America’s editors on Irish abortions and the separation of family at the border

Protesters hold up banners on a bridge in Dublin to persuade voters as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion on May 25, 2018. (CNS)

Two stories separated by 5,000 miles this weekend reminded us all of how crucial it is for citizens of democracies to avoid complacency in the defense of human rights, particularly the rights of those in greatest peril. They also are a reminder that every generation faces challenges to the dignity of life—and those threats are often tragically familiar.

The first was the unexpected landslide vote on May 25 that repealed the Republic of Ireland’s Eighth Amendment, which guaranteed the right to life of unborn children. By a margin of 2-to-1, one of the only societies left in Europe that prohibited abortion on demand voted to allow it on almost exactly the same terms as everyone else. As the votes were being counted in Ireland, journalist Chris Hayes was reporting on a case from Brownsville, Tex., in which border patrol officers took an 18-month-old baby from his mother at the border in February because she was seeking asylum from violence in her home country; she says in a lawsuit that she has not seen her child for more than a month. The inhumanity of the episode was reinforced by news reports that of the 7,000 undocumented children the federal government has taken into custody, the Office of Refugee Resettlement does not know where 1,475 of them are.

No doubt the Israelites of Exodus thought Pharaoh’s new law, that their offspring should be marked for death, a singular evil upon the earth.

In the case of Ireland, most prognosticators saw the liberalization of abortion laws as a likely outcome, given that nation’s legalization of divorce in 1995 and same-sex marriage in 2015, both by similar referendum processes and against the vociferous opposition of the Catholic church. But the sheer enormity of the vote for repeal—both in terms of turnout and the winning margin—has taken everyone by surprise. On abortion, Ireland seemed to have succeeded where almost every other modern democracy has failed. Their European neighbors have long allowed abortion early in a pregnancy but also have strong maternal safety nets; across the Atlantic, the United States has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world (far more so than those aforementioned European nations) and almost no safety net for young mothers at all. But Ireland went its own way (it is worth noting that the Eighth Amendment is not some holdover from colonial rule: it was passed in 1983). Ireland created a modern state that both prohibited abortion in almost all circumstances and aimed to provide the best care for women before and after childbirth. No more.

To defend our prosperity, to defend ways of life we reflexively consider blessed, we seem to ignore the true and good impulses of our nature and instead turn again on our children.

Within our own borders, the draconian immigration policies and open race-baiting of the nominally pro-life Trump administration perhaps made public episodes of inhumanity inevitable. But an America where babies are torn from their mothers’ arms because their parents had the temerity to flee violence, where children are separated from their families and then lost through a blasé indifference, is not a pro-life nation at all. The rhetoric of Emma Lazarus, where the “Mother of Exiles” welcomes “the wretched refuse of your teeming shores,” seems less pertinent than that of theologian William Stringfellow: Is our nation now “a demonic principality” that “exacts human sacrifices, captures and captivates presidents as well as intimidating and dehumanizing ordinary citizens”?

The juxtaposition of these policies against the Trump administration’s efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, a necessary and laudable pro-life goal, reveals a cruel irony: Under this regime, the dignity of human life is subordinated to political ends even when, by happenstance of political alliance, it is being defended.

It is our biblical heritage that provides another warning—and mandate—in both cases. No doubt the Israelites of Exodus thought Pharaoh’s new law, that their offspring should be marked for death, a singular evil upon the earth. Yet in the time of Christ, another generation was vexed by the same nightmare in the person of Herod, in an edict whose eerie echo we remember in our own liturgical readings to this day. And now, 20 centuries later, that evil slouches forth again. To defend our prosperity, to defend ways of life we reflexively consider blessed, we seem to ignore the true and good impulses of our nature and instead turn again on our children.

Correction: This editorial has been updated to correct a reference to Ireland as the only society in Europe to prohibit abortion on demand. Poland and Malta also prohibit abortion on demand.

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Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

Have you done that? Or, is that to deflect from the crime?

