Irish hospital should be challenging new abortion law, instead of meekly caving in to the government

'The new law states that an abortion can be carried out in the Republic of Ireland throughout the nine months of pregnancy where the life of the mother is at risk' (Photo: PA)

When I read a news item last week, stating that the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Dublin had decided it would comply with the new Irish abortion law (about which I blogged on July 17), my heart sank. How could it do this? Why could the hospital not have refused, thus giving a direct challenge to the Irish government? If the worst came to the worst and the government sacked the hospital’s personnel en masse, would that not be the better outcome and send out a braver and more principled signal to other hospitals in the country which might be looking for firm leadership?

The new law states that an abortion can be carried out in the Republic throughout the nine months of pregnancy where the life of the mother is at risk – including if she threatens suicide. As everyone knows who has studied the result of laws like this – seemingly humanitarian but in fact the opposite – it will open the way to abortion on demand.

Deacon Nick Donnelly wrote his own strong reaction to this news in his blog for September 27, stating: “Over the past two days not one Irish bishop has been reported as speaking out against this betrayal of the Church and worse, betrayal of unborn babies and their mothers.” He added that Fr Kevin Doran, who is a representative of Archbishop Martin of Dublin on the hospital’s board, was emphatic earlier in the year that it was “inconceivable” that the hospital would comply with the new law. “He has been proved wrong,” Donnelly wrote.

Donnelly made an eloquent appeal to the Irish hierarchy: “Can’t any of you see that this is the knock-out blow to the binding nature of the Church’s moral teaching?” He pointed out, in case the hierarchy hadn’t worked out the implications, “If Catholics see a Catholic hospital killing babies through abortion, what hope is there that they will listen to the Church’s moral teaching on contraception, IVF, sex outside marriage, gay marriage? Your silence will be heard as acceptance, even agreement, with Mater Misericordiae hospital’s willingness to perform abortions. How can you live with this?”

His blog of September 30 records that the Archbishop has broken his silence and responded to the hospital’s announcement, stating that although he is president of the hospital he has no powers in its governance. Martin paid tribute to the Mater Hospital’s “great tradition of caring for very difficult pregnancies and doing it well within the ethos of the hospital over years.” He also said “he would be seeking further clarifications on the exact meaning of the hospital’s statement last week.”

Donnelly points out that as Ordinary of Dublin, the Archbishop does indeed have authority over all the Catholic institutions in his jurisdiction. And he further comments, “What kind of clarification does Archbishop Martin require about the intention of Mater Misericordiae hospital regarding abortion? The brief statement is very clear. ‘The Mater Hospital has carefully considered the Act. The hospital’s priority is to be at the frontier of compassion, concern and clinical care for all our patients. Having regard to that duty, the hospital will comply with the law as provided for in the Act.’”

Used in this political context, the word “clarification” always rings alarm bells for me; it is a weasel word.