My New Republic piece on the Irish abortion case

August 20, 2014 • 7:04 am

I’ve rewritten my August 18 post on the woman in Ireland who was denied an abortion, then strapped to a bed and force-fed until she was given a Caesarian section 25 weeks into her pregnancy (after all, the Catholic country had to claim its baby). The rewritten piece now in The New Republic, and includes a few new facts that surfaced in the last day or so—none of which exculpate the state. There’s also a link to an interview with the woman herself.

The New Republic piece is called “The Catholic Church prefers medieval barbarism to modern abortion,” and you might go over and give it a short read (new facts and all), and proffer a bit of traffic to keep the secular content coming.

And, sure enough, the right-to-lifers are emerging from the woodwork in the comments.  Here’s the first comment:

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 7.03.09 AM

Pity that the sex of the baby hasn’t been reported. And I love the argument that if I had been aborted, I’d be really upset! As a respondent said,

“The author should be glad though that he was not a baby conceived by rape/incest and therefore likely to have been aborted/killed.”

That’s really not a good argument. If I would not have existed, then I wouldn’t have been around to rue my non-existence, and there would have been no “me” to feel sorry about not being.

And think of all those angry sperm who simply didn’t make it to the egg!

Here’s the third comment:

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 7.03.37 AMIs it “mercy” to force a woman to bear a child after she had been raped? Does that “mercy” hold for incest, too? The idea that the Catholic Church is “merciful” on this issue is laughable. Merciful for the fetus, perhaps—although they don’t give a rat’s patootie about it after it’s born—but there’s no mercy for the mother.


77 thoughts on “My New Republic piece on the Irish abortion case

  1. I was contemplating the injustice of it all, and I can’t help but notice, they say they think rape is evil, but by their actions, they doth protest too much. If they have no problem violating a womans bodily integrity (for one Bishop, at least) for TWO MONTHS, strapped to a gurney and force fed and then forced into a C-section….how does that compare to 10, 20 minutes of violating her bodily integrity to create the life in the first place?

  2. It is interesting how “pro life” proponents so often gloss over or simply ignore the injustices perpetrated on woman when their beliefs are put into action. And yet people who argue for the rights of the woman are evil monsters like Hitler was. Though it is nice that you tried to show some compassion to those woman.

    1. If one holds the position that human life begins at conception, then it does follow that it is more ethical to preserve a human life even if it means strapping a person down to a bed to force them to be an incubator for that life. I do not agree with the initial position of the Catholic church, but it is still an internally consistent position.

      1. Whether it is consistent depends on their definition of life.

        Simply saying it begins at the moment of fertilasation is not a description.

        It’s a time reference that says absolutely nothing about anything biological.

        It’s a major copout, but again it depends on your working definition of life.

      2. I disagree. We don’t force people to participate in life-saving organ donations/transplants, even though the entire population is 99.999999(etc)% in agreement that the adult recipients of said transplants are human.

        If its immoral to force you to give the use of your kidney to another human whon needs it, then isn’t it just as immoral to force a woman to give the use of her womb to another human who needs it?

        1. For clarity – I disagree that they hold an internally consistent position. While the RCC may not have an ‘official’ position on forced transplants, I fees pretty safe in saying that their position on pregnancy is inconsistent with pretty much everyone’s position (including their own personal positions) on forced transplants.

        2. Forcing someone to be strapped to a bed to save a human life is not equivalent to forcing someone to give up even a kidney to save a life. The latter situation is just not a violation of individual rights to avoid pain and indignity. The kidney donor is at real peril from the operation. Also, their remaining kidney might later fail and then they would be up a creek without one of those canoe propulsion devices.

          1. Being pregnant is hazardous to a woman’s health. Being strapped to a bed and force fed for two months is hazardous to a person’s health. The woman in that situation was in real peril from her treatment.

      3. Perhaps. I don’t think it is relevant though. Reality is not actually consistant with all of the premises of their position.

        In any case, what I was attempting to say is that they don’t just value the (potential) life over the well being / life of the woman, they devalue the well being / life of the woman. They demonstrate a distinct lack of compassion for the woman and at the same time claim their opponents are evil because they are so lacking in compassion. That kind of ruins the air of moral superiority they attempt, especially since, judging by actions, most of them don’t care what happens to the infants once they are born. Sounds an awful lot like defensive projection.

