Cllr Mary Bohan.
Leitrim FF Councillor Mary Bohan has written the following commentary in wake of Michael Martin's comments that he is favours the Repeal of the 8th Amendment:
The announcement by the leader of my party, Micheál Martin, on Thursday in the Dail that he favours the repeal of the 8th Amendment, the constitutional protection for unborn babies, came as a shock to me and many within Fianna Fáil.
Micheál Martin is entitled to have a view on this important issue, just as much as any other citizen. However, his position as leader of the opposition makes him more than just another commentator. He has a particular duty to the people of this country to hold the Government to account. He has failed in this duty. I was disappointed to hear him congratulate the Oireachtas Committee on gathering evidence from “a wide range of sources”; when he knows that the Committee was deeply biased and overwhelmingly selected speakers who are well-known advocates for abortion.
The Oireachtas Committee spent no time considering the tens of thousands of lives saved by the 8th Amendment. It didn’t invite in women who might have gone ahead with abortion were it available in the nearest hospital but didn’t and today couldn’t countenance not having their child as part of their family. The Committee didn’t consider the women who have been through abortion and regretted it nor did they hear about the risk of abortion – physical or mental – for women. The Committee spent no time on looking at positive alternatives to abortion or positive supports for women experiencing unplanned pregnancy.
As a woman in political life, I was angry that contributions of these women were sidelined and excluded; and my party leader should not have remained silent about this.
Micheál Martin pointed out the Irish women travel to Britain to have abortions, what he did not say is that the numbers have been falling significantly for many years as Ireland has become a more compassionate place for women. In my work as a public representative I regularly meet women who have had unexpected or difficult pregnancies and it is patronising to tell these women that ending the pregnancy will end the problem. Women in crisis need our support – in my experience, abortion only creates more victims and deepens the pain.
Retaining the 8th Amendment will mean that Ireland will continue to be a world leader in healthcare for pregnant women. Micheál Martin was ready to criticise the care given in Irish hospitals (something we should always work to improve) yet he completely ignored the fact that Ireland, without abortion, was found by the World Health Organization to have among the lowest level of maternal deaths in the world.
Considering this fact, how can Michael claim that the 8th Amendment causes “real damage”?
Before we rush to change our laws to copy other countries, we need to ask some important questions about how abortion would work in practice. For example, who will decide if an unborn child’s disability is “serious” or “fatal” and what happens where a child is born alive after an abortion? Are we ready to change our medical practice from saving critically ill unborn babies into taking their lives?
And what about looking how abortion legislation has served our nearest neighbours? The abortion rate is England and Wales is nearly 200,000 a year – that’s 1 in 5 pregnancies. In 2015, 98% of these were performed for social reasons. Does Micheál Martin believe that Ireland should go down the same road?
Our party leader didn’t ask any of these questions. Instead he let the Government off the hook and said that there was “no basis” for comparisons with other countries. In every parliament in the world, when you consider changing your laws, one of the most basic steps is to look at the experience of other countries. Micheál Martin knows this - he did it all the time when he was the Minister for Health. However in this case he is choosing to ignore the evidence from Denmark, Iceland and other countries where abortion has resulted in a dramatic reduction of children born with various disabilities, in particular Down Syndrome. For Micheál Martin to help the Government get away with ignoring this evidence is troubling.
We did not hear about the experience of women who were told by doctors that their baby would die shortly after birth and were pressurised into traveling for an abortion. This is exactly what happened for baby Grace McBreen, whose mother Sinead was told to end the pregnancy and “get on with life”. Today Grace is a happy 4 year old. Doctors cannot predict the future; how many children like Grace will be aborted if the 8th Amendment is removed? This question was never asked.
My party leader described the Constitutional protection in the 8th Amendment as “cruel and inflexible”, yet expert analysis has shown that there are over 100,000 people alive today – some possibly reading this newspaper - that may not have lived if the 8th Amendment was not present. 100,000 people. That’s the population of Galway city and its hinterland.
The world is a better place because people like Grace McBreen are alive. If we do not protect the right to life in our Constitution, along with all our other important rights, we will lose something precious. Micheál Martin has changed his mind on abortion, and ignored the wishes of the grassroots member of his party and many members of the Parliamentary Party. That is his decision but his duty as leader of the opposition is to consider all sides of this debate, and sadly there is no evidence he has done this.
The people of Ireland, born and unborn, deserve better from their elected leaders.
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