Working Paper Number 1
In March 1998 the Working Group was asked by the Role of the Church Committee to draft a submission to the Interdepartmental Working Group on Abortion, Department of Health and Children of the Government of the Republic of Ireland. The following is the text of that draft.
The issue of abortion is a very emotional one touching deeply held beliefs about the value and respect due to all human life at every stage. It also evokes our compassion for those in crisis or in need. This apparent conflict between the total respect for potential human life and the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of the mother, coloured sometimes by the social environment into which the child may be born, can lead to confused and often diverse attitudes to abortion in our society.
These complexities are reflected in the Church of Ireland community. With our fellow Christians on this island we strive to express our beliefs about God and his creation and his concern for all who are in need in an increasingly complex world. We affirm the sanctity of life both before and after birth. We are very concerned about women facing crisis pregnancies and as a church we endeavour to offer compassion and love to them in their anxieties.
There is a need for a clear and unambiguous definition of abortion. This would focus the discussion in Ireland on the exact issues in question and avoid the emotive broad sweeps which are so common in discussions of this issue. Some contributors to the discussion mean by abortion any intervention after conception and so include some forms of contraception, for example the inter-uterine device or the morning-after pill. Others define it in such a way that certain interventions are not so described, for example by the use of the double effect principle, where if a woman who is pregnant is found to have cancer of the cervix, a hysterectomy is allowed because it is considered that the removal of the diseased uterus is the primary object and the termination of the pregnancy is the secondary and unavoidable effect; the treatment of ectopic pregnancy can also give rise to a similar situation.
The deliberate termination of an intra uterine life cannot be right but many in our church believe that exceptional cases may arise which mean that abortion ought to be an option and may even be a necessity in a few very rare cases. No abortion is ever desirable - at most it can only be described as the lesser of two evils, and always undertaken with a profound sense of sadness and regret. The legal framework should allow for such exceptional cases so that the tragedy is not compounded by public debate.
The availability of abortion in Great Britain is a reality and with sadness we recognise that thousands of women from both North and South make use of that facility each year. On their return to Ireland they do not need our condemnation to make their situation worse - instead our church must offer them spiritual, emotional and practical support as they rebuild their lives. We expect the same of our health services which should offer non-judgmental and easily accessed counselling and medical care to those suffering any after effects from an abortion in another jurisdiction. Investment by Government to prevent such pregnancies by education and easy access to free effective contraceptive advice and practice should be a priority.
The text was subsequently approved by the Role of the Church Committee and submitted to the Interdepartmental Working group with the approval of Standing Committee of the Church of Ireland.
This Working Paper and its contents are produced by the Medical Ethics Working Group as a contribution to discussion of issues in Ireland. As such they have only the authority of that Group and are not intended to reflect the policy of the Role of the Church Committee or of any other Church of Ireland Body.