        1. I get so angry when the woman is ignored. That first comment Jerry pasted is not only inconsistent in its argument (all the way to Hitler) but the woman’s point of view is just not considered. I’ve noticed a worrying trend where if there is a choice between violating a woman’s rights it’s often taken. It isn’t when it comes to other rights.

      4. No, the catholic Church is not consistent. They claim to respect life, but they had no problem murdering the mother who was miscarrying, rather than providing adequate medical care. The catholic church position is best described as believing that life begins at conception and ends at birth. THey have no respect for the life of women. They have consistently refused to take a position on gun control. They rarely object to capital punishment.

      5. “If one holds the position that human life begins at conception, then it does follow that it is more ethical to preserve a human life even if it means strapping a person down to a bed…”
        Alternatively, fertilization is just an intermediate step in a process from gametes to fully fledged child.
        Only if you think God inserts a soul at that point would you single out fertilization as special. Do you really thinks so? Why.

  3. “Innocent infant”, “babies”, what nonsense. The brain and other vital organs don’t even start to work until around 10 weeks, and even then the fetus is no bigger than a thumbprint. This is before we get into the ambiguities of a continuously developing body in the second and third trimesters that rules out easy and lazy moral categorizing.

    To lump an 8-week-old fetus in the same moral category as a real infant and a real baby is inane and ignorant rhetoric of the most moralistically stupid kind. Then again, what do you expect when the commenter can’t make a counterargument without inventing a bucket load of ridiculous online ad hominem libels?

    1. Apparently a lot of people think a fetus is just a miniature baby that simply grows in size.

      Strange creatures, these Homo sapiens sapiens.

  4. The question is not when life begins, but when human life begins. One potential measure might be when one is old enough to reject Catholicism.

    1. No, that’s not the question. Human life undoubtedly begins at conception. What is at issue is at what stage a human being becomes a person, and is therefore entitled to the rights and privileges accorded to persons — which might, of course, include the right to reject Catholicism.

      1. Mr. MacDonald has joined the 100% wrong club. Human life does not begin at conception because more then 1/2 of all fertilized eggs fail to implant and are spontaneously aborted. At best, human life doesn’t begin until implantation.

        1. You’re both in the 100% Wrong Club. Human life began several hundred thousand years ago or more, depending on your definition of “human”.

        2. No, Eric is correct. The life of a genetically unique individual organism begins at fertilization. It’s irrelevant to this definition if that organism implants successfully or not. But the definition of human “person” is based on convention, not on biology. As such it can/should be defined by law based on biological facts as determined by appropriate sciences, especially those that show the embryological stages of development of the brain. Religious belief should have no more significance in the definition of “person” than in any other conventional definition.

            1. That “unique genetic individuality” of the sperm and egg doesn’t negate the fact that their fusion creates another genetically unique individual–the embryo that is really the focus of this discussion.

              1. You are correct Hal, sperm and egg do potentially define unique individuals and fusion creates another interesting point in the long process of creating humans. But, this is only the focus of the discussion if we agree with your limits. MacDonald is right, that the focus should not be on trying to define the beginning of “life” but on when a fetus becomes a human worthy of legal rights. In the U.S. that is defined by the Supreme Court to be rather later on in the process. If you compare the importance of a fully grown woman to a single cell or clump of cells, which one would you say has definite human and legal rights?

          1. No Hal is 100% wrong. A fertilized egg which fails to implant cannot possibly become a person. Implantation is a necessary condition for personhood.

            1. Many things are necessary conditions for personhood. Why is implantation particularly relevant? IMO being voluntarily carried to term is also a requirement for personhood.

            2. You’ve misread what I wrote. I said that the fusion of egg and sperm creates a genetically unique individual ORGANISM. I specifically said that this is a biological consideration. I did not say that this organism is a person from the moment of fertilization. I said that personhood is a matter of conventional definition. There is no possible BIOLOGICAL test for personhood.

              As for my statement about the “real subject” of this discussion, I was referring to the comment offered by Eric MacDonald and the response to his comment–admittedly just an aspect of the larger discussion prompted by Professor Coyne’s post.

              1. Eric never mentioned anything about genetic uniqueness. You brought that up and it’s not a criterion for something to be human. Otherwise we wouldn’t consider identical twins as multiple humans.

      2. I agree that the question is personhood and not life, but as an aside, I’ve never seen an unambiguous or broadly agreed upon definition of what constitutes “life”. What are the properties of a zygote that make it “life”? I’ve seen many attempts at a definition, but see no way to adjudicate between the disparate sets of parameters encompassed by them. What definition do you use?

