I HAD my doubts about the value of the abortion committee hearings. After 20 years of unconscionable delay in legislating for the X case decision on the right to terminate a pregnancy where there is a risk to the life of a mother, it is surprising to prolong the normal legislative process by having "hearings" in advance of even publishing the heads of a Bill.
Nothing radically new emerged as a result of this unusual process. This is a time for the Government to be sure-footed and just follow through on a cabinet decision. To dither and keep weighing up the pros and cons of an irreconcilable quandary appears weak and invites further procrastination on the inevitable.
Thankfully the tone of the proceedings remained civil. "Floodgate" was the word of the week. It is as if the new law will result in a tsunami of women falsely claiming to be clinically suicidal in order to avoid the trip to the UK.
Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital, was the right woman to nail that lie. What a relief to hear a competent, professional woman making an unequivocal statement on a key issue. The professional medical evidence made a welcome change from the fixed ideological positions of the usual cast of players. It was remarkable, too, how most of the politicians sat on the fence during the proceedings.
Frankly, having watched the hearings, I concluded that Labour minister Kathleen Lynch's prediction is right. This is essentially a phoney debate. It is dishonest. We are collectively just tinkering with the substantive issue, major aspects of which will not be dealt with by the legislation planned by the Government. It will have to be revisited.
Even when this process ends and the law is introduced, thousands of women will continue to make the lonely journey for their abortions in the UK like thieves in the night.
The plight of women carrying babies with lethal foetal abnormalities, with no chance whatsoever of being born alive, will be callously set aside as collateral damage. They too must take their tragedy to England.
Children who have been sexually abused and impregnated by family members or raped by strangers will not be liberated from their unwanted pregnancy. Women pregnant as a result of rape or domestic sexual violence cannot hope for a termination and counselling in their own city
If we were actually dealing with these real-life stories of Irish women, maybe it would be worth all the palaver of the abortion hearings and the tortuous medical, legal and moral debate in and outside the Dail. What an obscenity that a woman representing a group who had been forced to travel to the UK to terminate pregnancies with lethal foetal abnormality was not heard before the committee when religious leaders were.
We are colluding in a massive societal hypocrisy. The Government plans to legislate in effect for a highly exceptional set of circumstances, to allow abortion only where an actual quantifiable risk to the life of a woman is objectively determined by medics. Tiny numbers of women will qualify. Hardly floodgates – getting through the eye of a needle would be closer to the mark.
The rest, thousands of other women and girls, will be consigned to export their difficulty just like now.
The prospect of yet another toxic referendum campaign is not attractive for most of us.
But it may ultimately be necessary for a tougher and more honest question to be put to the people in a referendum rather than presiding over this farce.
For now, given political realities, all that can be expected is a minimalist masterpiece. But real life has a way of throwing up hard cases. Sooner or later the illogicality of the 1983 equal right to life amendment will have to be faced and removed from our Constitution. It was shocking to hear the Catholic Church representatives in the committee hearings, decrying the validity of the Supreme Court decision in the X case. It was a landmark decision, widely welcomed at the time as being right and just on its facts. When the Catholic representatives were challenged on this net point, that is, what is their response to a raped pregnant and suicidal girl, their solution, then and now, was forced pregnancy (supported by caring agencies). Their argument is that the foetus resulting from rape is not to blame for the crime. This is yet again a case of the church giving greater priority to the unborn over living children.
And next Saturday in Dublin there will be a pro-life vigil and protest rally, flagged from the pulpits last Sunday under the orders of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The unfortunate logic is that those attending support the Irish hierarchy's position of forced pregnancy for raped and suicidal girls.