On behalf of the Government and Morals Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster we would like to respond to the proposed changes with regard to Criminal law on abortion.
The introduction to your consultation states, “It is not a debate on the wider issues of abortion law – issues often labelled as ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’.” And while we appreciate that the Justice Department does not want to be drawn into a deeper debate on this issue it is very hard to divorce the two subjects for they are linked.
As a church body we seek to adhere to the teaching of Scripture as found in the Ten Commandments on the preservation of life from the time of conception until natural death.
The proposed changes to Criminal law relate to two specific aspects surrounding the subject of abortion in connection with foetal disability and rape. While this has caused much media attention in recent days we believe that there is another agenda being pushed by those who desire a more liberal society and a lowering of moral standards.
In fact we view the changes being pushed within society as bringing about a devaluing of human life, whether it is that of the unborn or the elderly person who cannot care for themselves. Society has become selfish and does not want to care for the disabled at any end of the age spectrum and this proposed change is feeding that vile appetite.
We are concerned by some of the terms that are used within this document-
Section 1:1 of the document refers to a foetus being "incompatible with life"; this does not make sense since by definition-
"A foetus is an unborn animal or human being in its later stages of development." (Collins English Dictionary)
The fact that development has commenced at the point of conception means that there is life. From the time of conception cells have been growing and reproducing at a vast rate. "life" is defined, as the ability to grow and to reproduce, so by the very fact that the unborn child is named a foetus is clear evidence that it is alive. Therefore the reference to a foetus being "incompatible" with life is absolute nonsense.
With that point in view this consultation is based upon an incorrect premise!
While we strongly disagree with the terminology used, there are some important questions that need to be asked-
- Who determines if the foetus is "incompatible" with life?
- On what basis do they make this determination?
- How accurate are their procedures?
- Have they been known to make errors in the past?
What we are speaking about is the importance and value of one life. We must bear in mind that the one of main arguments for the abolition of Capital Punishment was the risk of an innocent person being executed. Yet in this consultation there is the desire to murder the unborn children upon the basis of a judgment made by two medical Practitioners who have a very real chance of getting it wrong.
From the perspective of a justice department is this the line you want to go down?
Question 2 - Should the law allow for abortion in the case of lethal Foetal Abnormality?
The case mentioned in the opening chapter of the consultation is that of Sarah Ewart, whose unborn child had been diagnosed with anencephaly. There are a number of disorders that are termed as "fatal foetal abnormalities", such as Anencephaly, Edwards syndrome (Trisomy18), Inencephaly and Potter’s Syndrome.
For the parents who are given the news from the medical profession that their child/ren may have one of these disorders it is heart rending. They face the possibility of a full term pregnancy and the likelihood that their little one/s may only live for a short space of time.
For the mother who will feel the movements of the little one/s it is most traumatic. For while other expectant mums are making plans for a nursery she is unsure what to do. It is an issue, which affects not only the parents but also the family circle, and many tears can be shed and heartache felt over the situation.
In listening to and reading the comments made by Sarah Ewart this turmoil of mind is brought very readily to the fore. Yet we must remember that this unborn child is a human being. While the unborn baby may have what is termed a "lethal foetal abnormality", it does not detract from the fact that he/she is alive and has been growing within the womb.
Where such a diagnosis is made, it is vital that the parents have all the advice that the medical profession can give and that it is not assumed that they will have an abortion.
A Report made by a working party of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in May 2010 entitled "Termination of Pregnancy for Foetal Abnormality in England, Scotland and Wales" made this recommendation-
" 6. It should not be assumed that, even in the presence of an obviously fatal fetal condition such as anencephaly, a woman will choose to have a termination. A decision to decline the offer of termination must be fully supported (section 6)."
(https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/terminationpregnancyreport18may2010.pdf) pg. ix
The Mail Online carried the story of Carrie Curtis on the 29th July 2013. This young 20 year woman was pregnant with a child that had been diagnosed with Potters syndrome and made the decision, that while there was a heartbeat she wanted to go full term. Yet she recalls how every fortnight when she went for her check-up she was asked if she wanted to terminate the baby.
In the case of a young woman such as Sarah, she and her husband should have the opportunity to meet with others who have faced similar situations and not opted for abortion. They should be provided with help as to how best to prepare for the birth of the child, what to expect and how to deal with the possibility of the infant's death at whatever stage it may occur.
Having had the opportunity to speak to the parents of three children, one of which has "Hydranencephaly" and is now 20 years of age, and one who had Microencephaly who passed away aged 3 1/2. We can say that contrary to what is regularly stated, such conditions are not always fatal.
These parents had been advised to have an abortion that none of the children would live longer than a few days, but the medical Practitioners got it wrong and this is only one instance.
The sad truth is that for children born with such conditions, help is not forth-coming for either them or the parents. They are made to feel that they are unwanted and are placing an unnecessary burden on others. This is an issue that ought to be addressed.
Section 4.13 states that ‘the Department believes that a woman…. whatever the effect on her mental health, should have the choice to terminate the pregnancy, if that is the action she considers appropriate.’
Does the Department believe that if a mother determines to continue with the pregnancy, she and the child should still have the full support of the medical facilities available?
Having read the comments of women who have had a similar experience, many of them spoke of the difficulty of the pregnancy knowing that they would most likely only see their child alive for a short time. Yet they were able to say that despite the stress and tears, they were better mentally and emotionally, for being able to hold their little infant and introducing him/her to the father and other family members. They indicated that by the time of the birth much grieving had been done and they were able to deal with the sad death in a more dignified manner.
Risks associated with abortion
Our concern is that pregnant women carrying a child, who may have what is termed a "fatal foetal abnormality", will be pushed into having an abortion without adequate advice and time being given.