        1. You are exactly right. You focus on the crux of the issue. There is no exact and simple way to rule on the time when abortion should be a legal option. The only way this can be justly determined, it seems, is to try to find a balance between a woman’s interest and a fetus. The U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v Wade decided that the interest of the preborn increase with time. The 3rd trimester rule, it seems to me is arbitrary, but reasonable. Viability is a moving target. We can create new life by the dozen in a Petri dish. Are these potential Catholic “babies”?

  5. The more I hear the anti-choice argument, the more I think it’s primarily about punishing women. Juxtapose the complete lack of concern for the woman in the anti-choicer’s comment with the horrific discovery of 800 infant corpses in a catholic home for unwed mothers and the slave labor of the magdalene laundries. The catholic church has a well documented history of judging unwed mothers as unfit for polite society, whisking them to be cloistered somewhere, exploiting them and throwing them and their children away like trash.

    1. Children and women take a back seat to God. The religious are as scared of sex as they are of death and this forces them to justify incredibly stupid things.

    2. Women are just there to make new male children with the occasionally disappointing female child which can be used as a replacement incubator when ready.

      1. Exactly, and not only that but the consequences of their shame based code of morality are always more harshly visited upon women than they are upon men. It has long been my opinion that religious, shame based codes of morality are, quite literally, the mother of all double standards. Someone got all of those unwed mothers that the church exploited pregnant, where are the consequences for the father?

        1. “Someone got all of those unwed mothers that the church exploited pregnant, where are the consequences for the father?”

          Hell, unwed mothers in general, not just church-exploited ones. Unless you’re a celebrity there’s still plenty of stigma about unwed motherhood. The guys, though, are “players.”

  6. I agree completely that the woman in this case was treated terribly and that the laws relating to abortion in Ireland need to be changed now. However, in the interests of veracity there appears to be no evidence that she was ever strapped to a bed and force fed. The Health Service Executive in Ireland obtained an ex-parte High Court order allowing them to force feed her if necessary, but it seems that this was never required. She ended her hunger strike voluntarily. Nit-picking maybe but true nonetheless.

    1. There is no chance for the law to be changed with the current Dail. What many are looking for is to set the date for the referendum to happen during the next Dail. Kicking the can down the road but actually allowing it to be as free from political fallout as possible.

      Before any law can be changed the removal of the 8th amendment is essential. Pretty much as predicted by the attorney general at the time and Mary Robinson who campaigned against it 1983. No one under the age of 49 has directly voted for the 8th amendment and the electorate have only ever been offered greater restriction rather than liberalising the law.

    2. Did she end her hunger strike voluntarily, or because she was threatened with limits to her rights and freedoms. If the latter, then she was, in effect, strapped to the bed and force fed, since, after all, in the history of the Inquisition, the first stage of torture is to be shown the instruments of torture.

      1. Perhaps not, but “agreement” obtained under serious duress, and I suspect in the absence of any independent advice or support, can in no circumstances be said to be consent. Any civilised countries courts have long recognised this (except I presume the Irish if religion sticks its evil nose in)

  7. “…and are less valued than…”

    I think it is the parents responsibility to make sure the child feels valuable and loved. The child cannot count on the one parent who is a rapist. The other parent has to weigh carefully if they can provide a healthy environment. Shame on this person who thinks its moral to take that choice away from the one person who knows best how the child would be raised. Shame on this person who make the blanket assumption that every victim can not be reminded of the evil every time they look at the child. Surely some such victims will be great mothers, but only they know if they should try.

    1. …and if the child should feel valuable, may it shouldn’t be raised under the culture of guilt that infuses the Catholic Church.

    2. Yes, it is pretty ironic that the person attacking Jerry with the “maybe you should tell them they don’t deserve to live and are not valued” line is defending a theology that tells us we all don’t deserve to live.

      The church says these babies deserve to live? Is that why they put kids on their knees saying ‘mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ just as early as their little legs and mouths can perform the exercise?

  8. Jerry, excellent article, by the way. Read it before I knew who the author was, but I kept nodding my head approvingly as I read it. The Roman Catholic “pro-life” position (so-called) really is monstrous. To force a woman who has been raped to carry a child to “term”, strapping her to the bed and force feeding her meanwhile, is almost beyond imagination horrible (though the soi-disant Caliphate goes several steps further in probing the depths of inhumanity).

