Intention is such an important word.
I sometimes think that before any discussion on a situation where abortion is being proffered as the solution, we should ask one simple question:
“What is the intention here?”
It might bring us to that much-misunderstood and muddled fact – what is meant by an abortion. Because an “abortion” only ever has one intention.
By definition, “abortion” is the direct, intentional targetting of the unborn life in the womb with the sole purpose of bringing about an end to that life.
If there are any other aims in mind, then we are not dealing with abortion at all, but some other type of procedure which must be categorised correctly if this debate is to progress
Let’s break up that definition a bit further.
The ending of the life in the womb must be the “sole purpose” of the procedure. If the unborn life is ended as a side-effect of say, medical treatment being given to her mother, then this is not an abortion. Nobody wanted to end that life – quite the contrary. The ideal outcome would be that the mother receives the medical treatment she needs, and her baby survives unscathed. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen and when the baby dies as a side-effect of that treatment, it is a tragedy for all concerned:-
- The mother and her partner have lost the baby they were hoping to protect.
- The doctor has lost one of the two patients whose welfare he was concerned with.
- The baby has lost her life.
To listen to some of those who advocated the introduction of abortion this week, you might not know it, but in Ireland pregnant women receive excellent medical care. There is never a case where they are refused treatment for some ailment because they are pregnant.
We have the lowest maternal mortality rate (MMR) in the world. That’s not a statistic created by any pro-life group. It was reported by an independent body, the World Health Organisation, in its most recent Report on global maternal mortality in 2010. Our MMR is much lower than countries like Holland or the UK, where abortion is freely available.
So it is fair to say that Ireland is the safest country in the world in which to be pregnant and give birth.
What is very often overlooked in these debates is the question of intention.
In Ireland, doctors treating a pregnant woman suffering from some illness will usually have a choice of treatments. When considering which treatment to use, they are obliged to take into account the effect of that treatment on the life of the unborn child that the woman is carrying. Which treatment will cure the mother’s ailment and have the least effect on the unborn child? Ideally, a treatment will be available which will achieve the former and have little or no negative effect on the unborn child but of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.
Sometimes the treatment is so severe that the unborn child cannot survive and her life is ended. But this is not an “abortion”. Thinking back to the definition, there is nothing intentional about the death of the unborn baby in this case. On the contrary, I think if you suggested to the mother that she intended such an outcome, you’d receive such a violent reaction that you wouldn’t suggest it again!
The point is, babies in these cases are badly wanted. Their welfare is considered at all stages of the treatment. It’s the reason why doctors are urged in many cases by the mother herself to hold off from starting any treatment for as long as possible, just to give the baby a few more days or weeks to grow and develop and in this way have the best possible chance of survival.
This type of situation happens every day in Irish hospitals. Our health system may have its problems, but this is not one of them.
And it’s the reason why any pregnant woman can be assured that she will be given the very best care in Ireland, that her health will be monitored right up to and until after she gives birth – regardless of the health problems that her baby may ultimately have.
This distinction between necessary medical treatment to the mother resulting in the unintentional death of her unborn child, and an abortion, is well recognised internationally. It’s not something that receives too much focus from those who would like to see abortion introduced into this country, and it certainly didn’t trouble the framers of the Private Member’s Bill debated last week.
I like to think that everyone involved in the abortion debate has the best of intentions – that they are genuine in their concern for the men and women in this country who find themselves in difficult circumstances and while they may advocate abortion as a solution – something I could never do – they do so in good faith.
However, it is difficult to understand why so many facts are roundly ignored by the supporters of abortion:-
- Why try to discredit our MMR when it has been reported by the WHO which is an independent body, and not directly interested in our laws on abortion?
- Why refuse to acknowledge how much better our quality of maternal care is when compared to countries which have embraced an abortion culture?
- Why not take the time to explain in full the Principle of Double Effect so that every member of society is aware of its use, and can consider same when deciding on their opinion of abortion?
The failure to clarify these issues means that the debate struggles on, missing vital pieces of information like an impossible jigsaw puzzle. The most destructive element is the insinuation that women are in some way neglected in this country, that they are denied treatment so that their unborn child can live.
This is misleading and untrue.
From a feminist perspective, it is deeply disingenuous to engender false fears in the heart of any woman who may become pregnant in this country. She should be reassured at every possible opportunity that Ireland is a world-leader in the field of maternal health.
By all means, let us have the honest and open discussion on abortion that our society deserves. But any such discussion must first begin with a statement of the facts as they exist in the country at present, and an acknowledgement of the excellent care given to women at all stages of their pregnancy.