Last June, in a boost to the pro-life movement worldwide, the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. As delighted right-to-life activists celebrated, much of the media commentary in Ireland expressed dismay, issuing dire warnings that women would suffer if abortion was made illegal.
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”.