Abortion gets back on Irish agenda

31 August 2012

THE Irish government and the Roman Catholic Church are set to clash on the issue of legislation for abortion, if an expert group, chaired by a High Court judge, recommends this course.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights upheld a complaint by a woman who suffered from cancer that she had to travel abroad for an abortion, and thus the state had violated her rights. The government-appointed group, comprised of medical and legal experts, is due to report soon, and the stage seems set for yet another divisive campaign with pro- and anti-abortion groups, the latter being orchestrated by the RC Church and a number of other organisations.

On Sunday, the RC Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady, called for another referendum, indicating that the RC Church would wage an intense campaign in the media, and would lobby public representatives. The leading party in the coalition, the conservative Fine Gael, is known to include several anti-abortion members in its ranks, and two have already indicated reservations about government legislation, preferring another referendum. The junior partner, Labour, however, reacted strongly to the Primate's remarks, suggesting that they harked back to the days when the RC Church in Ireland told politicians what to do.

The Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, said: "I don't have any objection to any of the Churches' stating its position and making it clear, but I think it would be a retrogressive step if we were to go back to the days of the Catholic Church dictating to elected public representatives how they should address an issue."

The introduction of legislation on abortion, although it has been called for by senior figures in the judiciary over the years, has been avoided by successive governments precisely because of the divisive nature of the subject.

The decision to engage an expert group suggests the desire of politicians to avoid direct responsibility, and rely instead on the neutrality of the group, whose findings could then be a framework for such legislation. But the calls for a referen- dum from the strong anti-abortion lobby in Ireland are not likely to go away.


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