Ireland Catholic hospitals abortion
Freedom of Religion

If Irish Catholic hospitals are forced to perform abortions, the Roman Catholic Church should close every one of them

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has hit out at socialist parties and groups in the Dáil, accusing them of wanting to “turn religious people into pariahs”.

You might notice that the structure of this story is curious. It devotes one opening sentence to the subject of the headline. It then spends the next eight paragraphs addressing the actual subject of the story – compelling Catholic hospitals to perform abortions: “He made the claim as he confirmed that all publicly funded hospitals will be required to provide abortion services once legislation is enacted in the Oireachtas…”

Only after these eight paragraphs does the story return to the subject of the headline.

I came of age in the post-Vietnam military, so it is true that I find it hard to distinguish journalists from the Viet Cong. My bias is apparent. Yet, to my everlasting shame, I did write for my high school newspaper (for one semester), and there I learned that newspaper stories have a defined structure. The important stuff always comes first. Why? Because readers typically don’t read to the end of the story. So we know what the journalist considered important. It’s all that information about Catholic hospitals being forced to perform abortions. The question is, why did the writer bury it behind a headline and a single sentence that references all the lesser details that come towards the end? If I were a realist cynic, I might think that the writer wanted to frame the story in a particular way – as if he really wanted to say: ‘The Taoiseach doesn’t hate Catholics, but …’

But the Taoiseach is going to compel Catholic hospitals to perform abortions. It’s not enough that abortion must be made legal: it must be made compulsory. A right implies an obligation, after all. It’s well and good to have the right to an abortion, but what good is possessing that right if there is no one to provide the service? If too many potential suppliers simply refuse to provide an otherwise legal service, then the new law would lose in practice what it gained in theory at the ballot box. So the denizens of progressive righteousness survey the landscape and notice a disturbing reality: too many hospitals are known to be unwilling – you know, those reactionary Catholic hospitals; hospitals which must be made to conform to the New Order. A golden statue has been placed in the square. When the trumpet sounds, everyone is required to bow down and worship. There can be no exceptions. The sexual revolution demands its sacrifice in blood.

Sure, there were nice words about a right of conscience: “Conscientious objection provisions will apply to individual doctors, nurses and midwives who do not want to participate in providing abortion services.”

But remember this: the act of granting ‘conscientious objector’ status is both an implicit claim of authority and a declaration that the objector is outside the moral norms of society. It is, by definition, an accommodation and not a right. The conscientious objector receives his or her status only because the government deigns to grant it, and it is kept only so long as the government suffers them to keep it. There is no moral imperative that protects the objector, for the government does not respect their moral position as legitimate. The government merely tolerates the ability to act upon it for the time being. Should circumstances dictate, the government can and will withdraw the status. If this poll is to be believed, there is a significant level of desire to stay out of the abortion business among Irish doctors. Certainly the repeal of the Eighth Amendment has been received with great concern regarding the implications for coercion. So if the Irish Government sees the need to make sure that abortion services are reliably available at the local level, and too many doctors fail to opt in, the Government might very well seek to coerce as a condition of employment. It’s not like the idea is unprecedented.

The Irish Government has by this decision relegated religious conviction to the personal sphere. Individuals may act on conscience – for the time being. But individuals may not group themselves together into a public organisation and act upon their religious convictions as a collective. That is forbidden. The corporate act of religious freedom is restricted and hidden behind a claim that individual religious liberty is protected. But if individual religious liberty cannot be collectively organised, then it is intrinsically atomised and functionally banned from the public sphere. These Catholic hospitals simply want to operate by their own light. They compel no one. But it doesn’t matter. The trumpet has sounded. They must bow down. They must be made to bow down.

The claim will come back: “It’s the government’s money. It makes the rules.” Yes, that’s a good and powerful argument. It’s just a morally bankrupt argument. It justifies anything. Euthanasia will follow next. If a hospital can be compelled to kill before birth, then it certainly can be compelled to kill after birth. And this collective obligation must eventually be operationalised by an individual: “Here, Doctor. You must stick this needle in his arm. It is his right to die and you are obligated to act as agent. Otherwise, you must refer him to someone who will. Make the call and arrange for the hit man. It doesn’t matter what you think about this.”

There is, in fact, no logical reason why a hospital couldn’t (theoretically) be compelled to perform female circumcision under that rule. You think this crazy? Then follow along. Assume someone perfects a pre-natal method of female circumcision. Why (given the mother’s autonomous control of her pregnancy) could she not request such a procedure on her unborn child? She can have the child killed through abortion. Is death less severe than FGM? It would only take one judge to order it in the name of a woman’s autonomy. And the precedent is there. It’s not like gender specific abortions are prosecuted. “It’s the Government’s money, Doctor. Start cutting.” Oh, the rage that would be vented over such a thing. And the medical mechanics who would butcher the young would suddenly understand. Sure, sure, FGM is considered barbaric, and who can think the law would ever allow it? But then 75 years ago abortion was considered barbaric, and who then thought the law would ever allow it? It’s tough to hold against the tide when there is no anchor fixed to the sea floor.

If there remains courage in the Catholic church in Ireland, it will close every Catholic hospital in Ireland on the day this law becomes effective. It will not be a popular decision. The Government will have to take up the cost, and the Catholic church will get the blame. So be it. The RCC should not kill just to maintain the favour of the blood-stained mob. Defying the trumpet will have consequences, but it also provides the opportunity for testimony: “We know that God can deliver us from the furnace, Taoiseach. But even if He doesn’t, we still aren’t going to kill your children for you.”

Then the Taoiseach was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated.