As promised in the sermons we highlight here the source documents – from The Church of Ireland, The Methodist Church in Ireland and a copy of the letter which was signed by staff and many congregation members to TD’s and the Taoiseach.
The sermon is available here
The Church of Ireland
Submission by the Most Rev Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Mr Samuel Harper, Lay Honorary Secretary of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children on Abortion.
Submission by the Most Rev Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Mr Samuel Harper,
Lay Honorary Secretary of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland
- While welcoming the invitation to give evidence to the Committee, the Archbishop and Mr Harper express considerable disquiet at the timescale involved on a matter of such exceptional human complexity and sensitivity and the difficulty of involving the synodical structures of the Church. The Church of Ireland is a Synodical Church which develops policy guided by the prayerful consideration and discussion of bishops, clergy and laity. The time given to develop a written response to the Committee (de facto less than three working days) made this impossible. Accordingly, this document can only be considered a preliminary response.
- The Church of Ireland emphasises the right to life and this includes the right of the unborn.
- . The Church of Ireland opposes abortion in principle but acknowledges that there are exceptional cases of ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity’ where it is and should be an option.There is a variety of opinion within the Church of Ireland on what constitutes ‘exceptional cases’ but agreement that it includes circumstances where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. (ed- emphasis mine)
- In the context of the Church of Ireland’s previous comments on abortion about the need for legal clarity, it is agreed that the position in the State at present is very unclear and unsatisfactory, and unfair to pregnant women and medical professionals who deserve to be able to make critical, clinical decisions in a secure and well regulated medical framework. Accordingly, the decision by the Government to seek to provide clarity on the issue is welcome.
- It is agreed that where there is a strict and undeniable medical necessity requiring the ending of a pregnancy at a later stage, where possible, this should be done in a manner that preserves the life of the unborn, without compromising the life of the woman. This diagnosis should be made expeditiously and should be formally notified to the woman. This will require legislation as medical council guidelines on their own will not necessarily have this effect.
- Special provision should be made for emergency situations where the continuation of the pregnancy occasions a risk to the mother’s life that it real, substantial and imminent.
- It is desirable that Review Panel group suggested by the Expert Group should include a lawyer.
- The clauses of the 1861 Act should be amended or repealed.
- The Church has previously urged the Government to adopt a legislative and regulatory approach which will allow for easier alteration in the light of changes in medical science. Accordingly, the Government decision to do so is welcome.
Submission by the Most Rev Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin and Mr Samuel Harper, Lay Honorary Secretary of the General Synod to the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the Implementation of the Government Decision following the publication of the Expert Group Report into matters relating to AB & C v Ireland.
We are grateful for the invitation extended to make a submission to the Joint Committee on Health and Children on the issue of abortion and wish to express our gratitude to the Chairman and members for the opportunity afforded. However, we must express considerable disquiet at the timescale given for a response on a matter of this exceptional human complexity and sensitivity.
The Church of Ireland is a Synodical Church and has extensive structures and procedures to allow the policies of the Church to be guided by the prayerful consideration and discussion of bishops, clergy and laity. It was not remotely possible in the short timeframe allowed (de facto less than three working days) to undertake such a procedure and this is totally inappropriate in light of the complexity of the moral, ethical and legal issues involved. Accordingly this paper can only be considered a preliminary response. Some of what appears here expresses the personal opinions of the representatives of the Church (though guided by previous Church discussions) and where this is so, this has been highlighted. Obviously, we intend to convey the report and some of the issues raised to the appropriate bodies within the Church for their own consideration.
The position of the Church of Ireland on abortion is summarised on an addendum to this paper including excerpts from previous submissions to Oireachtas Committees. We recognise, however, that the decision in the AB & C v Ireland case and the decision of the Government to progress the matter through a combination of legislation and regulation had ‘moved the issue on’ somewhat and thus we will confine most of our submission to the issues raised by the Expert Group report. It will suffice to say that the Church of Ireland opposes abortion in principle but recognises that there are exceptional cases of ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity’ where it is and should be an option. There would be a wide variety of sincerely held and conscientious views within the Church as to what constitute such ‘exceptional cases’ but there would be agreement that these include cases where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a risk to the life of the mother.
The Current Legal Situation In the X-case of 1992, the Supreme Court held that an abortion was constitutionally permissible under Article 40.3.3 in circumstances where the continuation of the pregnancy constituted a ‘real and substantial risk’ to the life (as distinct from health) of the mother and the risk can only be averted by the termination of a pregnancy. The circumstances of the case made clear that this included a credible risk of suicide.
