The narrative on the upcoming referendum is being hijacked by ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’ and a corruption of the truth by media commentators, politicians and, even in some cases, doctors themselves. A primary example is the narrative is that the 8th needs to be removed to save women’s lives. This is repeated ad nauseam, yet, when pressed at the Oireachtas Committee, Dr Peter Boylan ( apart from a claim regarding the death of Savita Halappanavar) could not cite one single case ( ‘off the top of his head’ where the 8th has caused a life to be lost. In fact according to the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Ireland is one of the safest places for a woman to have a baby – safer than the UK and the US where abortion is readily available.
This is the reality of what is being proposed. It is not a medical issue – there are many pro-life doctors out there who can attest that the 8th amendment has not prevented them from intervening to save the life of the mother when needed. The oft-used example of Savita Halappanavar is a clear case of ‘alternative facts’ that the pro-repeal side use to deflect from the real issues.
It is well known and ignored that the tragic death of Savita was down to medical misadventure or medical malpractice – and reported as such in three separate enquiries – demonstrating why Leo is wrong in claiming that we should ‘trust doctors’ absolutely. People make mistakes, often unintentionally and sometimes otherwise – which is why there are medical guidelines and regulations.
Dr Peter Boylan, and now more recently, Dr Rhona Mahony, probably the two most media friendly doctors in Ireland, are very much in the repeal side, yet neither can provide an example of a case in Ireland where 35 years of the 8th amendment have resulted in the loss of life of a mother. Yet repeatedly we hear spurious claims of the health and life of the mother being at risk. Regularly we hear wild swinging comments about the ‘chilling effect’ of the 8th- but where is the evidence? Surely after 35 years there would be at least one case to provide justification to take away the last vestiges of rights from the unborn under the constitution, to make it legal for the unborn child to be killed under the guise of healthcare?
Yet, our Health Minister and An Taoiseach, as well as Peter Boylan and Rhona Mahony, are rarely if ever, questioned on the rationale for their eagerness to make it legal for the child’s life to be taken, citing medical care as a figleaf for ideology. If the Minister speaks about his new found ‘compassion’ and criticises pro-life groups, it makes big bold headlines. The counter argument makes the small print somewhere in the depths of Ireland’s liberal media or is consigned to the Letters pages.
Take one specific example: in the Irish Times, a column appears, written by physicist, David Robert Grimes, which compares abortion rates where abortion is legal and illegal but fails to look at the very obvious comparison between Ireland and the UK where 1 in 5 babies in the UK are aborted, while the Irish figure is much, much lower.
Reverting back to our Irish politicians, it is conveniently forgotten, by both Minister Harris, An Taoiseach, Micheal Martin and now Simon Coveney, as well as others, that they have previously spoken out against abortion. In the Sunday Independent, 2012, Simon Harris said ‘… I have a strongly held view on this and I need to stand by that [pro-life] belief. I will not throw insults at others of opposing views, in the way others threw insults at me last week. In a liberal, open society which so many people talk of, guaranteeing people their right to hold a view, to make that view known and to stand by their principles is not an optional extra. Liberalism, tolerance and openness require each of us to respect the rights of others to differ with you, to have thoughts and beliefs with which you may not concur.”
Ironically, now that the shoe is on the other foot, Harris shows little, if any, respect, tolerance or understanding of the pro-life position, or those that stand in the way of the referendum result that he is ‘looking forward to’.
On April 2nd, in the Times, Mr Harris said: “what I have heard in recent days has been quite concerning in showing a lack of understanding of the reality facing Irish women.”
He challenged the media to put pressure on anti-abortion campaigners to set out what alternative for women in crisis pregnancies would be available if the public vote to retain the Eighth Amendment. “I hope that during this campaign, journalists won’t just ask me about the proposals that would follow a referendum, but will also ask the other side, ‘Well what is your alternative proposal for a woman, for a child perhaps that has been raped? Are you genuinely saying that that child has to carry that baby to full term? What is your alternative proposal to the mum and dad who travelled to the UK today and have to bring their baby, their dearly wanted baby back in the boot of their car?’” Mr Harris said.
Minister Harris seems to forget that he is the Health Minister. What he is asking for is part of his job – to work within the Constitution. He is raising red herrings instead of doing his job.
Of course, Mr Harris misrepresents and he does so deliberately. There are alternative proposals already in place. They involve caring for both the mother and child. Mr Harris hides behind hypotheticals and picking the hardest and most difficult of cases: a child that has been raped – to justify his liberal abortion regime.
Most disgusting – and it is disgusting – is Mr Harris attempts to link the 8th amendment with the case of a mother clinically dead, being kept alive: “To put forward no alternative proposals and to suggest that the status quo is fine, to say things like it was noble for that situation in relation to that poor woman on a life machine to have to carry . . . I don’t think that’s reflective of the majority view in this country.” The Minister is presumably referring to the Mullingar case of 2014 where he attempts a dishonest sleight of hand. The 8th amendment did not result in the woman being kept alive- the life support was in actual fact turned off and the 8th did not prevent that- through a ruling of the High Court, operating under the Constitution.
That is not to enter into the discussion of what is the right thing to do in such a case – though Minister Harris feels that he already has made up his mind – where a similar situation (though not identical) in Brazil in 2017 resulted in the birth of healthy twins. Life is complex. Simon Harris presents it as black and white – which is inevitable when you omit one life from the calculus of pregnancy.
