Thursday 19 September 2019

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub

Abortion is unacceptable as a 'care pathway', so vote No

Repeal legislation is framed in such a way that the scope to abort a child is far too wide-ranging, writes Maria Steen

AT RISK: Maria Steen speaks up for babies with Down syndrome. Photo: Steve Humphreys
AT RISK: Maria Steen speaks up for babies with Down syndrome. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Maria Steen

So now we know the facts: more than half of babies with Down syndrome whose extra chromosome is detected prenatally in the Rotunda hospital are aborted. That's 56pc to be exact, according to Professor Fergal Malone, Master of the Rotunda. In Holles Street, it's 50pc according to Dr Rhona Mahony.

The Government's plan, first to repeal the human rights of babies before birth, whether with or without a disability, and secondly to introduce wide-ranging abortion, will only make these statistics worse.

How is it that the rate is already so high, considering abortion is not legal in this country?

There is one possible explanation and it is this: for babies with DS, abortion is an acceptable "care pathway" to some doctors.

On last Thursday's Liveline, Joe Duffy interviewed Professor Malone.

During the phone-in conversation, Malone seemed to suggest an attitude to parents of children with Down syndrome when he spoke of "the unfortunate few" who are given the news that their child has a high risk of having the condition.

Audibly upset, two mothers called the programme and objected to the language used by Malone.

The programme addressed the issue, raised earlier by Dr Rhona Mahony on RTE's News at One, in which she said that tests for screening Down syndrome could be carried out from nine weeks and had a 99pc accuracy in predicting the condition. Malone clarified that the test had an accuracy of 99.9pc.

Malone went on to stress that this was only a screening test rather than a diagnostic test and that he would advise patients to have the "gold standard" chorionic villus sampling (CVS) diagnostic test done before making a decision to terminate. He said that it was "absolutely theoretically possible" that this would happen before 12 weeks, though on a practical level it was rare that it would be done by that stage.

However, with the Government's repeal legislation allowing abortion on demand up to three months, there would be added pressure on women to have the testing performed before the 12-week limit elapses.

Should this prove impossible, it is reasonable to suppose that many would be prepared to take the decision to abort based on results of the 99pc-accurate screening test.

Malone warned that aborting a baby on the basis of a screen, rather than a diagnostic test, "might point you in the wrong direction" and said that most people wanted a diagnostic test. He concluded, "And that's smart, Joe".

Does this suggest that it would be a tragedy to abort a child without a disability, a "perfect" child, if the test were wrong? The corollary of course is that it would not be a tragedy to abort a child with an extra chromosome.

It became clear during the airing of the programme that women were not only being offered unsolicited advice to have these tests done (a woman rang in to say her gynaecologist in the Coombe had recommended it on the basis of her age) but that maternity hospitals are facilitating people who want to abort their children, simply because they have Down syndrome. According to Malone, they support their patients "absolutely" and put them in contact with centres in the UK that deal with Irish patients "professionally". Malone seemed to have no qualms about this.

What is the result? It is that 56pc of babies with the condition detected prenatally in his hospital are aborted.

The average around Europe is over 80pc. In the UK it is over 90pc; in Iceland the figure is 100pc.

I believe this is the biggest potential cultural effect of repeal: the number of children aborted for this reason will increase and we will see fewer and fewer people with Down syndrome and other conditions that can be detected prenatally in our country.

These children will become increasingly invisible. Why? Because they will not be allowed to be born. They will be killed before they get a chance to draw their first breath.

We know that this is already happening from the UK figures, according to which, 141 babies from Ireland were aborted because of a disability in 2016. Of these, 43 babies were aborted because they had Down syndrome. Now we have confirmation from Malone and Mahony.

While the UK allows abortion on the grounds of disability, other countries such as Germany do not - and yet the rate of the abortion of children with Down syndrome is similar - they are aborted under the mental health ground.

We know from the testimony of women who have been through the British system, that in practice few, if any, questions are asked about the reality of the threat to health, so that the health ground essentially means abortion on request.

In Ireland, the Government is proposing to introduce a strikingly similar health ground, allowing for abortion up to six months.

No one who has looked carefully at the UK figures can seriously believe that Irish women who miss the three-month cut-off point - before which abortion will be explicitly available on request - will not take advantage of the health ground to have abortions performed during the second three-month period.

Repealers and Simon Harris point blank deny that disabled children will be at risk of abortion. They say there is no ground in the repeal legislation allowing for aborting a disabled child by reason of the disability. The point is: there doesn't have to be. The grounds in Harris's repeal legislation are so wide-ranging that there is scope to abort a child with a disability under practically any of the four grounds set out in it.

Note, too: not one Government minister or repeal campaigner has condemned the practice of aborting children with Down syndrome, nor do they propose to outlaw the practice.

In view of their deafening silence on the matter, the only conclusion to be drawn is that they see nothing wrong with killing a child before birth because he carries an extra chromosome.

Maria Steen is a barrister and a spokesperson for the Iona Institute

Sunday Independent

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