Abortion and Lisbon

29 September, 2009

It’s annoying to see another crackpot letter in The Irish Times  last Friday arguing that we should vote No to the Lisbon Treaty because of the abortion issue.  The letter,  from Rev Anthony Scully, includes this choice extract:

The European Union has embraced the “Culture of Death”. Yet again, Europe has become a slaughterhouse. Millions of its own children have been exterminated. Defenceless human beings have been and are being denied the right to life.  A vote for the Lisbon Treaty is a vote for the culture of death.

This is crazy stuff, and I’m surprised that The Irish Times gives space to such inflammatory and perverse outpourings.

Already (even in Ireland) we implicitly, and necessarily,  recognise that the death of a foetus does not warrant the same legal protection as the death of a child or adult.  For otherwise our law would require that, every time a woman becomes pregnant but fails to deliver a live baby in due course, there would be a full and formal legal Inquest into the “death” of the “person” . 

Under Irish law, an Inquest must be held if a coroner has reasonable cause to believe that ANY of the following criteria apply to a death:

  • it occurred in a violent manner
  • it  occurred in an unnatural manner
  • it occurred suddenly and/or from unknown causes
  • The death occurred in a medical environment from anything other than natural illness or disease

I suspect that if we did follow the anti-abortionists’ logic and launch a full Inquest every time a woman suffered a miscarriage, just in case there had been some intent on her part to induce the miscarriage, or negligence in this regard, then we would see an uproar from all sane people.  But such a course is the logical (but crazy) outcome of the call for the “unborn” to have the same legal rights as a child or adult.

That we don’t subject women to such a ridiculous process every time there is a miscarriage during a pregnancy demonstrates that we are prepared to accept that in practice a foetus does not warrant the same legal due process and protection as a fully formed human being.

Similarly, why are the anti-abortionists not calling for laws to make it illegal for pregnant women to smoke or drink alcohol? If nicotine or alcohol were forcibly induced into (say) a three-year old child’s bloodstream, I suspect the law would take a dim view.  But we don’t extend such legal protection to a foetus;  this is not because we approve of such behaviour in a mother-to-be, but because we recognise that we have to balance the rights of a fully grown human being against what is only a potential human being, one with as yet no hopes or fears about the future, no consciousness of family or friends, no past and no ambitions.

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