    Surely, this woman has a case against her tormenters at the European Court of Human Rights. For to be kept a prisoner in this manner clearly violates basic human rights. And to force her to bear a child that resulted from rape, and was such a cause of shame that she was suicidal. adds to the crime committed by the Irish state — because, remember, all this was done under the aegis of Irish law. The Roman Catholic Church must take the ultimate responsibility, of course, though law-makers who submit to the Vatican’s dictates makes them complicit and responsible too. Perhaps some human rights lawyer would be willing to take both the Vatican and the Irish government before the European Court of Human Rights pro bono, to make this point.

    The comments on your article of which you take note, about the Roman Catholic Church’s supposed mercy, are completely preposterous. To bear ill-will towards an organisation that would demand such treatment of another human being is, of course, entirely justified. And the one who says that “The author should be glad though that he was not a baby conceived by rape/incest and therefore likely to have been aborted/killed”, is downright funny (as a commenter points out). How could the author be glad that he was not aborted (for whatever reason)?!!!! Some people find thinking very difficult, obviously.

      1. Eric MacDonald says “Perhaps some human rights lawyer would be willing to take both the Vatican and the Irish government before the European Court of Human Rights pro bono, to make this point.”

        That’s a pipe dream. Read Michael D’Antonio’s Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime and The Era of Catholic Scandal to find out what happens to anyone who takes on the Catholic Church for a fee or pro bono.

        A discussion of D’Antonio’s book can be found at

    1. THE CASE OF THE POPE delivers a devasting indictment of the way the Vatican has run a secret legal system that shields paedophile priests from criminal trial around the world.

      Is the Pope morally or legally responsible for the negligence that has allowed so many terrible crimes to go unpunished? Should he and his seat of power, the Holy See, continue to enjoy an immunity that places them above the law?

      Geoffrey Robertson QC, a distinguished human rights lawyer and judge, evinces a deep respect for the good works of Catholics and their church. But, he argues, unless Pope Benedict XVI can divest himself of the beguilements of statehood and devotion to obsolescent Canon Law, the Vatican will remain a serious enemy to the advance of human rights.

  9. “The Cahtolic Church Prefers Exercising Mercy to Tearing the Infant Limb From Limb From the Mother’s Womb”

    Wow, had no idea that’s how they did it…

  10. I cannot claim to imagine how difficult it must be for a woman to choose an abortion, but that is entirely her choice. The vast majority of abortions are rather early, and during that time no one should be able to tell her what to do with her body. The embryo (0-8 wks) is assembling organs, and is ‘under construction’. An embryo is not (yet) a human being in any factual way and so there should be no ethical problem with aborting an embryo. The fetus, beginning at 9 wks after fertilization, is recognizable as human in form but it is still undergoing construction. The continuum of construction of course goes on after birth (~ 38 wks) until maybe our late teens.

    When does a human being begin along this continuum? I do not know the answer to this ethical issue. A request for a late-term abortion will perhaps forever be entangled with this extremely opaque issue because we simply do not have factual guidelines that demarcate the ethical issue of when person-hood begins.

    1. Late term abortions may be a moot point because they are typically dangerous to the mother and doctors avoid them whenever possible.

  11. Here’s hoping that AndreOgueli did not slide down any of the many slippery slope fallacies he so flimsily constructed and land on his already fragile noggin.

    To interfere between a pregnant woman and her doctor is not compassion, it is aggressive meddling of the most malignant kind. To show compassion for an adult woman who has a developed brain and a self identity whose basic rights are being violated, is exactly that, compassion.

    Somebody please inform Ryan3 that abortion does not involve tearing any limbs off the fetus.

    A part forming the basis of the Forced Pregnancy Brigade’s twisted perspective is related to their being wedded to the idea that human life is so special that’s its beginnings cannot be interrupted. Translation: these so-called baby lovers are so special, so very special that any pre-natal cessation is a personal affront and threat to their own well being. That is why they often exclaim what if their own mother aborted them!

    1. A late term abortion is a pretty grim procedure. It does not involve tearing off of limbs, but the procedure can be very destructive.

    2. Just think, if there was abortion-on-demand we might have been spared AndreOqueli and ryan3. Now wouldn’t that have increased the average IQ of the human race? [/sarcasm]

  12. The little lamb isn’t “innocent” until baptism because it’s stained with the original sin of Eve (and presumably of its whore mother also).

    Why is a fetus “innocent” yet a baby is evil and must be saved by Jesus?

