Three days of public hearings at Leinster House have clarified some of the issues the Government will have to tackle in legislating for the Supreme Court judgment in the X case.
The calm and measured nature of
the exchanges and an absence of rancour were welcome.
approach did not disguise yawning gaps between the extremes and the
middle ground on whether, or in what circumstances, deliberate
destruction of a foetus should be permitted.
The exercise will have
helped to inform the public on the medical, legal and ethical
complexities involved and calmed FG backbench nerves.
of the Oireachtas health committee were unhappy their function had been
limited to questioning interested parties and reporting back to
Government, rather than making recommendations.
They will have an
opportunity to make their personal positions known when the heads of a
Government Bill are published before Easter.
In the meantime, they can
be satisfied by the efficient and non-confrontational manner of the
hearings. The political process was presented in a positive light.
Government is grappling with past mistakes. Advice by two attorneys
general in advance of the 1983 referendum – that the initiative was
flawed and unwise – has been vindicated.
In spite of that, demands for a
further referendum that would wind the clock back to those days have
The Catholic Church spokesman Bishop Christopher Jones
advocated such an approach even as he insisted, against the advice of
medical experts, that legislation was not required to ensure a woman
receives life-saving treatment during pregnancy.
Distrust has been
a central element of this sorry affair. It was distrust of the EU and
of Irish politicians that led, initially, to demands for a
constitutional amendment that would – in line with Catholic Church
teaching – ban deliberate abortion in all circumstances.
Distrust of the
judiciary and of suicidal women arose from the Supreme Court ruling in
the X case and brought two failed referendum attempts to overturn that
Distrust of the medical profession has now emerged because
doctors admit that circumstances exist where deliberate abortion is
necessary to save the life of a mother.
Politicians are under pressure
and the duty of government to uphold the Constitution is being
The hearings have pointed to an emerging consensus; that a
combination of legislation with regulations represents the way forward.
stating its position the Catholic Church has moderated its language.
Legislation was not equated with “the first step towards a culture of
That change goes some way towards respecting the views of
In a democratic society, legislators have a duty to seek a
consensus that does the least wrong, or the least harm, rather than
impose a specific form of morality.