London: Amid a controversy over the death of an Indian dentist, a Bishop in Ireland stressed that abortions and medical treatments are different and that the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights does not oblige the Irish Government to legislate for abortion.
In a pastoral letter - The Right to Life - read at all Masses yesterday, Bishop John Buckley of of Cork and Ross said assurances were given before the Lisbon Treaty was passed, in October 2009, that Ireland had the right to determine its own policies on abortion.
He criticised the report of the Government-appointed expert group on abortion, set up in the wake of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling in the A,B,C case, which found there was no accessible and effective procedure to enable C to establish if she qualified for a termination in accordance with Irish law.
The report came in the wake of the death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar from blood poisoning at the Galway University Hospital on October 28 after doctors allegedly refused to perform an abortion stating "this is a Catholic country".
The A, B and C cases are a landmark cases of the European Court of Human Rights on the right to privacy. It held there is no right for women to an abortion, although it found that Ireland had violated the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to provide an accessible and effective procedure by which a woman can have established whether she qualifies for a legal abortion under current Irish law.
The report, published at the end of November, set out four options for the Government; non-statutory guidelines, statutory regulations, legislation alone and legislation plus regulations.
Bishop Buckley said three of those options involved
abortion, "the direct and intentional killing of the unborn child".
"This can never be morally justified. In no other situation in life do we suggest ending the life of a person as a solution to a problem," he said.
The fourth option of guidelines to "help ensure consistency in the delivery of medical treatment, could be a way forward provided the direct and intentional killing of either person continues to be excluded".
He said the expert group failed to consider the moral dimensions, even though they were included in the terms of reference.
Bishop Buckley said "the deliberate medical intervention to end the life of an unborn child" was "gravely wrong in all circumstances".
He distinguished between abortions and "medical treatments, such as those to save the mother, which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby".
And he said current law and medical guidelines in Ireland "allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice".
He also said international statistics confirmed that Ireland remained one of the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant and to give birth.
He said society had a responsibility to "defend and promote the equal right to life of a pregnant mother and the innocent and defenceless child in her womb when the life of either of these persons is at risk".
Mother and child had an equal right to life. "The Catholic Church has never taught that the life of a child in the womb should be preferred to that of the mother," he said.
"In situations where a seriously ill pregnant woman needs medical treatment which may put the life of her baby at risk, such treatments are morally permissible, provided that every effort has been made to save the life of both the mother and her baby".
He said the church understood "the anguish and distress of women in difficult situations who might wrongly feel that abortion is the only option open to them".