C of I submission on abortion

The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin, and Mr Samuel Harper, Lay Honorary Secretary of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, made a submission to the Joint Committee on Health and Children this morning, Thursday 10 January 2013, as part of three days of public hearings on the implementation of the Government decision following the publication of the Expert Group Report into matters relating to A, B & C v. Ireland.

Following the hearing, Archbishop Jackson and Mr Harper said: ‘We were grateful for the opportunity to participate in today’s public hearings. The Church of Ireland opposes abortion but recognises that there are exceptional cases of strict and undeniable medical necessity. We believe the proposal to legislate and regulate in the area of abortion is overdue and welcome. Women and medical professionals need legal clarity to make informed decisions where the continuation of a pregnancy causes real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.’ They continued: ‘We expressed our appreciation of the open approach adopted by the Joint Committee in today’s hearings and also, our commitment to the process of ongoing structured dialogue between the Churches and the State.’

The main points raised by Archbishop Jackson and Mr Harper are provided below in summary form. Both stated that this is an issue of exceptional human complexity and sensitivity and that the Church of Ireland is a synodical Church which develops policy guided by the prayerful consideration and discussion of bishops, clergy and laity. Because of the limited time-scale involved in providing a written response the document presented at the hearing can only be considered a preliminary response.

The Church of Ireland emphasises the right to life and this includes the equal right to life of the mother and of the unborn child. The Church of Ireland further honours the natural human desire to celebrate and to protect new life.

The Church of Ireland opposes abortion but acknowledges that there are exceptional cases of ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity’ where it is and should be an option.There is a variety of opinion within the Church of Ireland on what constitutes ‘exceptional cases’ but agreement that it includes circumstances where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.

In the context of the Church of Ireland’s previous comments on abortion about the need for legal clarity, it is agreed that the position in the State at present is very unclear and unsatisfactory, and unfair to pregnant women and medical professionals who deserve to be able to make critical, clinical decisions in a secure and well regulated medical framework. Accordingly, the decision by the Government to seek to provide clarity on the issue is welcome.

It is agreed that where there is a strict and undeniable medical necessity requiring the ending of a pregnancy at a later stage, where possible, this should be done in a manner that preserves the life of the unborn, without compromising the life of the woman. This diagnosis should be made expeditiously and should be formally notified to the woman. This will require legislation as medical council guidelines on their own will not necessarily have this effect.

Special provision should be made for emergency situations where the continuation of the pregnancy occasions a risk to the mother’s life that it real, substantial and imminent.

The clauses of the 1861 Act require amendment or repeal in the light of the present situation.

The Church has previously urged the Government to adopt a legislative and regulatory approach which will allow for easier alteration in the light of changes in medical science. Accordingly, the Government decision to do so is welcome.