Michael Clifford – Politicians should take the consequences of their own philosophies.

Last week, Michael Clifford wrote about the probable outcome to arguments about reproduction in any of its facets in this country. I can assure him that I will NEVER stay quiet. I think he knows that already.

Michael Clifford – It’s time society stopped genuflecting to zealots
The debate on abortion has been hijacked again by Catholic fundamentalists, so don’t expect long-needed legislation any time soon

Michelle Harte: forced to travel to UK for abortion to protect her health
On 16 May 2004, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Gianna Beretta Molla to be a saint. She was an Italian mother of four who died in April 1962. She embarked on her path to sainthood by refusing to terminate her final pregnancy in its early stages, despite being told that to continue would place her own life in mortal danger. The child was subsequently born and the mother died a week later. To those who describe themselves as pro-life, she is regarded as having sacrificed herself for her unborn child.

For others less fortified in the moral certainty of their beliefs, she must be a strange candidate for sainthood. Her tragic circumstances left her with a horrendous dilemma. Should she die for what she regarded as her unborn child, or attempt to live for the three young children who were already alive? If she had, as, it’s safe to say, most women would have, chosen to prioritise her living children, would that have rendered her a person of lesser morals? One thing is sure, if she had done so, she would never have made it to the highest pantheon of the Catholic church.

Last year, in this country, a pregnant mother-of-one was advised by her doctors to terminate a pregnancy because of a grave risk to her health. Michelle Harte was being treated for cancer in University College Hospital in Cork when she received the medical advice. Naturally, she chose to follow the advice. To do otherwise would have been reckless, even suicidal, and would have negated her duties as a mother.

Yet, despite the risk to her life, she was denied the procedure. In a country that classifies itself as civilised, she was told that the threat to her life was not “immediate” and therefore the termination could not be performed. This decision was made by an ethics committee of the hospital. Faceless committees like this one decide behind closed doors on these matters of life and death around the country. The basis on which they exercise their power is unclear.

Michelle Harte’s termination was delayed while the committee met and deliberated. She eventually suffered the trauma – and additional pain owing to her condition – of travelling to the UK for the procedure.

“The delay in having an abortion could well have made my condition much worse… But why is it that such a simple medical treatment is not available, even when a mother’s life is at risk?” she asked in the Irish Times last month.

“Anyone else who was even half as sick as I was shouldn’t have to uproot themselves and fly over to England. It’s not fair and it’s not humane.”

The European Court of Human Rights has also decreed that it isn’t humane and that the rights of women are abused in this country. In a ruling last month, the court said the government should legislate in line with an 18-year-old Supreme Court ruling that abortion is legal where a woman’s life may be in jeopardy.

Any civilised country would have legislated long before now. But here, among the body politic, it is not the health and welfare of citizens that is of paramount concern, but the power of religious zealots.

For we should be clear on one thing in relation to any debate on abortion: It has long been hijacked by religious zealots. The Catholic church is obsessed with matters sexual, and by extension human reproduction, and those who consider themselves the religion’s greatest adherents feast on this obsession. They are determined to foist an extreme interpretation of their religious beliefs onto society as a whole. And wherever zealots hold sway, basic concepts of humanity are made subservient to abstract religious beliefs.

The body politic has continually shown itself to be in thrall to the zealots. Fear is the key. The capacity of the zealots to spread fear and confusion among the electorate, to taint politicians who don’t bend the knee as instructed, prompts most parliamentarians to flee from their duties and responsibilities.

The power of the zealots is such that the man-who-would-be-Taoiseach is now deploying their language. In an interview over Christmas, Enda Kenny declared that he was opposed to “abortion on demand”. This is probably the most offensive term deployed by the zealots, inferring as it does that women in the throes of a crisis pregnancy wield power. What vulnerable young woman is in a position to “demand” anything?

And it’s not just vulnerable young women who are victimised by the zealots. Thousands of couples who have difficulty conceiving are condemned to seek assistance in an environment that is unregulated and open to all levels of abuse and misuse. Five years after the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction reported, the Oireachtas has failed to legislate to regulate. The preferred option is to let citizens suffer in quiet desperation and grope in the dark rather than risk the wrath of the zealots. This is what passes for governance in an alleged civilised society.

Now the zealots want another referendum on abortion, or, alternatively, to allow the current lacuna to fester. They thrive on their capacity to spread fear. Opinion polls suggest the majority of citizens do not want universal access to abortion in the state, and the zealots are expert at manipulating public opinion by instilling fear that any humane solution is a leap down the road to abortion clinics on every corner. And whatever about the citizens’ ability to see through this stuff, politicians remain in thrall to the perceived power of these people.

For that reason, there won’t be legislation anytime soon to assure prospective mothers that they live in a civilised society where their health matters. There won’t be legislation to protect couples seeking assistance with conception. Instead, the politicians will continue to run for cover, turning a deaf ear to the pain and heartache. The zealots will continue to hold sway. What a country.

mclifford@tribune.ie