supreme Court judgment in a case that decided the fate of three “fertilised embryos” which had been frozen and stored in a clinic. That ruling deemed that embryos “acquire legal protection” under the Constitution “only from the moment of implantation.” 

In an effort to distance themselves from the ethical problems presented by infertility treatments like IVF, as well as potentially abortifacient “emergency contraception,” pro-abortion activists have in recent years claimed that pregnancy only begins at implantation.

Irving pointed to the use the term “pre-embryo” by the IVF industry to refer to the embryo before implantation as an example of the willingness of both politicians and the IVF industry to use deceptive language.

“I’ll let you in on a secret,” she told LSN. “The term ‘pre-embryo’ has been embraced wholeheartedly by IVF practitioners for reasons that are political, not scientific.”

“The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between a six-day-old embryo and a sixteen-day-old embryo,” she said. “The term is useful in the political arena, where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo experimentation, as well as in the confines of a doctor’s office where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients.” 

Currently Irish law allows for pre-term inducement of labour in cases where the mother’s life is directly threatened, but never allows the direct, intentional killing of an unborn child. 

The new bill was brought forward after a ruling in 2010 from the European Court of Human Rights, ostensibly to “clarify” under what medical circumstances “termination of pregnancy” is legal in Ireland. Legislators, under heavy pressure from abortion lobbyists, have included a threat of suicide by the mother as a legitimate threat to the life of the woman and have presented this as the pretext for the bill. However, numerous psychiatric experts have testified that abortion is not a legitimate treatment for suicidal ideation. 

The pro-life article of the Irish Constitution, established by a referendum in 1983, says, “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.” It requires that doctors give equal consideration to the life of the unborn child with the life of the mother and do everything possible to save both in a crisis.


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