Comment

Does Leo Varadkar want to close all of Ireland’s Catholic hospitals?

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More grim news from Ireland. The Taoiseach has given an assurance that Catholic hospitals will be forced to provide abortions, as this magazine reports. While individuals will be able to opt out of providing abortions, institutions will not.

It is not quite clear how this proposed legislation will work. Presumably, if a publicly funded Catholic hospital refuses to provide abortions, then it will lose its funding. But what will happen if all the employees at a Catholic hospital choose to opt out? And will a Catholic hospital be free to choose applicants for jobs on the basis of whether they are conscientious objectors or not? If they are not able to do so, then the hospital would pretty soon cease to be Catholic.

That a Catholic-owned (albeit state funded) hospital will be forced to provide abortions means that the Church faces a stark choice. It will perhaps be able to fight this decision and have it overturned in the courts. But if that fails, then there is only one thing to do, and that is to close down the hospitals. For it is simply impossible for a Catholic hospital to provide abortions. Indeed once it does it ceases to be Catholic, ipso facto.

This presents a close parallel with the case of the Catholic adoption agencies in Britain, which were forced to close as they were unwilling (quite rightly) to facilitate gay adoptions, as government legislation required.

As with Britain, so with Ireland: the rights of conscience are being eroded. Mr Varadkar may well say that individuals may opt out, but institutions may not, but does he not realise that all institutions are founded and brought into being by individuals? This legislation violates the will of the founders of Catholic hospitals and their governing bodies. It forces members of governing bodies to co-operate with abortion, something that no Catholic could possibly do.

Given that there is only one possible outcome – the closure of all Catholic hospitals – it is possible that Mr Varadkar’s idea is to drive the Church out of public medical provision. One hopes that members of the Dail will see this for what it is, and think again.