Irish hospitals with a Catholic ethos will not be allowed to opt out of carrying out abortions when new, more liberal laws on terminations come into effect following May’s referendum on the issue, the country’s prime minister has said.
The Taoiseach (prime minister), Leo Varadkar, said that while doctors, nurses or midwives could opt out of performing procedures on conscience grounds, whole institutions will not have that option.
The comments come after the referendum, in which 66.4 per cent voted yes to repealing the Eighth Amendment, which placed equal value on the life of the mother and the unborn child, with 33.6 per cent voting against repeal.
The government is currently drafting legislation that will allow for women to request an abortion up to 12 weeks into pregnancy, and for abortion in extreme cases between 12 and 24 weeks.
Addressing concerns raised in the Dáil (the Irish parliament) over surgical abortions, Varadka said the legislation would follow the model of the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allowed for terminations in extreme medical circumstances and for individual medics to opt out.
However, he added: "It will not…be possible for publicly funded hospitals, no matter who their patron or owner is, to opt out of providing these necessary services which will be legal in this state once this legislation is passed by the Dáil and Seanad (senate)…I'm happy to give you that assurance."
Varadkar went on: "That legislation will allow individuals to opt out based on their consciences or their religious convictions but will not allow institutions to do so.
"So, just as is the case now in the legislation for the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, hospitals like for example Holles Street, which is a Catholic voluntary ethos hospital, the Mater, St Vincent's and others will be required, and will be expected to, carry out any procedure that is legal in this state and that is the model we will follow."
Jack Valero, the co-founder of Catholic Voices, told The Tablet: “The Catholic Church believes abortion is murder, and so to force Catholic institutions to violate their own beliefs so as to follow secularist dogmas is totalitarian. Secularists are entitled to their own views but they should not impose them on others. Civil society is strong, and beneficial for everyone, in the measure that its institutions, such as churches and charities, are allowed to be guided by the ethical principles that inspire them.”
The Irish Catholic Bishops said in a statement: "For healthcare professionals, the right of conscientious objection must be respected. It would be a great injustice to require doctors and nurses to participate, even by referral, in the provision of services which would be a serious violation of their conscience."