News broke this week of new guidelines for Catholic hospitals drafted by the Irish Catholic Bishops that would prohibit abortions. In May, Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution that recognized the equal right to life of the preborn child and his or her mother. Abortion previously was banned, except in cases where the mother’s life was in immediate danger. Following the vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment, politicians announced plans to legalize abortion up to 24 weeks in certain circumstances.
The government group that reviewed the bishops’ document is due to report on its findings next month. Top government officials, however, have already issued their condemnation of the ethical standards. Responding the article in the Times, Minister of Health Simon Harris tweeted, “All publicly funded health services providers in State will be expected to provide legal health services- incl. women’s health services.” Harris, who was instrumental in the pro-abortion repeal campaign, clearly means abortion when talking about “women’s health services.”
Harris added, “Conscientious objection is for individuals, not institutions.” This pronouncement echoes Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s claim that Catholic hospitals would “be expected to carry out any procedure that is legal in this state.” But abortion, which violently ends the life of a living preborn human being, is not simply a “health service.” Institutions that adhere to pro-life ethical guidelines, therefore, cannot commit or refer for abortions — including Catholic hospitals in Ireland.
The pro-abortion media portrayed the bishops’ guidance as breaking the law. However, abortion is not yet legal; politicians plan to pass legislation later this year. Rather than breaking the law, the bishops’ document points to a need for protections in the forthcoming abortion law for pro-life institutions. The bishops wrote in a joint statement following the repeal,
“It is essential for us as a Church which cares passionately about the gift of life, and wants to support both mothers and their unborn children, to seek better ways of responding to this new and very challenging reality [legal abortion].”
Maintaining Catholic hospitals as health care institutions that protect all human lives is one important response.