Middle ground turning out to be a calm but very crowded place
THE predicted thundering arguments at the Oireachtas abortion hearings have thus far failed to materialise, although we may be speaking too soon.
Today – the final day – sees the churches and pro-choice and pro-life groups come to the Seanad chamber and make presentations to TDs and senators.
That could lead to heated debate.
But a middle way is calmly emerging, as politicians read a public mood that no longer has much time for the shrieking arguments of either extreme. Ask them privately, and TDs will say abortion isn't coming up as a major issue among their constituents.
The people seem to have made up their minds, they want the issue cleared up, and want the politicians to get on with it.
Catherine McGuinness, the former Supreme Court judge, best summed it up.
"I reflect the views of a large number of Irishmen and women who are kind of holding the middle ground on these views, who don't feel one particular position is absolutely right and we should all run along with that."
Dr Simon Mills from the Law Library, presented a draft abortion bill which he hopes "steers a middle course between constitutional proprieties and the needs of women in this jurisdiction".
Everyone seems to agree that the middle ground is where abortion will be decided, although there were some testy moments yesterday.
Terence Flanagan, a pro-life Fine Gael TD, asked the pregnant Jennifer Schweppe from the University of Limerick, if she believed "that the unborn child is entitled to any rights at all".
Dr Mills later slapped Mr Flanagan down, saying he "referred yesterday to doctors not feeling restricted by the current situation and asked members and us to infer that there is no requirement for legislation".
"He must have been listening to different hearings to those to which I was listen- ing," Dr Mills added, leading to protests from TDs, with Dr Mills later apologising.
But yesterday's hearings were never as dramatic – or offered as much for thought – as Tuesday's when Dr Rhona Mahony, the master of the National Maternity Hospital, said she didn't want to end up in jail for terminating pregnancies.
Professor William Binchy scoffed at this yesterday, saying the notion "that doctors will be arrested and prosecuted and imprisoned, as was mentioned yesterday, is not actually a real concern".
The learned Prof Binchy and Independent senator John Crown – also a prof – sparked off each other too, after Prof Crown claimed Prof Binchy was almost advocating a "constitutional coup" by ignoring two referendums and the Supreme Court judgement on the X case.
"What he mentioned was a constitutional coup – I think the professor took some effort to think up that word," the first prof, Binchy, said of the second prof, Crown.
"For the record, it was 30 seconds of effort," Prof II responded.
But the wisest words of the day came from Judge McGuinness.
"I would plead with you not to be affected by a kind of bullying approach from either side," she told TDs and senators.