Equal right to life of the unborn is a nonsense

The idea, now enshrined in our Constitution, that there is an equal right to life of the unborn child and of the mother is nonsense. By Vincent Browne.

A new person, a girl, has come into the lives of people I know. She has not yet been named but the attachment to her is very real. Her grandfather can hardly wait for a time to play with her and to make her laugh. But there is a problem at present.

She isn’t born yet and the thought of anything happening to her, at this vulnerable stage of her life, is awful to anybody close to the family.

The idea that she might be aborted is unthinkable to them. This beautiful (there is already a photograph of her on display), lovable child having her life deliberately terminated when it has hardly begun seems an abomination.

But. Suppose her mother’s future health – not her life, but her health – was endangered and there was a real prospect her health would be seriously impaired if the pregnancy were to continue. What then? The idea that the life of this child, who has already entered these people’s lives and is already loved, being deliberately terminated is too terrible for them to think much about.

Certainly, if the decision whether to terminate the life of this child, almost for any reason, were her grandfather’s, he would be deeply conflicted. The mother herself would certainly be morally conflicted, as would her husband and everyone else close to them. (Incidentally, there is no problem with the pregnancy to which I am referring.)

However morally conflicted the rest of the family might be, none of them would be required to give sustenance to this unborn child at huge cost to themselves, other than the child’s mother. And it seems to me that to deprive the child’s mother of the entitlement to take that decision for herself would be a frightful and impermissible arrogance, a presumption to dictate to her how her body was to be used, at whatever cost to her.

The idea, now enshrined in our Constitution, that there is an equal right to life of the unborn child and of the mother is nonsense, as is the contention that the unborn child has an unconditional right to life, irrespective of what cost that might be to the person (ie the mother) who alone can give that child sustenance until birth.

There is no unconditional right to life on the part of anybody. For instance, a person in need of a kidney transplant has no right to demand of a suitable donor to give over their spare kidney to them.

Just think of the reaction there would be were the Oireachtas to pass a law requiring healthy males to donate a kidney to another person, urgently in need of a transplant, even though a healthy male could easily live a healthy and full life thereafter with the remaining kidney.

How is that worse than requiring a woman to give her body to the sustenance of another human being when doing so would injure her life very considerably?

Suppose a healthy male, in hospital for a minor operation, were to awake to find himself hooked up to another person for a few months, so that this other person would live. Would any of us consider it would be okay for a law to be passed that criminalised that male for refusing to give sustenance to the other person? And criminalise anybody who assisted that healthy male in unhooking him from that other person, even when thereby that other person would die?

Yes, in the vast majority of instances, the woman has consented at least to the possibility of having another human being requiring her to give sustenance to a person for nine months. But what about a woman who is raped, who gave no consent? The absolutist opposition to abortion is born out of a culture that is hostile to the equality of women.

This is exemplified particularly by Catholic Church prelates, who believe women are not qualified, because they are women, to enact the most sacred rituals of their religion. This same church, incidentally, has a history of adding enormously to the stigma of single parenthood, thereby to an incentive to abortion.

And isn’t there something odd about a society that proclaims the sacredness of human life but is so indifferent to it when it comes to the distribution of resources that would honour that sacredness?

Ireland promised over 10 years ago to meet the United Nations target of allocating 0.7% of GDP to foreign aid within a few years. That foreign aid, even at that minimal level, would have kept a few thousand African children alive. But that promise was dishonoured. During the boom years of the 2000s the contention was that we were too rich and the 0.7% of GDP was too large. Now the contention is we are too poor and cannot afford it, although we remain one of the richest countries in the world.

Also, our Government and previous governments have pursued policies that maintain or deepen inequality here, even though we know that the scale of inequality here results in the premature death of more than 5,000 a year.

A reality check on any moral position is to access whether the person affected adversely by an action would concur with that choice, were they appraised of the relevant facts. This lovely person who has just come into the lives of the family I know will, in time, concur she did not have an unconditional right to life at this time and that a decision whether to terminate her life now, ultimately, was a matter solely for her mother.

Image top: infomatique.