Erin Go Wrong

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

Boston College commencement goes on today without the presence of Boston’s Sean Cardinal O’Malley. He’s staying away on account of the Catholic college’s commencement speaker, Irish prime minister Enda Kenny, who is advocating liberalization of the country’s abortion laws. The cardinal has expressed his disappointment in the school, which has ignored the guidance of the bishops of the U.S. that “Catholic institutions not honor government officials or politicians who promote abortion with their laws and policies.”

The decision by Boston College is particularly disappointing given that Boston should know better. It has experienced the pain of violence against human life in a particularly deep and stark way this spring. And Catholics there know the terrible harm done to human life and moral credibility by abuse scandals, which Irish Catholics are still in the course of confronting. But Boston College has chosen to contribute to the confusion, causing harm, as Cardinal O’Malley has said.

About the proposed law, the Catholic bishops of Ireland have said: “The unavoidable choice that now faces all our public representatives is: will I chose to defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb in all circumstances, or will I choose to licence the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb?

“The ideology of choice has become very powerful here,” David Quinn, director of the Iona Institute, which “promotes the place of marriage and religion in society,” explains in an interview with National Review Online. Quinn, who is also a columnist with the Irish Independent and the Irish Catholic, is grateful to the cardinal.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Were you surprised to hear that Enda Kenny would be speaking at Boston College’s commencement? That Cardinal O’Malley would decide not to attend? 

DAVID QUINN: I wasn’t surprised that our Taoiseach would be speaking at Boston College. This is pretty much par for the course for many Catholic universities, isn’t it? I suppose we should add that the invitation was issued before the abortion legislation here was published. On the other hand, Boston College has to have known that such legislation was planned. I was very glad to hear that Cardinal O’Malley will not be attending the event. He is a man of integrity and he is taking a necessary moral stand. 

LOPEZ: Kenny has said “Our aim is to protect the lives of women and their unborn babies by clarifying the circumstances in which doctors can intervene where a woman’s life is at risk.” Is that not true? 

QUINN: Mr. Kenny is being disingenuous. The most controversial aspect of the planned legislation is that it will permit abortion when a woman is deemed to be suicidal. The first thing to be said here is that there is no scientific evidence that abortion can save the life of a suicidal woman. Also, if a pregnant woman is suicidal it is very likely to have nothing at all to do with the pregnancy as such, and in any case, there will always be alternative forms of help available other than abortion. What is not in doubt is that an abortion in such a case kills an unborn human life. So how can Mr. Kenny possibly say he is protecting the lives of unborn babies?

LOPEZ: At least he is making reference to unborn babies? 

QUINN: I think Mr. Kenny genuinely believes he is pro-life, but if he does, he needs to think more deeply about what he is doing. How can any pro-life politician possibly support a law that will allow for the direct and intentional taking of innocent human life? To a certain extent he is hiding behind a supreme court decision of 1992 which helped to pave the way for this legislation. But no politician ever has an excuse for voting in favor of a law that he believes to be unjust. It takes a lot of rationalization for pro-life politicians to persuade themselves this law is just. It is anything but.

LOPEZ: What would the legislation mean for religious freedom, and should that matter if we’re talking about women’s lives and health? 

QUINN: The bill forces doctors to perform what are deemed emergency terminations. It also forces pro-life doctors to refer woman seeking abortions to pro-choice doctors. Lastly it requires that every hospital with a maternity unit must perform “lawful terminations” regardless of its ethos. This makes it one of the worst laws from a conscience point of view anywhere, so far as I know. Even countries with very liberal abortion laws don’t usually go as far as this. This alone shows that freedom of conscience and religion can be respected even in countries that believe in the right to abortion.

LOPEZ: How did Ireland get to this point? 

QUINN: I suppose it was inevitable that Ireland would eventually go down this path. I once interviewed Cardinal Ratzinger (as he was back in 1995), and he said that while Ireland was an island physically, it was not an island culturally. We are tremendously influenced by cultural developments in Britain and America. But there is an aggressive edge to what’s happening that I think is partly the result of the years of Catholic dominance and the child-abuse scandals. For example, Ireland has closed its embassy to the Holy See at the same time as Britain, which is historically Protestant, has been expanding its embassy.

In a way, Ireland’s cultural elite, and many ordinary people too unfortunately, are angry at the Church in the same way they were once angry at Britain. It took decades for that anger to subside. I often say that for the Irish, Church-bashing has replaced “Brit-bashing.”

LOPEZ: Is there real help for a woman in Ireland who finds herself pregnant without support? For a couple whose child will have special needs? 

QUINN: It is extremely important to point out that Ireland has an excellent maternal health-care system by and large. World Health Organization data show that we are one of the safest places in the Western world for a woman to have a child. Our maternal death rate is half that of Britain and a quarter of America’s and both of those countries have abortion-on-demand.

Unfortunately, the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in an Irish hospital has given much of the world the completely false impression that Ireland is an unsafe place for pregnant women and that our Catholic-influenced pro-life laws are to blame. The WHO data prove otherwise. In respect of Savita herself, there are plenty of doctors who say the problem wasn’t the law, but the fact that the hospital didn’t spot and properly manage the infection that eventually killed her, namely sepsis.
In answer to the second part of your question, there are organizations that help women find an alternative to abortion, for example, a service run by the Irish bishops’ conference called Cura. There are also supports for children with special needs, although as in many other countries these can be improved.

LOPEZ:  Has the United States done the world a disservice in 40 years of legal abortion and the misuse and abuse of words such as “women’s health” and “choice”? 

QUINN: The short answer is “yes.” As I said a little earlier, we are tremendously influenced both by Britain and America, which have had liberal abortion laws for years. Our forthcoming law will not lead to abortion-on-demand to begin with, but it is the foot in the door. The ideology of choice has become very powerful here. Nothing must be allowed to interfere with a person’s life-plan, including a baby. That is extremely unfortunate to put it mildly. The irony is that we passed a new constitutional amendment a few months ago supposedly aimed at protecting children’s rights, and then the same government gets set to pass this law. 

LOPEZ: What does the Gosnell trial look like from over there?

QUINN: It got very little coverage here, so almost no one has heard of it.

LOPEZ: Can you really make a compelling case for man/woman marriage in 90 seconds?

QUINN: You’re referring to a video we produced on the matter a few months ago.  

Can you make a compelling case in 90 seconds? Probably not. But what you can do is get people thinking, and you especially show people who are basically against same-sex marriage but also wonder “what harm can it do?” that there is a credible case against it worth exploring. The video has received over 78,000 hits, and it has been more viewed in the U.S. than in Ireland. 

LOPEZ: What is the future of marriage in Ireland? 

QUINN: We are becoming very like other Western countries. Our divorce rate is still low, but more than a third of births are outside marriage, the number of adults over 18 who are married has fallen to just under half, and our rate of cohabitation is on par with the U.S. rate. In addition, people increasingly have an adult-centered view of marriage. They don’t see it as an institution primarily though not exclusively directed towards the care of children and towards providing children with a mother and a father who love them. In that kind of climate it’s no wonder support for same-sex marriage in Ireland now stands at over 60 percent, although I suspect a lot of that support is soft and would be severely tested in a referendum.

LOPEZ: Who was Donal Walsh and what could the world learn from him?

QUINN: Donal Walsh was a very brave teenager diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12 who died a few days ago aged 16. Ireland has quite a high suicide rate among young males and Donal’s message was that life is worth living and should never be thrown away no matter what you’re going through. It is a very important message at any time but especially now with a debate about assisted suicide also taking hold in Ireland. 

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