Abortion is portrayed as a quick-fix solution. A way to avoid the pain and grief that comes with the death of a child, a means of getting back to a normal routine as quickly as possible, and avoiding long periods of care for a very ill child, yet that is not the case. Abortion for many has left them suffering from depression and a sense of guilt that they may never get over.
The Medical journal Vol. 290 dated 23th March 1985 (pg. 908) details a study conducted in Mid Glamorgan between 1977 and 1981 focused on mothers who had an abortion because of fetal malformation. They make the following remarks-
"Twenty two women (46%) whose pregnancies had been terminated for fetal malformation recalled that at six months they still had symptoms of depression with some anxiety compared with none in the other three groups combined."
(Sequelae and support after termination of pregnancy for fetal malformation, British Medical Journal-VOLUME 290 23 MARCH 1985 pg 908)
In the report mentioned earlier "Termination of Pregnancy for Fetal Abnormality in England, Scotland and Wales" dated May 2010, with regard to Post Termination care we read "Well-organised follow-up care is essential after a termination for fetal abnormality. Anecdotal feedback from Antenatal Results and Choices indicates that this is an area of care that some women find lacking."
Evidently since the study in the Medical Journal dated 1985 very little has changed with regard to the care given after abortion yet it is being readily promoted as a solution to an already traumatic experience. There is risk of depression and other studies indicate an increased risk of suicide-
- A study in Finland revealed a six-fold increased rate of deaths from suicide among aborting women. (BMJ 1996; 313:1431-1434)
- A study conducted in Wales on 408,000 women between 1991 and 1995; found that women who had induced abortions were 225 percent more likely to commit suicide, than women admitted for normal delivery. (BMJ 1997; 314:902)
- There is also the risk associated with future pregnancies after induced abortion to be considered as well.
The suggested option four of permitting abortion on the guidance of medical practitioners as to "'compatibility' with life" is based on the premise that they are always right. This places a lot of responsibility at the feet of the medical Practitioners with regard to the definition of "fatal" and how long the child lives after he/she is born. The suggestion that two doctors sign off the abortion “in good faith” is not a sufficient safeguard as the 1967 Abortion Act has a similar provision and has been widely abused.
The statistics for abortion in England and Wales reveal that there were 185,331 in the year 2013. The largest number of abortions fell under category C which relates to the perceived mental risk to the mother's life. This high rate stands in stark contrast to abortion statistics for Northern Ireland. 2,732 abortions were on the basis of ground E (there is substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped). This statistic includes 590 abortions for Down’s Syndrome and other illnesses that can be well treated and managed with current medical advances. Such figures are extremely alarming and we fear that the altering of the law to accommodate fatal foetal abnormality could become a stepping-stone to widespread abuse of any child who may be born with a disability.
It is this trend that causes us great concern. There seems to be a mindset that if the unborn child is perceived to be impaired then abortion is a legitimate line to follow.
As mentioned this is a very emotional case and cannot fail but touch the heart of everyone who hears about it. However caution is advised for as the saying goes "hard cases make bad law".
While the numbers of such cases are thankfully low we cannot dismiss them. These are parents facing a situation more traumatic than anything they have ever encountered. They need adequate support, care, and information about the condition of the unborn child. We believe that while a full-term pregnancy may be hard yet it gives the parents time to come to terms with the birth of the child and what to expect. They are also given the opportunity to see the little one, which helps mentally and physically in dealing with the child's passing.
We must also view this proposal of option 4 in the light of recent reports of gender selection taking place, which brings into the spotlight how legal abortions are being regulated.
So in this circumstance we do not believe that abortion should be permitted.
Questions 6 to 9 Should the law be changed to allow abortion in the case of rape of other sexual crime.
The subject of sexual crime is one that we seldom want to talk about and yet it is a very real problem in our country. The sexualisation of women within the music culture and within the media makes them the target of the most depraved of crimes in society.
Sadly this extends to the abuse of young children and the assault of anyone in such a manner is heinous.
The increase in sexual crimes is alarming and we believe it emphasises the need for stricter sentences with relation to these offences. We commend those facilities that provide counselling and help for those affected and the work that has been done to deal with human trafficking.
The proposal relating to sex crime is one that has been highlighted in the media and we do not believe that abortion is the answer. The victim needs love, care and compassion and to compound the wrong done to a victim by aborting her unborn child is not conducive to the welfare of the mother.
The main argument expressed in this instance is that it would not be right to expect a woman to carry a child for 9 months that would be a constant reminder of the sexual assault that has taken place against her and we understand that.
However is the killing of the unborn child the way to correct that crime? Two wrongs never make a right.
Rape is a crime, as is incest and yet why should the innocent unborn child be the one to suffer. The child is as much a victim as the mother; the taking of the life of the child only compounds the damage that has been done.
We have already looked at the aftermath of abortion and again the woman has just come through one trauma and is it right to inflict another upon her?
One victim made the comment that the birth of the child was the only light to come out of such a dark event. Another woman who had suffered this terrible crime made the comment that she had got over the rape but not the abortion. Figures released by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland in 201312 showed that in 90 cases of pregnancy through rape only 17 women and girls chose to have a termination. This is one study but the figures equate to just 15% of the total.
It is our belief that help and comfort are best given to a mother at this time and that abortion will not bring peace, or justice to the individual or their family.
Question 17 Should there be a right to a conscientious objection for those who participate in treatment for abortion in respect of (i) lethal foetal abnormality (ii) sexual crime.
We do not support a change to the law. However in the case that abortion is legislated for in these circumstances it is vital that a statutory conscientious objection clause is introduced. The 1967 Abortion Act, which operates on the mainland, protects freedom of conscience.