If money influences choices, does it influence advice

If money influences choices, does it influence advice
Ireland’s looming abortion law exposes key contradictions in left-wing thought, writes Greg Daly


“Follow the money,” may be the most famous phrase penned by the legendary Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman, who died last week. Uttered by the mysterious ‘Deep Throat’ source in the 1976 Watergate blockbuster All the President’s Men, it’s useful advice and a principle that Irish theologian Dr Kevin Hargaden rightly applied this week in a remarkable thread on Twitter.

Dr Hargaden, whose new book Theological Ethics in a Neoliberal Age explores the 2008 Irish economic collapse to theologically investigate our relationship to wealth, noted that many of those who campaigned for the repeal of Ireland’s constitutional protections for unborn children did so from a socialist perspective, pitching the debate as a justice issue and arguing that Irish law was systemically biased against women who could not afford to travel.

“For those from the Left, they have the perpetual problem of how their polices are so inconsistently aligned that they keep getting owned by neoliberal capitalism,” he said, effectively highlighting how Fine Gael politicians have become champions of causes hitherto the terrain of those on the left.

“If you are convinced, to some degree, that Marx is on to something (as I am), then you must pay particular attention to where the money goes. And the regime that is being established reveals its hand when we look at how money is being spent.”

Medical card

Mapping out how much Irish doctors are paid to sustain the life and health of young children, he explained that GPs are annually paid €125 for every child they cover in the under-six medical card scheme, €230 if they are involved in the emergency delivery of a baby and €215 for every antenatal visit they have, allowing for seven visits.

His own GP earned that money the hard way, Dr Hargaden says, noting that his baby son had had to fight for life from six weeks in the womb onwards, with at least 11 medical interventions having been needed.

“Now the Irish government is offering between €150 and €450 to GPs who consult and administer abortion,” he said, these typically being one-off engagements proportionately returning vastly more money to medical practices than regular care for a child.

“You can deny that there are eugenic impulses on a personal level in the preferences of parents. You can deny that there are eugenic impulses from a policy perspective around disability. But you cannot deny the hard numbers involved here,” he continued.

“If you agree – as the left-wing parties do – that material resources are critical realities that must be factored into any decisions flowing from pregnancy, then you should be fundamentally distressed by the shift in government policy,” he said. “If the lack of cash is a factor in a woman deciding to abort, then the proliferation of cash must also be a factor in a doctor deliberating about how to advise that said woman.”

Solidly identifying as a consistently pro-life Christian who opposes abortion like he opposes “the death penalty, all war, and the systemic immiseration of the oppressed classes”, Dr Hargaden notes that most of those who voted for repeal did so without great joy, taking the line that they would not themselves have abortions, but felt they could not stand in the way of others who felt they had to make that choice.

Maintaining that such voters, like those on the left, should be much more alarmed than they presently are, he noted how “the law that is coming into action will not offer pain relief to embryos enduring late-term abortions and it has no explicit wording about how potential gender or disability are not grounds for termination”.

“This is much less protective than most people wanted,” he said, opining that while most voters had wanted something more than simple repeal, few seem to have wanted what is now on the cards.

“The lack of attention paid to the details of how the landslide decision in the summer is being made real in the winter is something that should concern many supporters,” he concluded.

Kevin Hargaden’s Theological Ethics in a Neoliberal Age: Confronting the Christian Problem with Wealth, will be launched by Fr Peter McVerry SJ at 6.30pm on Monday, November 26, at the Gardiner Street Jesuit Community.