News Roundup

Campaign to make new abortion law even more permissive already underway

A leading campaigner in last year’ referendum to repeal the Eighth amendment has called for further liberalisations of Ireland’s already permissive abortion law.

Professor of Obstetrics, Louise Kenny, made her comments after a woman was denied an abortion in the Coombe hospital because the disability afflicting her unborn child was deemed not likely to lead to death within 28 days of birth.

Professor Kenny alleges that because the predictions necessitated by the law are difficult if not impossible to make, doctors are denying abortions out of fear of getting them wrong and being prosecuted. “Medicine is not a binary science,” Professor Kenny said. “There are hundreds of conditions that can affect a pregnancy that may be fatal and would certainly be extremely life-limiting and there is uncertainty around diagnosis.”

In remarks to the Times, Ireland edition, she said that “the fact that there is a criminal element to the legislation means it has had a chilling effect on obstetricians. How can someone act in good faith if there is a custodial sentence? If you are on the wrong side of a decision you can face very serious consequences, so that has resulted in doctors, and hospitals acting in a very cautious way.”

She continued: “Most of us who worked as obstetricians believed that it was only a matter of time that a case like this would occur given the legislation that was passed — it’s bad legislation. None of us could have imagined it would happen so soon. I think it is worth revisiting the legislation and examining the criminal element and the need to define life-limiting conditions.”


Light shone on ‘Body Integrity Identity Disorder’

There is a rare condition where people believe a part of their body is not their own and desire it to be amputated. The lack of effective treatment for the disorder is such that some doctors are even considering whether amputation of a healthy limb might indeed be the proper way to tackle it, according to an article in the Health and Family supplement of the Irish Times on Monday.

According to the article, the condition was initially believed to be entirely of psychological origin, but the patients are not delusional, they do not suffer from psychosis and usually present with a normal mental status. Psychological therapy and anti-psychotic drugs do not help the condition. Some doctors believe it to have a physiological or neurological cause while others think it is of psychiatric origin.

A study on more than 100 BIID patients revealed that the disorder starts early in life, usually in childhood, and that the majority of those affected (about 90 per cent) are men.

While it usually presents as a desire to amputate one limb, it sometimes appears as a desire for paralysis, or to become deaf or blind.

As for what can be done to treat the disorder, so far nothing seems to have worked such that, the article says, some doctors are openly talking about the possibility of amputation as a treatment.

However, it continues, ”for many doctors, there is no way they would agree to the amputation of a healthy limb.”


Abortion denied as Coombe baby did not have ‘fatal’ condition

A woman was denied an abortion by doctors at the Coombe last week as the child was suffering from a condition that was not fatal under the terms of the new abortion law, according to the hospital.  The new law says a condition is fatal if it is likely the baby will die within 28 days of birth.

In a diagnostic report, doctors wrote that the child was suffering from a foetal anomaly known as an exomphalos, where organs develop outside the abdominal wall. They later wrote to the woman to say her unborn child’s condition could not be considered fatal and was not eligible for abortion under the ‘Condition likely to lead to death of foetus’ section of the 2018 Act.

Nonetheless, the woman maintained that she was told by doctors initially that her child was suffering from a ‘fatal’ anomaly. It was reported on Friday that she was planning on going to England for an abortion.

Despite the significant change in the story, one of the TDs who initially brought up the case in the Dail, Brid Smith, continued to speculate that the law criminalising limited abortions was having a ‘chilling effect’ on hospitals and preventing abortions that would otherwise take place.

Ms Smith had named the woman, and the town where she lived, on the floor of the Dail on Thursday. She was criticised by Kate O’Connell, TD for Fine Gael, who said the intervention was “ill-judged” and “irresponsible”.


Poll shows widespread support for reducing divorce waiting time

There is strong support for reducing the waiting time for divorce in Ireland even beyond what the Government is considering, according to a new Behaviour & Attitudes poll for The Sunday Times.

Some 27% of those polled agreed the waiting time for divorce should be reduced from four years to two. Another 27% felt it should be reduced to one year, while 26% said there should be no waiting time for divorce in the event of a marital breakdown.

Just 11% said the four-year waiting time should be kept in place, while 9% offered no opinion.

The Government are planning on reducing the waiting period to two years, and are mulling over whether to write the new delay into the constitution or whether it should be dealt with entirely by legislation, free of any constitutional restraint.


TD demands immediate abortion of seriously disabled child

A decision to delay the abortion of a seriously disabled child has been described in the Dáil as a deprivation of a woman’s constitutional rights to have an abortion “at a time she chooses”.

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger raised the case of a 15 weeks pregnant woman whose unborn child, she said, has been diagnosed with a condition likely to result in the child’s early death.

The new law allows abortions up to birth in such circumstances, but Ms Coppinger alleged that the woman was told by doctors at the Coombe hospital to wait four weeks to see if a natural miscarriage would occur. A miscarriage is generally considered medically better for the woman’s health than a surgical intervention.

Calling the situation of the woman a “test case”, Ms Coppinger condemned the delay and said the hospital was “refusing her constitutional right that we all voted for to have an abortion at a time she chooses.”

She also alleged that the board of the Coombe overruled the two consultants who had certified the abortion, and further claimed that they did so as a result of the chilling effect of the continued criminalisation of abortion in some limited circumstances.

