Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Devout play jiggery-pokery with logic on abortion issue

Changing ground: anti-abortion protesters outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast
Changing ground: anti-abortion protesters outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast

Keith O'Brien is in disgrace and has been kept away from the conclave which will choose a new pope.

But Sean Brady is already ensconced in the Vatican, murmuring with fellow Princes of the Church about who's best to lead them out of their present predicament.

O'Brien would be forgiven if he's grinding his teeth in resentment. All he's accused of is trying it on with younger priests. Nobody suggests he covered up the rape of children.

Brady, of course, back in 1975, suppressed information about serial rapist Brendan Smyth, allowing the predator to continue the rampage which saw scores of other children subjected to sexual savagery.

He has said that he's sorry. But not so sorry as to make him hesitate for an instant before lashing out at any woman who follows her own conscience and exercises her right to choose abortion.

Meanwhile, I see that GAA icon Mickey Harte, fresh from providing a character reference for a man who had sexually assaulted a woman and then threw her out of a van half-naked on to a ditch, where she was found unconscious hours later by two men who thought at first that they'd stumbled on a dead body, has urged MLAs to back the move by Alban Maginness and Paul Givan to prevent the Marie Stopes clinic providing a legal service for women who want it.

What's with these uber-devout elements, whose zeal in defence of foetuses can seem to outweigh concern for breathing, sentient human beings?

Maybe one of them will tell us what they make of the case of Lori Stodghill (31), who arrived at St Thomas More Hospital in Canon City, Colorado, late at night on New Year's Day 2006, seven months pregnant with twin boys, vomiting, dizzy and short of breath.

She fell unconscious as she was being wheeled into the emergency room. A main artery to her lung was clogged. She suffered a heart-attack and died within an hour of arriving at the hospital. The twins died in her womb.

Ms Stodghill's obstetrician, Dr Pelham Staples, was on-call for emergencies over the New Year holiday, but didn't answer his page.

Lori's husband, Jeremy, sued the hospital for negligence, arguing that Dr Staples had a duty to answer his page and to respond, either by going immediately to the hospital or by instructing staff by phone in performing a Caesarean section.

He knows it is unlikely his wife would have survived, but argues that the twins might well have lived. He claims damages on the basis that he has been deprived of two sons and the couple's then two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, of two brothers.

The defendant is Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI), a $15bn (£9.9bn) organisation which runs 150 medical facilities in 17 US states.

Its stated mission is to 'nurture the healing ministry of the Church'.

It works within an ethical framework, designed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which sets down that "Catholic healthcare ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until death... The Church's defence of life encompasses the unborn".

But CHI has argued, through its lawyers, that the hospital cannot be held liable for the loss of the twins, because foetuses are not persons and, therefore, have no legal rights.

Its submission declares: "The court should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term 'person'... encompasses only individuals born alive... Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn foetuses.'

As seems to be common in these matters, the case has moved at minimal speed through the district court, the court of appeal and now the state supreme court.

At every stage, CHI has rigidly maintained its position. It insists there is no contradiction, extrapolating from the constitutional doctrine of the separation of Church and state to argue that CHI is entitled to avail of the provisions of secular law in relation to the civil courts, while continuing to uphold God's law in its own practice in its own hospitals.

It's a subtle and interesting argument, but one that sits very uncomfortably with the relentless demands of pro-lifers in Ireland, north and south, that the law and/or the constitution should reflect their belief that the foetus is entitled from the moment of conception to the same human rights as, for example, the woman sustaining it in her womb. The point of the Maginness/Givan amendment is precisely to bring secular law into line with the pro-life position.

But then again, as Cardinal O'Brien might ruefully be pondering right this minute, playing jiggery-pokery with logic has never been a problem for the devoutly religious.

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