Minister Harris is the Minister for Health. It is his and the government’s responsibility to deal with these challenging situations in a compassionate manner that respects and protects both lives. His solution is one of convenience. Let the child be expendable. It is convenient for the government to suggest such a solution. It involves no effort on their part. Instead of offering services and support for parents encountering these challenging times, of investing resources in infant hospices, they cheerlead for changing the 8th because it is their ideological preference and not for any manufactured and new-found ‘compassion’ that they so often claim.
On March 9th, Minister Harris continued falsely linking the 8th with tragedies whose root cause lie elsewhere, welcoming the referendum bill he proclaimed: ‘We stand here knowing the tragedy which befell Savita Halappanavar and her family. We remember you, Savita. We remember Miss X. We remember A, B, C & D. We remember Miss Y. We remember Miss P.”
Savita did not die because of the 8th. It is an abuse of her memory for a Health Minister to claim so, shielding his health services from blame apportioned through three enquiries. Miss P is the mother mentioned above who was not kept alive because of the 8th. Miss X is the case that has been addressed by the Supreme Court and, according to Fine Gael, by the 2013 Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill.
The case of Miss D refers to a case of anencephaly and a complex and messy court judgment. Miss D is relevant because she was 14 and in the care of the State. Simon Harris makes no reference to the child with anencephaly or the fact that what he proposes is that a child with anencephaly has no rights.
The case of A & B were thrown out by the European Court of Human Rights. The case of C was successful but not against the 8th but because of a lack of clarity on procedures: in the same ECHR judgment it was reiterated there is “no human right to abortion” stemming from the European Convention and that the Irish Constitutional prohibition of abortion respects the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case of Miss Y refers to an asylum seeker in Ireland who wanted an abortion but was assessed as not being suicidal under the 2013 legislation.
Mr Harris omits the details of cases but attempts to create a long list of women ‘wronged’ by the 8th. He cites their names or initials in the same way he cited numbers of women who travelled to England for abortions, county by county- as if this gives his position greater credibility.
His is a corruption of facts. And of course he, a Minister that says the labels of pro-life and pro-choice are archaic on the one hand but claims to be role life on the other, omits any consideration of the second life in the equation.
And An Taoiseach, on announcing the referendum attempted a similar sleight of hand: ‘I do not believe that the Constitution is the place for making absolute statements about medical, moral, and legal issues. An issue that is not black and white can never be explained in black and white.’ – forgetting that the Constitution, and not to mention the various human rights declarations, declare on legal and moral issues. In fact article 40.6 states “The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality”!
An Taoiseach attempts to present the 8th as a medical issue in the Constitution, which of course it is not. The Constitution does not speak on medical issues- it says to protect the life of the unborn child as far as practicable, with due regard to the right to life of the mother.
And An Taoiseach, like his Health Minister and protégé, has forgotten the second human in the equation, and resorts to soundbytes similar to those of Mr Harris.
“Ultimately, it will be a decision based on the wishes of the woman concerned and the best available medical evidence. Safe, legal and rare. No longer an article of our Constitution, but rather a private and personal matter for women and doctors. No more X cases, C cases, Miss Ys or Miss A, Miss B, or Miss C.”
It was appalling to see Simon Harris deliberately refer to Miss C, a young girl who was forced by the government into an abortion, and who has grieved for her child every day since. An Taoiseach seems unaware that Miss C is not a victim of the 8th but of those that seek its removal.
Today, Miss C is a 34-year-old mother, but 21 years ago she was the teenage Traveller at the centre of a controversial case who was taken to the UK for an abortion by health board staff after being brutally raped. This was permitted by the High Court under the earlier X-Case ruling because the court heard that Mary was suicidal. The abortion led to a spiral of depression and chaos in her life. In the days before her abortion, her parents had taken a legal action against the State in a bid to stop their daughter being taken to England. The couple, however, failed in their action and the abortion went ahead.
Speaking in 2013 to the Irish Independent Miss C said : “My name – the C-case girl – is brought up on radio and TV all the time these days as if I’m an ad for abortion. The X-case girl never had an abortion in the end so we don’t know how it would have affected her, but, for me, it has been harder to deal with than the rape. It only really hits you after you have children. You never forget your missing baby. It plays on your mind every day. Any woman who has an abortion and then goes on to become a mother will know all about it afterwards. I didn’t want to become a mother at 13, but I realise now that baby didn’t deserve to die. I would have loved to give her up for adoption to somebody who really wanted kids and couldn’t have them. She’d be a teenager today and maybe we could be friends, even if she didn’t call me mammy.”
It is a shame for An Taoiseach to use the C case as an advertisement for an abortion regime that will result in more victims like Miss C.
Such misleading dishonesty seems to be standard fayre for the repeal side in the current debate. Clearly running out of arguments, they attempt to mislead by accusing those for the 8th of misleading or throw red herrings after red herring. This is not limited to the Government- Ivan Yates in his Irish Independent column also attempts, following Minister Harris lead, to talk about the 8th in same breath as sad stories such as that of Ann Lovett and the Kerry babies, which have nothing to do with the 8th of course but enough to create some smoke.
Following the advice of Vladimir Lenin, the hope is that ‘A lie told often enough becomes the truth’ and with a very forgiving and compassionate media when it comes to political views in favour of repeal, this may very well become the truth.
Dualta Roughneen is a writer and researcher