The Church of Ireland welcomed the judgment at the time as the wording ‘real and substantial risk to the life of the mother’ was very similar to the ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity’ criterion which the Church has generally held to be appropriate. However, the legal situation has not been clarified and statutory provisions; particularly sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, remain in effect, and provide for severe criminal sanctions for both women and those who assist unlawful abortions.
In the context of the Church of Ireland’s previous comments on the issue of abortion, we would agree that the position at present is very unclear and that this is unsatisfactory and unfair to pregnant women and medical professionals who deserve to be able to make critical, clinical decisions in a secure and well regulated legal and medical framework. We therefore strongly welcome the decision by the Government to seek to provide clarity on this issue.
Expert Group Report & Implementation
Introducing the principles behind its paper, the expert group said that ‘there is an existing constitutional right as identified and explained in the X case judgment of the Supreme Court. The State is entitled and, indeed, obliged to regulate and monitor the exercise of that right so as to ensure that the general constitutional prohibition on abortion is maintained. However, the measures that are introduced to give effect to this constitutional right should not act as obstacles to any woman who is legitimately entitled to seek a termination on lawful grounds.’ We would agree with this general approach.
The expert group went on to highlight the sensitive issue of what should happen in the event that a foetus is viable (or potentially viable) but the continuation of the pregnancy poses a ‘real and substantial risk’ to the life of the mother. We feel that this highlights the need for an effective decision making procedure. With regard to Chapter 6 of the Expert Group report, the report outlines the tests to be applied in the light of the Supreme Court decision in the X-case and that this should include the question of whether it is practicable to preserve the life of the unborn in the process of terminating the pregnancy without compromising the right to life of the woman. The Church of Ireland submission in 1998 to the Interdepartmental working group on abortion makes clear the Church’s position on the right to life of the unborn. We would therefore, agree with the approach outlined and with the requirement that the diagnosis needs to be made expeditiously and should be formally notified to the woman. Such a device needs the protection of legislation as medical council guidelines on their own will not necessarily have this effect.
The Expert Group also raised the issue of whether there should be special provision for the rare occasions where the risk to a woman’s life is real, substantial and imminent (IE Emergency provisions). Our view is that there should be special provision for such circumstances in the light of the provisions of the 1861 Act which makes the termination of pregnancy subject to severe criminal sanction. We do not feel that it is appropriate for a medical professional faced with an emergency situation where a woman’s life is in danger to be constrained from giving necessary treatment in good faith by the risk of criminal conviction. We would emphasise, however, that the synodical bodies of the Church have not taken an official position on this issue.
As to the Review panel, we would agree with the general approach outlined by the Expert Group and of the two options given, we believe that Option 1 (including a lawyer on the panel) would be the preferred approach, although we would again add the caveat that there has not been an official decision on this within the Church of Ireland.
Turning to Chapter 7 and the options for implementation, as a group we welcome the Government’s decision to seek to implement by means of Legislation and Regulations which is in keeping with the statement made by the Church in 1998. This approach allows for easier alteration as developments in medical science alter the context of decision making. Similarly we feel there is a strong argument for the abolition and replacement of the clauses of the 1861 Act with a more up to date legal framework but we cannot offer an official Church of Ireland position on this point.
Without entering into the issue of whether abortion should be available in circumstances beyond those outlined in the X-case (on which there are a variety of opinions within the Church of Ireland), we agree that legal clarity is required to enable women and medical professionals to make informed decisions where the continuation of a pregnancy poses a ‘real and substantial risk to the life of the mother’ and as such the Expert Group report and the Government’s decision to provide a legislative and regulatory framework are overdue and welcome.
Church of Ireland’s Position on Abortion In 1958, the Lambeth Conference (a decennial conference of Anglican Bishops Worldwide) adopted a resolution stating:
‘In the strongest terms, Christians reject the practice of induced abortion or infanticide, which involves the killing of a life already conceived (as well as a violation of the personality of the mother) save at the dictate of strict and undeniable medical necessity’.
While Lambeth Conference resolutions are only binding on individual Churches when formally incorporated into the internal legal systems of those Churches, the Church of Ireland has generally used this resolution as its starting point in previous submissions to Oireachtas Committees on the issue of abortion beginning in 1982. The phrase ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity’ clearly carries with it the implication that there are circumstances where abortion is a medical necessity.
In 1982, the Standing Committee of the General Synod sent an official comment on behalf of the Church of Ireland to the then Taoiseach, Mr Haughey which said that ‘we cannot emphasise too strongly the right to life and this includes the right of the yet unborn.’ After quoting the Lambeth Council resolution referred to above and highlighting the words ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity’ the statement went on to add, ‘we greatly doubt the wisdom of using constitutional prohibitions as a means of dealing with complex moral and social problems.’
