Abortion back in media over Christmas

‘religious imagination is scarce enough in media land these days’, writes Brendan O’Regan

Over the Christmas period, EWTN and other religious channels provided comprehensive coverage of the religious aspects, while RTÉ and BBC also provided the main religious services – RTÉ’s coverage from the newly restored St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford was particularly impressive.

The Christmas Masses showcased the refurbished building and the music was delightful, especially that rendition of O Holy Night on Christmas Eve. At the same time, ITV broadcast a fine carol service from Manchester. On Christmas Eve, I caught the BBC News and very positive coverage was given to the midnight Mass of Pope Francis.

As usual, there were a few biblical epics, especially The Nativity Story (RTÉ and Channel 4). I yearned for something special and original (like BBC’s Liverpool Nativity from a few years ago), but the religious imagination is scarce enough in media land these days. For Christmas night, I’d suggest that RTÉ’s choice of Mrs Brown’s Boys and Anchorman provided a level of crudeness out of sync with the season, while Fatal Attraction and The Rocky Horror Picture Show weren’t inspired movie choices.

Though it was bleak, I liked the Black Mirror ‘White Christmas’ episode on Channel 4 the week before Christmas. This quirky series deals with the dark places technology might bring us to in the not too distant future. This episode foresaw a world of brain ‘cookies’, eye implants, remote control dating, virtual reality interrogation and actual ‘blocking’ of undesirable people. One sympathetic character made cogent and impassioned pro-life arguments when his girlfriend wanted an abortion.  

Out of sensitivity to the season, wouldn’t you think the politicians would have left abortion off the agenda for a while at least? But no, the week before Christmas, Clare Daly TD was promoting another abortion-related bill in Dáil Eireann.

Then, on the Wednesday morning that week I woke up to reports of Health Minister Leo Varadkar maintaining that our abortion laws were too restrictive! And I kicked myself once again for swallowing the line in the last election that Fine Gael would take a pro-life line in Government.

Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) played extracts from his Dáil speech, in which he spoke of babies who would not survive after birth and the difficulties their parents would have explaining to people that the child they were carrying was dead! Dead? A dead baby who might live for a short time after birth? Anyway, does one person’s right to life get trumped by another person’s right to be able to offer explanations? How long must we be guaranteed to live after birth to have our right to life vindicated? Two hours, two days, two weeks – who decides? And which brave media outlet is going to report on the many instances of misdiagnosis in such cases?

The minister did proclaim he was pro-life and said he regarded the unborn child as a “human life with rights”.


That morning, the political panel on Newstalk’s Breakfast show discussed the matter and, wouldn’t you know, there was nobody to support the pro-life/anti-abortion perspective. Later that morning, on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show, a person campaigning for terminations in fatal fetal abnormality cases was given a free run, with no one to balance the argument. Pat Kenny did point out that some parents in these cases did choose to let the baby be born, but this was a pro-choice argument, not a robust challenge to the campaigning stance of his guest. Kenny finished by inviting the guest to tell listeners how they could access his campaign.

The next day, the case of the clinically dead woman with the living unborn baby hit the airwaves. Kenny featured a detailed interview with Dr Patricia Casey who, unlike other supposedly neutral campaigners, was scrupulously balanced, preferring to stay within her area of expertise rather than straying into the fields of law and obstetrics. As always, Prof. William Binchy of the Pro-Life Campaign was a model of clarity and sound values on that Thursday night’s Prime Time (when he wasn’t being interrupted by presenter Miriam O’Callaghan and journalist Susan McCay).

What bugged me most about the coverage of this sad case was the way so many commentators and politicians used it to attack the 8th Amendment, which merely guarantees the equal right to life of mother and baby as far as practicable. The usual prophets of equality were strangely silent.  

Pick of the Week


RTÉ 1, Sun, Jan 4, 11am

With Fr John Dunphy, choirs from Graiguecullen and Killeshin, the community of the Poor Clares and a chorus of children.


RTÉ Lyric FM, Sun, Jan 4, 8am

Celebrating the Epiphany with Anonymous 4, New York Polyphony and American Bach Soloists, while the Calmus Ensemble sing Poulenc.

In Defence of God’s Likeness

EWTN, Tues, Jan 6, 10.30pm

Inalienable rights versus the legal decisions that forced black people and pre-born children to prove their personhood.