    1. Yes, funny how there is such talk about the child but according to the Catholic Church, the baby is already a sinner. I’m not sure if they still go straight to purgatory.

  13. I continue to think both sides are being unfair in this debate. There is a real issue about when to choose to call a human being a human being. Personally I tend to say let the mother decide. But I can sympathize with someone that says at 8 months that the infant has the same rights as the mother. There is a real gray area here. Clearly the Catholic Church or any other religion is not the place to go for moral guidance; only a fool does than anyway as churches are no better at morality than any other person. The first question to ask in this instance I believe is whether it is ever justified to force a woman to bear a child. Personally I say no it is not, even if she is due any day now. But if you think there are times when it is justified, then calling this “medieval barbarism” is surely unfair. In fact, it was not at that level in any case, if you know anything about actual medieval barbarism. We should keep our heads when debating this kind of thing.

    1. While perusing the web for info about this, I found the entry in Wikipedia about the history of thinking behind this issue here.
      Naturally, the legal and ethical demarcation of when person-hood is considered to begin has oscillated back and forth over the centuries. Some Greek philosophers even held views that are similar to those of the Catholic church today. And yet not too long ago, the courts of Europe and America did not consider infants to be fully human! Infanticide was a crime, but it was a lesser crime than murdering an older person. My, how times have changed.

      1. I am sorry – the question is not when life begins.

        The issue is that a woman has the right to choose whether to bring a pregnancy to term and give birth. It is her body and she is the one who has to cope with the risks. Until the fetus is viable outside a woman’s body, it is her decision and hers alone.

        I think men have a very hard time accepting this limitation — men have no say, because they lack the physical capablilty of creating new life. Hence men tend to couch the question in legalistic terms, and obfuscate about when life starts or babble on about the sanctity of life. thereby missing the crux of the argument — it is a woman’s choice.

        Sex is not a sin; abortion is not murder; a fetus is not a child; contraception is what responsible adults choose. Let’s stop pandering to the religious by letting them define the argument.

        1. I agree with all of that except the somewhat oversimplified “Men have a very hard time accepting this limitation…”. Speaking as one of them, a great many of us male-folk have no such problem. And sadly, there are a lot of women (mostly religious) who don’t recognize their fellow women’s rights. I’m constantly “getting into it” with a female FB friend who posts “Feminists for Life” propaganda. Go figure.

    2. I have found Canada’s abortion laws fair and practical (thanks to Morgentaler). As stated on this Wikipedia page:

      Abortion in Canada is not limited by criminal law but by the Canada Health Act. While some non-legal obstacles exist, Canada is one of only a few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion….abortion is a decision made by a woman with her doctor.

      The fetus has no legal status in Canada as a person. There have, however, been several attempts by Conservative governments to punish late term abortions but they have all failed so far. Further, the Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that less than only 1.9% of abortions take place past 20 weeks gestation.

  14. It’s typical of apologists for the Catholic Church to personally attack those speaking out against them rather than take an honest look at themselves.

    Saying Jerry must be sick and inhumane rather than addressing the sick and inhumane practices of the Church is exactly what I would expect.

    The Church has a history of blaming the victim, especially if the victim is poor, a woman, a child, or not Catholic.

    One of my most popular tw**ts ever was just before the last US election: “if the pregnancy is God’s will, the rape must be too”. Many others expressed the same and similar views in various media and Todd Akin’s candidacy was effectively scuppered.

    The more that speak out against Ireland’s inhumane law, the sooner it will change.

    Thank you to all those who speak out.

  15. Forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term against her will is a form of sexual slavery, pure and simple.

    Women are sovereign over their own bodies, they get to decide if they want to be pregnant or not. Anything else is just slavery dressed up as something else.

    Now I can maybe, in theory, in a philosophy-seminar-room kind of way, see a credible argument for requiring women to have a caesar and put the child up for adoption if the fetus has become reasonably viable *before* they decide they no longer wish to be pregnant. That’s an issue on which I’m genuinely torn.

    But here the authorities made her wait and then made her have the child early only because the anguish of carrying it was driving her to self harm and, possible, suicide.

    Pure Catholic barbarism.

  16. The first critical post, AndreOqueli in saying, “can’t even know what’s happening”, provides one reasonably good reason for abortion. That is, to value a live, functioning, real person over something that “can’t even know what’s happening”. It doesn’t know, hasn’t known, and indeed,’can not know’ anything, versus the exact opposite for a person.
    This without taking anything else away from other pro choice arguments.

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