19 June 2018, The Tablet

Mary McAleese stands by Ireland abortion referendum 'yes' vote

'I have always regarded myself as someone who would have valued the life of the mother and also the life of the little baby'

Mary McAleese stands by Ireland abortion referendum 'yes' vote

Former Irish President Mary McAleese
Jonathan Brady/PA Archive/PA Images

Former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, has said she voted yes in last month’s abortion referendum and that she has no intention of going to confession over it.

Speaking to journalist Ursula Halligan at an event organised by the catholic lay reform group, We Are Church Ireland, Dr McAleese criticised comments made by Bishop Kevin Doran in response to the passing of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment when he said that Catholics who voted yes intending that abortion would be the outcome should go to confession.

“These are man-made rules, these are not statements of an infallible church,” Dr McAleese, a canon lawyer, said last weekend in Gonzaga College in Dublin.

She explained that when the referendum on the insertion of the Eighth Amendment was held in 1983, she had supported the insertion of the Amendment into the constitution because there was no statute based law and she saw it as an opportunity to clarify the situation legally even if it was for very limited abortion where a woman’s life is in danger.

“I have always regarded myself as someone who would have valued the life of the mother and also the life of the little baby.”

However, the report into the death of Savita Halappanvar, she said implicated the Eighth Amendment and that “came between me and my peace of mind”, specifically because she had met Savita Halappanvar, whom she described as “wonderful”.

Savita Halappanavar was a 31-year-old Indian dentist who died on 28 October 2012 at University Hospital Galway due to the complications of a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks’ gestation.

When it was clear that a miscarriage was inevitable, Ms Halappanavar requested an abortion but this was refused by the medical team, who were later criticised for their mishandling of sepsis.

Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran, who headed a seven-member panel looking into the case for the HSE said last year that a significant contributing factor to Savita Halappanavar’s death was Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws.

“We have to give those who have to operate the laws clear sight and ways of dealing with these issues,” Mary McAleese stressed last weekend.

The former head of state said the yes votes in the same-sex marriage referendum and the abortion referendum by ordinary people who were baptised into the catholic church and are subject to the canon rules of that church was a statement by these Catholics that their freedom of conscience trumps the curial church’s idea of what is a mortal sin.

Meanwhile, Bishop Leo O’Reilly of Kilmore has said that in the wake of the referendum outcome a “new reality” pertains in Ireland where the church is no longer the dominant voice in society.

Speaking in Knock at the Kilmore diocesan pilgrimage, Bishop O’Reilly said that in this new reality the referendum outcome had shown that many were Catholics by culture rather than by conviction.

He said the result of the referendum had left many Catholics with a “mixture of shock and sadness” as the “culture of life that marked maternity care in Ireland” had now been “fatally undermined”.

Separately, the director of the conservative Lumen Fidei Institute has called on Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin to shut down catholic hospitals under his patronage rather than see them perform abortions.

Anthony Murphy told the Tablet that if the Government is going to force catholic hospitals to perform abortions, “the Archbishop will have to close those hospitals down and let the state fund their own killing machines”.

Separately, leaked briefing notes of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, have indicated that the government in London will not force Northern Ireland to liberalise its abortion laws as it is seen as a devolved issue for the people and politicians there.

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