The former chair of the Oireachtas abortion committee, Fine Gael Senator, Catherine Noone, called the situation “completely & utterly unacceptable.” She added that the board of the Coombe “should be called into the Health Committee next week to explain their actions.”

The Hospital released a statement later in the day denying that the board had any input into whether an abortion was certified or not.

Brid Smith TD also spoke in the Dail and actually named the woman and the town where she is from. In an interview with the Irish Times later in the day, the woman in question said she did not want her name used “because of the potential backlash, not against just me but my family and my employer”.


Parents’ divorce has major impact on mental health of 7-14 year olds, says study

The first large study to assess the emotional impact on children of their parents splitting up has found that those whose parents split up when they were between the ages of seven and 14 were significantly more likely to suffer emotional and behavioural problems than those whose parents stay together. It also found no discernible difference between children whose parents split up between ages three and seven, and those whose parents do not split up.

The analysis of 6,000 children born in the UK at the turn of the century found that the greatest risk of repercussions in the form of bad behaviour and disobedience come in late childhood and early adolescence.

The University College of London scientists behind the new research believe divorce is more damaging to adolescents than to younger children, because they are more socially sensitive and better able to pick up on negative relationship dynamics.

Prof Emla Fitzsimons, who co-authored the study, said: “With adolescent mental ill health a major concern nationally, there’s a pressing need to understand the causes.”


Taoiseach indicates U-turn on banning anonymous sperm and egg donation

The use of anonymous sperm and eggs in assisted IVF and surrogacy might not be outlawed after all, according to the Taoiseach. Speaking in the Dail yesterday, Leo Varadkar, said a decision on that question has yet to be made. This amounts to a significant change of policy for the Government as they have previously maintained that the practice would be banned.

In response to a question during private members time, the Taoiseach said the whole area of assisted human reproduction in Ireland is not illegal but it is also not legislated for. Emphasising the work that needed to be done in preparing for legislation, he said: “There are many questions that will require decisions on our part as to what will and will not be legal, including what forms of surrogacy will be allowed and whether we will continue to allow the practice of anonymous donation of sperms and eggs.”

He added that he understood “why people would want that to continue but if we are pursuing a child-centred policy, where children have the right to know who their parents are and that speaks to our history, perhaps that is something we should not allow.”

He finished by indicating it may be a matter for an Oireachtas Health committee to decide.


Minister hoping for minimal scrutiny of bill falsifying birth certs

A bill to radically alter birth certificates is set for a record quick passage through the Oireachtas if the Minister shepherding the legislation has her way.  The bill, which has yet to be named, would enable two women to be recorded as the parents of a child on the child’s birth cert. It would also allow others to the use of the term ‘parent’ instead of either ‘mother’ or ‘father’. This means a birth certificate would no longer always be a record of the progenitors of a child—its birth mother, and father, where known—but would instead sometimes record the name of one who ‘intends’ to parent the child.

The bill received cabinet approval last week and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty has said she hopes to publish it next week. Speaking to the, she said she hopes it can avoid pre-legislative scrutiny and proceed to the Dáil and the Seanad in a couple of weeks.

Doherty said it is her understanding that she has cross-party support for the Bill, and she sees no reason why the Bill could not pass speedily. She added that while it is unusual, she thinks all stages of the Bill could be heard in one sitting, if opposition parties agree.


Persecution of Christians in China ‘worst in more than a decade’

The persecution of Christians in China is the worst it has been for more than a decade, with at least 50 million people expected to experience some form of repression this year as the government tightens its controls over religious worship, according to a global monitoring body.

In its 2019 World Watch List, Open Doors estimate that 245 million Christians worldwide face high levels of persecution this year, up from 215 million last year.

China has risen from no 43 on last year’s list to 27 in 2019. Henrietta Blyth, the chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said the figures for China indicate “persecution is the worst it’s been in more than a decade – alarmingly, some church leaders are saying it’s the worst since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976.”

In the past year, the Chinese government has tightened its control on religious worship, shutting down hundreds of unofficial churches, detaining pastors and worshippers, removing crosses from buildings, banning the online sale of bibles and increasing the surveillance of congregations. Last month, the celebration of Christmas was banned in some schools and cities.

In September, the Vatican signed a provisional deal with Beijing on the appointment of Catholic bishops, aimed at a rapprochement in diplomatic relations. However, critics denounced it as a betrayal, with Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former archbishop of Hong Kong, saying the consequences would be “tragic and long lasting, not only for the church in China but for the whole church because it damages credibility”.


Pope tells Life academy to defend human dignity with courage

A broad range of social concerns were outlined in Pope Francis’ new letter to the Academy for life where he encouraged the group to be a place “for courageous dialogue in the service of the common good.”

Pope Francis also praised the 25-year history of the academy, which he said has shown a “constant effort to protect and promote human life and every stage of its development,” condemning abortion and euthanasia as “extremely grave evils.”

As never before, he said, business strategies and the pace of technological development is influencing “biomedical research, educational priorities, investment decisions and the quality of interpersonal relationships.”

A love for creation, deepened and illuminated by faith, has “the possibility of directing economic development and scientific progress towards the covenant between man and woman, towards caring for our common humanity and towards the dignity of the human person,” he said.

“It is time,” he wrote, “for a new vision aimed at promoting a humanism of fraternity and solidarity between individuals and peoples,” knowing that they are not completely closed off “to the seeds of faith and the works of this universal fraternity sown by the Gospel of the kingdom of God.”

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