BISHOP of Limerick Brendan Leahy has expressed his opposition to abortion in circumstances where the woman is suicidal.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said upon publication of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill that the government was simply legislating for the X case judgment of 1992, where the Supreme Court ruled it was permissible for a 14-year-old girl - who had been raped and was suicidal - to have an abortion because her life was at risk.
When his appointment to lead the Diocese of Limerick was confirmed in January, Bishop Leahy offered prayers for politicians weighing up the abortion legislation.
And in an interview with the Limerick Leader this week, Bishop Leahy – a qualified barrister – accepted there may be a need to clarify the law on the circumstances in which doctors could intervene where the life of the mother was at risk. But he drew a line on the question of suicide.
“Legislation perhaps is needed to clarify some of the guidelines [for doctors]. There are reasonably good guidelines but perhaps some areas need to be clarified. If that is the case and legislation helps that process, then that is positive. But the one thing we have to watch is that we don’t end up legislating directly for abortion. That’s the big thing.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that the legislation merely “codified” rights that have existed since the X-case judgement and created no new grounds on which abortion was permissible.
Bishop Leahy said he did not have a difficulty “if that means codified in the sense of clarifying that abortion is not permissible”.
“There is this guideline we have at the moment that medical treatment can be given to a woman once the life of woman is at risk even if it has the unavoidable consequence of resulting in the death of the child. That can be codified certainly and should be clarified. Best medical practice would say that can be done and if there is a need to clarify that, well then yes. But not from the point of view of saying simply that there can be abortion when a woman’s health is at risk or there is a question of suicide as a premise. I think that is tipping us over into abortion legislation,” said the bishop.
“I have a dream and perhaps I am naive where I say to myself could it be that Ireland could be the country that could show in the modern world that we are a modern people who promote a human ecology that says abortion is never the solution to a problem; that there are better solutions, other ways and means. I’d like to believe we could be that country. I do believe that sooner or later, whether that is in 100 years’ time, that the western world and world in general will understand the mistake it made in introducing abortion as a means of solving problems. The medical evidence, the scientific evidence, is mounting all the time to show just how much an unborn child is fully alive from the earliest beginnings. Really the scientific evidence is mounting to say the taking of the innocent life of the unborn child is something horrible. But I recognise that there are people who may be in very difficult, complex situations and we need to make sure we do all we can to accompany those people.”
It was put to the bishop that legislation within the limited parameters of the X case would do little to stop the hundreds of Irish women who choose to go to the UK for abortions.
Bishop Leahy accepted there were “sincerely held convictions” on the opposite side of the debate but said the Church’s view that abortion was wrong was one it was entitled to express.
“We have to keep promoting life and find out what it is we have to do to help those women who take that option (to go to the UK), to explore it deeply and take the steps necessary to help those women. But I don’t think we could stand over the decision where somebody says ‘well, it’s OK to go for an abortion’. From our point of view of the gospel of life, we feel it is reasonable to say ‘Look, there are two lives here, the life of the mother and the life of the child’.
“We accept there are people who say they need abortions because of difficult situations. I accept there are sincerely held convictions but I think we also have a reasonable position. There are two lives at stake here and we would like to do our part to help both the mother and the child.
“There may be some who still go to England but we still want to help that woman and we still want to help the child. In our church and in other agencies there are people who help those women who have been to England for abortions. That care continues. I would want to say to them we want to be there for you and we want to discover why and how we could have been there for you before you went.”
See this weekend’s Limerick Leader, print edition, for a full interview with Bishop Brendan Leahy