Civil Law and the Right to Life

Author: IEC


The Irish Bishops' Conference

The Irish Bishops' Conference in their recent statement on "Civil Law and the Right to Life," have described the Supreme Court Judgement in the X Case as "unjust" and "a corruption of law" and they also strongly condemned the Abortion Information Bill, saying the "services outside the state" were "services" which directly and deliberately killed human beings.

The following is the full text of the Bishops' statement:

"The judgement of the Supreme Court is the case of The Attorney General v X introduced into Irish law the idea that it could be legal to perform an action with the intention and purpose of killing an innocent human being. The Court did not enquire into, or seriously explore, what might have been done to protect the life of the child as well as that of the mother.

"The declaration that it is legal, at least under certain conditions, deliberately to kill an unborn child authorises the violation of a defenceless human being's most basic right.

Such a decision can properly be called a corruption of law. The Supreme Court judgment in the X case was, therefore, unjust," they stated." A pregnant mother is entitled to all the medical treatment necessary to deal with any serious illness, despite the risk that treatment will endanger or even destroy the Life of the child. That is quite different from saying that it could be permissible directly and deliberately to kill the child."

Information Bill

"The Oireachtas recently passed the Regulation of Information (Services Outside the State for the Termination of Pregnancies) Bill. 'Termination of pregnancy' is here a euphemism for procured abortion; the 'services outside the state' are 'services' which directly and deliberately kill human beings.

"Euphemistic terminology of this kind tends to hide abortion's true nature and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. As the Pope has suggested in his Encyclical, The Gospel of Life, this linguistic phenomenon may itself be 'a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience'.

"In declaring that Bill to be in accordance with the Constitution, the Supreme Court declined to reverse the judgment it had delivered in the X case. It rejected the contention of counsel for the unborn child, that the Court had been wrong when it accepted that the Eighth Amendment envisaged that an abortion might lawfully take place in the State.

Natural Law

"The Court refused to accept that the natural law is the fundamental law of this State and that as such, it is antecedent and superior to all positive law.

"Its arguments appear to be made on the basis that the natural law is exterior to the Constitution. But the Constitution was enacted by the people in order 'to promote the common good, with due observance of prudence, justice and charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained...' (Preamble). The people of the State, from whom, under God, all powers of Government, Legislative, executive and judicial, derive may, in final appeal, decide all questions of national policy, but must do so 'according to the requirements of the common good' (Art 6. 1).

"It is difficult to discern what the judges of the Supreme Court understand the natural law to be, if it is not about assuring the freedom and dignity of the individual and thus promoting the common good.

"Our Constitution was adopted to affirm and uphold some of the fundamental principles and rights which derive from the dignity of the person. An attempt—even one ratified by a majority of the people so to amend that Constitution as to violate those principles and rights would contradict not only justice and the common good but also the very foundation on which the Constitution itself is built," say the bishops.

Positivist And Relativist Approach

"The Court repeated its previous assertion that in a pluralist society, it cannot choose between the views of different religious denominations about the nature and extent of natural rights. The natural right being considered in this context is the right to life. "This is the most fundamental human right, recognised by people of all religions and of none. There can surely be no doubt that it is first among the rights which are imprescriptible and inalienable. The Court did in fact, choose between differing approaches to what exist in society. It adopted a positivist philosophy of law and a relativist understanding of moral values." There are differing views in our society about whether the unborn child's right to life is equal to that of every other citizen.

That, however, was the precise point determined by the people in the Eighth Amendment (in 1983) and the people did not leave the Court free to treat the unborn child's right to Life as less than that of his or her mother.

"In a previous case, the Court had decided that 'no right could constitutionally arise to obtain information the purpose of the obtaining of which was to defeat the constitutional right to Life of the unborn child'. In the light of it is current interpretation of the fourteenth Amendment it has now recognised such a right.

"Further Erosion"

"This marks a further erosion of respect for life in judicial decisions. This erosion began when the Supreme Court declared that the right to life of an unborn child as articulated in Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution could, on occasion, be so interpreted as to permit the deliberate destruction of that life.

"The Court repeated a view which has been part of its approach for several decades, namely that ... it has the right to interpret the provisions of the Constitution 'in the light of prevailing ideas and concepts'. The Court, therefore. claims the right to declare that a provision of the Constitution no longer means what the people intended it to mean when they enacted it. In spite of the guarantee in Article 6 that the people have the right to decide all questions of national policy, there is no machinery by which they may challenge an assertion by the Court that prevailing ideas and concepts have altered the original meaning of a Constitutional provision.

One Of Many Ways

"The erosion of protection for unborn human life is one of the many ways in which life is threatened today. Our world is marked by war, famine, genocide, the scandal of the arms trade, reckless disregard for the environment and the traffic in drugs. [cf. <The Gospel of Life 10.] It is a world in which the dignity of the person, particularly the weakest and least influential, is increasingly obscured by the importance attached to the criteria of efficiency, productivity and usefulness [cf. <The Gospel of Life> 23]. Such threats to Life underline the urgency of the Pope's call to a more effective proclamation of the Gospel of Life, a proclamation which is neither single-issue nor negative.

"Culture Of Death"

"The Encyclical is a call to respect human life and to show reverence and love for the life of every person from conception to natural death. It speaks about the ways in which the value of life can undergo a kind of eclipse, leading to the emergence of a "culture of death".

In a solemn pronouncement, Pope John Paul declares that innocent human life is absolutely inviolable: 'I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral" [The Gospel of Life 57]. This principle is based upon the unwritten law which men and women, through reasoned reflection, can discover in their own hearts: every innocent human being has a fundamental and inalienable right that he or she should not be deliberately killed. It is affirmed by Scripture and by the Tradition of the Church. It is part of the Church's ordinary and universal magisterium. In relation to this basic right every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others." Abortion destroys a Life which is God's gift. The same generous God offers forgiveness and peace to those who have had an abortion: "Do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope" the Pope says, "Nothing is definitively lost... As a result of your painful experience, you can be among the eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life" [The Gospel of Life 991. The Gospel of Life makes demands on every follower of Christ to offer support to women who are distressed and sometimes panic-stricken to find themselves pregnant. As we said earlier this year: "The genuineness of convictions about the right to Life of the unborn child must be measured by our willingness to give the necessary support. Those who are in a position to help and do not, cannot escape their responsibility. No women should feel that she must face an unhappy pregnancy alone."

This article appeared in the July 21, 1995 issue of "The Irish Family", P.O. Box 7, G. P. O., Mullingar. Co. Westmeath, Ireland.