Four bishops have taken part in street protests against abortion outside the Irish parliamentary buildings in Dublin.
The Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary, Bishop of Kilmore Leo O’Reilly, Bishop of Killaloe Kieran O’Reilly, Bishop of Ossory Séamus Freeman, and Derry diocese administrator Monsignor Eamon Martin took part in the Pro-Life Campaign vigil with thousands of others, reports the Irish Times.
The presence of the bishops marks a major ramp up in Catholic opposition to proposed changes in Irish abortion law following the death of an Indian woman Savita Halappanavar in child labor after an abortion was allegedly refused in Galway University Hospital.
The government has promised that new legislation will be brought forward early in the New Year to deal with the issue. Experts believe it will liberalise abortion laws allowing abortions in the case where the mother’s life is in danger.
The presence of the bishops throws down the gauntlet to the Irish government and shows that despite decades of ebbing support because of pedophile scandals the church is still intent on being a major force in Irish society.
In a previous statement, Cardinal Seán Brady said it is “important as a church that we prepare with others to defend the equal right to life of a mother and child against any effort to introduce abortion to a country which is one of the safest places in the world for mothers who are expecting a child.
“I believe any attempt to do so, even by way of a ministerial directive, will be vigorously and comprehensively opposed by many.”
Bishop Leo O’Reilly stated that that “three of the four proposals by the expert group include abortion, and that is not something that is acceptable in Catholic teaching, as everybody knows.”
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In an RTÉ interview Brady stated, “We would have a media campaign, we would be lobbying public representatives and also hope to write a pastoral letter on this situation, setting forth the argument which we have always held and providing resources to priests to preach on this topic in the pulpit.”
The Pro-Life Campaign, Youth Defence, the Life Institute, and Family and Life were are all the helm of the event. The organizers and gardai have separate estimates of how many people attended the rally - organizers say it was closer to 10,000, while gardai put the figure at around 5,000.
People at the rally held candles, banners and posters in demand for Fine Gael to keep “their pro-life promise.”
Prior to election in 2007, Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kennypromised that he would never legislate for abortion. More recently, before last year’s election, Fine Gael campaign director Phil Hogan issued a letter stating, "Fine Gael is opposed to the legalisation of abortion."
Niamh Uí Bhriain, the spokeswoman for the Life Institute, said at Tuesday’s rally that, “We are not for turning and we will not yield. We are proud to be a pro-life nation, we are here to tell the politicians in Dáil Éireann that they may have destroyed our economy but we will never let them kill our children.”
“The lives of our children are worth fighting for and the mothers who are driven to abortion in fear are worth fighting for and the pro-life ethos in this country is worth fighting for," she said.
Caroline Simons, a legal consultant with the Pro-Life Campaign, touched upon the message that the media has been sending: “A lot of the media imply we are obliged to legislate for abortion because of the European Court of Human Rights ABC case.”
“There is no such obligation. All we are supposed to do is clarify our own position in relation to abortion here. “We have one of the best maternal mortality rates in the world so abortion is never the answer. It is not going to save mothers’ lives and we don’t want to see it on our shores,” she said.
Simons added that the next step would be an anti-abortion rally.
Indeed, in 1992 the Supreme Court ruled in the X case that abortion is permissible in Ireland in cases where a mother’s life is at risk, including from suicide. However, no government since then has legislated to bring clarity to that judgement.
Now, after Savita’s death, the matter is under increased public pressure. An expert group report, published last month, outlined four ways in which Government could introduce such a procedure and said that regulations and legislation would be the best way to approach the matter.
On Tuesday, the official debate on the report began, and Health Minister James Reilly reiterated his pledge that the Government would "bring the required legal clarity to the issue of legal abortion in Ireland.” The government has promised to reach a decision by Christmas.
However, he stressed that, "This does not mean abortion on demand.”
"We must protect the life of the pregnant mother and yet vindicate the right of the unborn child. We have to clarify what is available by way of treatment to the women of Ireland, and clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care."
In response Labor Party Minister Pat Rabbitte stated: “I would be somewhat surprised at the cardinal’s reference to lobbying and engaging with, canvassing public representatives and so on on the matter,” he said.
“I don’t have any objection to any of the churches stating its position and making it clear but I think it would be a retrogressive step if we were to go back to the days of the Catholic Church dictating to elected public representatives how [they] should address an issue that a very large section of our society believes that governments in the past ought to already have done.”