In 1998, the Church’s Role of the Church Committee made a submission to the Interdepartmental working group on abortion which said inter alia: ‘The deliberate termination of an intra Uterine life cannot be right but many in our church believe that exceptional cases may arise which mean that abortion ought to be an option and may even be a necessity in a few very rare cases. No abortion is ever desirable – at most it can only be described as the lesser of two evils, and always undertaken with a profound sense of sadness and regret. The legal framework should allow for such exceptional cases so that the tragedy is not compounded by public debate.’ It is fair to say that there are different opinions amongst Church of Ireland members at all levels, as to what constitute ‘exceptional cases.’ For example, in 2000, a Church of Ireland Medical Ethics Working Group proposed that these should include (amongst others) ‘lethal or severe congenital abnormality in the foetus’. After some debate at the General Synod, this paper was withdrawn on a vote of 166 votes to 164.
The Church of Ireland’s position can be summed up as recognising that there are (regrettably) exceptional circumstances of strict and undeniable medical necessity where an abortion should be an option (or more rarely a necessity) whilst also a concern to avoid a situation whereby legislating for such exceptions provides a ‘back door’ to widespread abortion, to which the Church is strongly opposed.
Methodist Church in Ireland
Heidi Good’s oral submission to the Oirachtas Health Committee hearings on abortion
(Ed- I include this here as it is a succinct statement and the Methodist church are our covenant partners)
Chairman, members of this Joint Committee on Health and Children, I would first like to thank you for this opportunity on behalf of the Methodist Church in Ireland to share with you the Methodist position on abortion and our hopes for the forthcoming legislation.
As you will see from our submission, the Methodist Church, strongly states that abortion on demand is wrong. However, after considerable time spent in consultation with experienced members in the church, we take the view that termination should be available to a mother in 4 circumstances:
- Where the mother’s life is at risk
- Where there is risk of grave injury to the physical or mental health of the mother
- In cases of rape or incest
- In cases of gross abnormality of the foetus (e.g. anencephaly or otherwise where it is incapable of survival
The Methodist Church recognises however, that it is unlikely at the moment, that any legislation coming forward would include all 4 circumstances. It appears the key question is will this government will legislate for terminations where the mother’s life is at risk? We strongly urge the government to do so.
In this urging, we recognise that we go against very strong feelings and beliefs of many in this country. Our desire is not to offend nor do we wish anyone to think that we have come to this position lightly. We recognise that the foetus is not just an appendage of the mother’s body. It is a developing being as it goes through the various stages of gestation and so should progressively be accorded rights culminating with full respect as an individual on birth. But the mother is also an individual, accorded with all the rights that her fellow men and women have and has the right to life. Thus she has the right to life-saving procedures that we all have and that includes allowing a termination when necessary to preserve her life.
Amongst the varied physical medical reasons which may cause grave complications for a mother and necessitate a termination, the Methodist Church believes that the mental welfare of the mother must also be included. If her medical team deem that suicide is a real concern and possibility we believe they should be allowed to consider termination as part of her treatment.
The Methodist Church believes that no law should attempt to legislate for a specific form of morality but rather to set the minimum standards for the social good. We believe the rule of law should allow maximum individual freedom and should only restrict such freedom where there is a clear and unmistakeable social necessity. In essence, we believe the legislature should legislate for the public good and not to suit us or any other church/faith explicitly. Whether we agree or disagree with the final legislation is our concern. But we do strongly urge this Oireachtas to legislate on this issue, to allow for the medical profession to make those difficult but life-saving decisions when a mother’s life is in danger without fear of repercussions and to give peace of mind to women in Ireland that they can be assured that their doctor can take all necessary action to save her life.
In closing, I would like to say, we believe the Christian Gospel promotes a just, loving and caring society with emphasis on the dignity and worth of each individual. And so we believe this is the best approach.
Letter to be sent to Local TD’s & Mr Enda Kenny in the name of the staff and those parishioners who signed the letter
WE AS MEMBERS OF CARRIGROHANE UNION OF PARISHES:
- Thank you for the time you have taken to listen and are ashamed of the abuse you may have received in the name of the Church and Christ.
- Are concerned about possible lax interpretation of the legislation and ask that as a public representative you are vigilant in the application of the Act.
- Request that in the legislation requiring the annual reporting of notifications of terminations to the Health Minister before 30th June each year, that this is reinforced by requiring the Health Minister to present it to the Dail for consideration, so that the government is seen to be accountable.
- We offer you our prayerful support in your difficult role as public representatives, and pray for healing and forgiveness so that we can know the blessing of God in our nation.