It’s not exactly news. For many years now, the right to publicly protest has been coming under attack by people who are determined to shut down dissenting voices. You don’t actually need to be protesting to have your voice silenced – these days all you need is your publicly stated opinion that goes against the approved political view. So cake makers are fined in Northern Ireland for refusing to make a celebration cake for a gay wedding, a president a student socity of an Irish university is impeached simply for believing it’s wrong to kill unborn children, university pro-life and christian clubs are shut down simply for being pro-life and christian, a teacher in Cambridge is disciplined by his board and may lose his job for not referring to a transgender girl as a boy, and et cetera. And in another nuance on the possibilities of eroding democracy and shutting down free speech, there is the increasingly intense battle to put an end to peaceful prayer, protest and any presence at all by pro-life people outside abortion businesses.
A friend of mine attended Holles Street maternity hospital where she gave birth to a beautiful little girl with a life-limiting condition. The baby girl knew nothing but love until she passed away in her mother’s arms just hours later. My friend said Rhona Mahony was her doctor at that time, and she felt that Dr Mahony didn’t seem to understand that this little girl was precious and valued and loved in exactly the same way as every other child, even if her disability was so severe that her life was very short. She also said that Dr Mahony had suggested abortion to her when her baby girl was first diagnosed as being so seriously ill.
The Irish are a caring people; evidence of this is ample. The surge in homelessness has touched a nerve of compassion which has led to hands-on volunteering on the night-time streets of our cities and towns.
The headlines were dramatic, and wholly misleading, but when it comes to abortion unfortunately this sort of fake news reporting has become the new standard in Ireland. So first, let’s set the record straight: a child was not locked up for seeking an abortion in Ireland, and nothing in Irish law would permit any woman to be detained because she requested an abortion. So what are the facts of the case? Firstly, very little is known apart from what was detailed in a report from the Child Care Law Reporting Project. That project reported that a consultant psychiatrist had recommended that a pregnant girl be detained “because she had a mental health disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act ….. and was at risk of self harm and suicide”.
On Wednesday, 25th. November 2015, various media outlets carried news of the discovery of a new-born baby in the manger of the Christmas crib in the Holy Child Jesus Catholic church in New York city. Under New York state law, a parent may abandon a newborn anonymously at certain designated safe locations, such as a church, hospital, police or fire station, without fear of prosecution as long as the baby is handed over to an appropriate person.
Labour leader, Brendan Howlin has brought a Private Members Bill – The Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2016 – before the Dáil which aims, he says, to regulate what the media likes to describe as ‘rogue’ crisis pregnancy agencies. During the discussion around the Bill in the Dáil, however, it was perfectly clear, with a few honourable exceptions, that the Howlin’s focus was entirely on counsellors who might be opposed to abortion.
My sister Máire Bríd was stillborn. My mother says that, two days before her due date, her little baby stopped moving and that she almost ran to the hospital, hoping against all hope, but knowing that something was terribly wrong. At the hospital they couldn’t find a heartbeat. Two days later she was born: perfect and beautiful, but without life. There was no sound, no cry, no hope that she might have even a brief time with her heartbroken parents.
Last week Dr Máire Nesta Nic Gearailt, a medical advisor to the beautiful initiative www.everylifecounts.ie set the record straight on several key issues on TV3. The Tonight with Vincent Browne programme featured a panel discussing aborting preborn babies with life-limiting conditions or ‘fatal foetal abnormalities’.
Who could possibly not feel anything but enormous compassion for a tiny baby boy born at just 25 weeks gestation and fighting for life in intensive care? His tiny lungs will be struggling to catch breath, his fragile body filled with tubes, and he may be left with a host of problems including brain damage, blindness and more. Every decent person would hope and pray that this little boy makes it. Everyone with an ounce of compassion would want to wrap him in love and urge him to stay strong.