March 21, 2012 (Life Institute) – Like most Irish people, I welcomed the Irish government’s rejection of calls made at a major UN hearing for Ireland to legalize abortion.


However, it is important to understand that the government has also committed Ireland to acting on the recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in a case which was designed to smash Ireland’s abortion laws.

The European Court ruling in the ABC case was raised by several of the six countries using the UN’s review of Ireland’s human rights laws to attack Ireland’s ban on abortion. The countries were Spain, Denmark, the UK, the Netherlands, Norway and Slovenia.

But while the Irish government rejected those demands, its spokesman was quick to reiterate that it has set up an ‘expert group’ to look at the European Court ruling and to make recommendations on its implementation.

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The make-up of that ‘expert group’ has caused serious concern, in particular given that the public, unhappy with a series of imposed austerity measures, is in no mood to be dictated to by the European Court.

Amongst those appointed to the 14-person group are Dr Deirdre Madden, a UCC law lecturer, who has been at the fore in advocating embryonic stem cell research. Madden previously wrote that “there are very strong reasons for believing the embryo is not yet a person.”

The government also appointed general practitioner Ailish Ní Riain to the group. The GP has written guidelines describing unborn children as ‘contents of the uterus’ and insisting that doctors should assist in referring mothers for abortion. Another appointment causing controversy is that of Mary O’Toole, a lawyer who was involved in the X-case in 1992. The X case was used in an attempt to overturn Ireland’s pro-life constitutional provisions and legalise abortion.

These appointments – and remarks made by the Justice Minister Alan Shatter – have caused serious concern amongst the pro-life majority. Rejecting demands for abortion at a UN hearing while stacking an expert group with abortion-friendly appointees would be a low political trick, and one we hope the government would have the decency to avoid.
The Life Institute has written to Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny pointing out that the largest party in the coalition government, Fine Gael, had made an election promise not to legalize abortion, and that they could not now rely on a quango to overturn that promise.

The Institute pointed out that there are three key facts that the expert group on abortion could not ignore:

– Abortion is never medically necessary. Expert testimony has already been given to a government committee on this issue, where leading Irish experts confirmed that interventions for conditions such as ectopic pregnancy and cancer were not considered abortion by medical professionals since the intention was never to harm the child.

– The European Court ruling places Ireland under no obligation to legalize abortion since the Irish Constitution confirms that it is the people, being sovereign, who will decide such matters. Successive opinion polls show that Ireland’s ban on abortion enjoys the support of the majority of the people.

– According to the United Nations, Ireland, without recourse to abortion, is the safest place in the world for a mother to have a baby. The expert group should also recognize the undeniable scientific evidence which shows abortion produces negative mental outcomes for women.

The expert group is due to make its recommendations within months. At the UN hearing, Patrick Buckley of the European Life Network pointed out that “the right to life of all members of the human family” was recognized and protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Irish Constitution. We now need to repeatedly remind the government of that fact.