Abortion debate dominates media again

The abortion debate rears its head again in mainstream media, causing the Pro Life Campaign to defend against ‘a lack of awareness’ from the opposition, writes Brendan O’Regan

The abortion issue came back on the media agenda from an unlikely quarter last week, with the intervention of Sabina Higgins, wife of the President. It was part of a wider address to midwives (ironically) and seemed unplanned, confused and hesitant.

On the Nine News on RTÉ that night they played the relevant clip, the key part of which went like this: “There has to be the choice that you know that… that foetal abnormality that the person or persons should be made carry…  you know and sit in you know… these are really outrages against women and outrages against the world and nature”. I hope the midwives are better at delivering babies than she was at delivering this!

On the same programme Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign said it showed a lack of awareness of the pain of parents who got a diagnosis of a life-limiting condition for their babies. The Every Life Counts group described it as “hurtful and appalling”, but Gerry Edwards of the Terminations for Medical Reasons welcomed it, with the curious description of such pregnancies, that “can’t result in a living child”. Newsflash Gerry, the unborn child is already living.  

The issue also featured Wednesday of last week on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk) when Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty Ireland had a robust debate with lawyer Maria Steen of the Iona Institute. 

The Higgins intervention was in fact the least interesting aspect of that debate but if Mrs Higgins was acting as a “private citizen” as O’Gorman put it, why was a clarification sent to the show from a spokesperson from the President’s office? Why did that ‘clarification’ insist that Mrs Higgins used the word “fatal” in relation to “foetal abnormality” when the audio recording didn’t show that? In an amusing moment Kenny took umbrage that this spokesperson referred to him merely as the “presenter”. 


Up to now we’ve heard demands that unborn babies with ‘fatal foetal abnormalities’ should be subject to abortion if the mother wishes, but O’Gorman broadened it to “severe or fatal foetal abnormalities”… the slope is getting slippery even before we get to it. 

Under questioning from Steen on whether he’d include Downs Syndrome O’Gorman said no, but also “we have no part in that debate”. And anyway, how would O’Gorman argue against aborting unborn children with Downs? He never seems to make a case for the unborn having rights, and if a mother felt she couldn’t cope with such a pregnancy wouldn’t that be a forced pregnancy, intolerable by Amnesty’s mean-spirited standards? 

In fact he seemed to think that rights only began after the child was born and as Steen kept pointing out he seemed unwilling to acknowledge the unborn child as a baby at all. He seemed to think it just a ‘principled position’ that human life began at conception instead of the scientific fact that it is. 

Steen, all the while delivering a master class in pro-life advocacy, believed that all human life was deserving of equal treatment and pointed out that the Irish Constitution protects both mother and baby and if we can save both what would be wrong with that? There followed a pregnant pause, a silence that spoke volumes. 

O’Gorman remained speechless until presenter Pat Kenny interrupted and changed the subject to the Eighth Amendment, but not before O’Gorman belatedly answered Steen’s question – “We can’t.” Steen asked “Why not?”, but because Kenny had gone off on another tack he wasn’t tackled on that.

At another point Steen made the excellent point that where the death penalty was applied it wasn’t permissible to execute a pregnant woman, and asked why? O’Gorman seemed to be getting uncomfortable at this point – “I really do want to leave this… you’ll need to let me just respond to that and then I’d very much like to move on”! 

As for texts to the show, there was imbalance – only a text favourable to O’Gorman’s position were read out during the debate. Later there were eight texts – four on each side of the issue. 

The issue arose again in a curious way on Friday’s Pat Kenny Show when John Drennan reported on a meeting of the Anti-Austerity Alliance in Laois the night before when there was a “huge and massive split” on the abortion issue, with some describing abortion as an instrument of capitalism and a tool for thinning out the working class!  


Pick of the Week

Catholicism on Campus: The Spiritual Life
EWTN, Sunday,
May 22, 9am

Lay spirituality – exploring the unique power lay spirituality has in inspiring faith in others.

RTÉ One, Sunday,
May 22, 11am

Fr Stanislaw Hajkowski celebrates a bi-lingual Mass, with congregation and choir drawn from St Audoen’s Church, Dublin, the home parish of the Polish chaplaincy in Ireland. Musical Director Dorota Jozefiak. 

Songs of Praise
BBC 1, Sunday,
May 22, 4.55pm

Includes  a spectacular pageant in Liverpool inspired by Pope John Paul II.