Europe

Irish abortion law: Bishop says TDs must be given free vote

The Bishop of Dromore, Dr John McAreavey
Image caption Dr John McAreavey said "no circumstances justify the direct and intentional killing of the unborn child"

Members of the Irish parliament must be given a "free vote" in any move to change the Republic's abortion laws, the Bishop of Dromore has said.

Dr John McAreavey made the remarks as Ireland's four Catholic Archbishops criticised the government on the issue.

The government intends to legislate for abortion in cases where a mother's life is at risk, including from suicide.

Dr McAreavey said the issue was "hugely significant" and should not come down to "purely party politics".

"The view of the Catholic Church is that no circumstances justify the direct and intentional killing of the unborn child," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"So, if a mother finds herself in serious psychological difficulty, then it's the responsibility of doctors to make sure that the woman has every medical and other support in order to help her to manage the stress and difficulty in which she finds herself."

'Serious morality'

The Bishop of Dromore was speaking after the Irish prime minister and leader of Fine Gael, Enda Kenny, said members of his own party would not be offered a free vote on the issue.

Dr McAreavey said: "When these issues come up in Westminster, members of parliament are routinely given a free vote because its regarded as a matter not purely of politics but also of serious morality."

He added: "There are actually different values in conflict here, and the bishops are simply asking, as a matter of the common good and as a matter of respect for life, that the equal right of mother and child be respected."

However, Ailbhe Smyth of the Irish Choice Network said the Catholic Church should have no role in government affairs.

"The bishops are of course entitled to hold their view like any other citizen but they do not have, to my mind, the right to interfere in the political affairs of a secular state," she said.

"Therefore I am extremely disappointed and very concerned to see how instantly this whole situation has become really inflamed again by the intervention of the bishops," Ms Smyth said.

'Tragic'

Abortion is an extremely divisive issue in the Republic, and Mr Kenny's coalition government has come under considerable pressure to clarify the legislation in cases where a mother's life is at risk, following the death of Savita Halappanavar.

The 31-year-old dentist died in a Galway hospital in October after a miscarriage.

Her family claimed hospital staff denied her repeated requests for an abortion, and said they were told Ireland was "a Catholic country".

Dr McAreavey said Mrs Halappanavar's death was an "absolutely tragic event" but pointed out that the exact circumstances were "still a matter of investigation".

He said that the church supported the "right of the mother and child to the best treatment available".

The bishop claimed: "In Irish medicine, and indeed medicine here in this part of the country (Northern Ireland), doctors up until now have never found themselves in a situation where they had to choose one over the other".

'Justified'

Dr McAreavey said the church authorities supported medical intervention to save the life of a pregnant woman, but not the "direct and intentional taking of the life of an unborn child, which is how we (the Catholic Church) define abortion".

"It's been the clear position of the Catholic Church that if a baby in the womb dies as a result of the treatment offered to a mother, whether for example as a result of cancer or any other condition, that is not an abortion.

"The intention there is to save the life of the mother and, provided the same effort is made to save the life of the child, doctors are absolutely justified in doing what they need to do to save the life of a mother," the bishop said.

Abortion is currently illegal in the Republic except where there is a real and substantial risk to a mother's life, as distinct from her health.

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