Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(1) February 2017


Submission to Irish Citizens’ Assembly – Eighth Amendment Debate

The Eight Amendment of the Irish Constitution in 1983 gave explicit recognition of the right to life of the unborn child. In the context of an vociferous campaign to promote abortion in Ireland, the possibility of repeal­ing that amendment is being considered by the Irish Citizens Assembly. They expect to complete a report on the issue in the Spring. Here is a submission by one of our Irish colleagues who works in the UK.

From a scientific perspective there is no doubt that human life begins at conception. From this very beginning a new individual with its own unique DNA is in existence. It is considered natural to value and protect human life and especially to protect lives that are considered most vulnerable. It is in our very nature to want to help victims of disasters whether natural, such as earthquakes, or created by man such as war and famine. To want to protect human life in the womb is also natural, especially when we see that life at this very vulnerable stage is under threat in many jurisdictions throughout the world. When a woman suffers a miscarriage or foetal loss we grieve for her and for the loss of her unborn child.

As an Irish doctor working in the UK I have been very proud of the protection offered by the Irish state to unborn human life as manifest in the Eighth Amendment to our Constitution. I have frequently pointed out to others that Ireland holds a proud record of excellent maternal healthcare despite, or possibly because of, our commitment to providing equal value and equal care to the lives of both mother and child through the Eighth Amendment.

The UK Abortion Act of 1967 has been a disaster. It is universally abused with abortion now justified for any and every reason even though the Act was intended to be restrictive when agreed upon in Parliament. In essence, abortion on demand is provided throughout pregnancy until the 24th week. The vast majority of these cases are justified on the basis that continuing the pregnancy will have a detrimental effect on the mental health of the mother even though it is recognised that there is no scientific or medical evidence to support this practice. There are no medical or psychiatric needs to justify abortion. In addition, it is still common for the abortion papers, intended to be signed by two doctors who have closely examined each case, to be signed in advance to help "speed up the process." These abuses clearly demonstrate that the idea of "restricted" abortion law is a fantasy, even if well-intended.

From a doctor's point of view, the widespread practice of abortion in the UK has, in effect, disqualified many doctors and other healthcare professionals from entering into training programmes in Obstetrics and Midwifery. It is extremely difficult for a doctor or nurse to work in this vital area of medicine if they have a conscientious objection to abortion. It is certainly impossible for such healthcare professionals to hold senior positions in these areas unless they are prepared to perform and supervise activities that they consider to be unethical. As a result, many patients, especially women, are discriminated against as they are denied access to care from personnel who share their values and concerns. Retaining the Eighth Amend­ment will help to ensure that women, unborn children and healthcare professionals continue to receive the protection that they deserve.