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Tim, I am not lecturing women and accusing them of atrocities equivalent to the Holocaust. Take a break from hectoring women, contact a clinic and tell them your are willing to bear the full, lifetime burden of an unwanted child.

Robert Klahn
2 years 6 months ago

Ireland legalized abortion. In this the weakness of the position of the Catholic Church became evident. After facing scandal about the abuse of children, which went on for a very long time, the moral credibility of the Catholic Church was weakened greatly.

On the subject of Abortion it was also weakened much more recently.

On Oct 28, 2012, Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist died of sepsis in 2012 after being denied an abortion during a protracted miscarriage. The doctors determined that the miscarriage was inevitably going to kill the fetus, but could not end the pregnancy as long as they had a foetal heartbeat they could not perform the abortion.

"Halappanavar was admitted to University hospital in Galway on 21 October 2012, when she was 17 weeks pregnant with her first child. Medical staff concluded that a miscarriage was inevitable but did not intervene – despite requests from Halappanavar and her husband for an abortion – as a foetal heartbeat could be detected."

"A few days later, medics diagnosed infection as a result of ruptured membranes and, later septic shock. Halappanavar died on 28 October."

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/26/savita-halappanavar-father-thanks-irish-voters-for-historic-abortion-vote

When the Halappanavars argued for the abortion they were told the doctors could do nothing because Ireland is a Catholic country.

When you make life or death decisions for others you had better be right. If not you get stuck with the blame, and the loss of trust. In this case, there was no medical reason not to do the abortion, not even by Catholic standards, there was no way the baby was going to survive. Yet the decision was made on the most narrow religious grounds, beyond any reason.

As a Pro-Life Catholic I want to end abortion, but you cannot be truly pro-life unless you are whole life. Which means you have to make the tough decisions when the facts are narrowly understood and the choices can be unclear. If you can only decide on the basis of dogma, without knowledge of the facts in the case, you cannot be counted on to make the right decisions.

When you lose the trust of the people you cannot lead them, regardless of the authority you may claim.

Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago

Amen. There are countless cases like the one you mentioned. In the U.S. there is the infamous Phoenix case. However, in that case when a pregnancy was threatening the life of the mother and inviable fetus with certainty, and all attempts failed to save both, the only viable option was to save the life of the mother and terminate the pregnancy. The Sister in charge of the St. Joseph hospital's ethics committee permitted the doctors to terminate the pregnancy and save the life of a mother who had children and a husband. When the bishop found out, he not only excommunicated the Sister but took away the legal distinction of St. Joseph hospital to be called 'Catholic'. St. Joseph had a moral analysis done by a moral theologian from Marquette University and she determined that the case was 'indirect abortion'. However, the bishop refused to accept it. After many years and after much pressure, the excommunication was rescinded. This case is another reason that terminating a pregnancy to save the life of the mother should be morally permitted.

As for Ireland and this article, the Catholic Church in Ireland and throughout the world must take a good portion of the blame for failing in its message while ignoring their blindness to the dilemmas and circumstances of concrete life among the faithful. A moral principle holds true only as an overarching guideline. As Aquinas said, in paraphrase, many moral principles become less relevant in the light of the details of context and circumstances. The Catholic Church does not change or reform many moral teachings because they fear they might go against a past pope or be accused of being wrong. This is a long standing problem. When the Church continues to ignore the sign of the times and voices of the people of faith, not to mention many bishops and theologians, they need to take some blame for the decisions of the faithful.

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 6 months ago

The rescinding of the ban paves the way for the only "concrete circumstances" mattering is a persons choice to abort, for any reason, at any time [abortion on demand] . That is the negation of ANY moral[pro life] principle, in substitute for a might- makes -right, only- the- strong -have -the -right- to -live, ethos, regarding unborn, defenseless, innocent and, in the fetal stages of gestation; sentient - capable- of- suffering, human beings. Ireland already allowed abortion in the case of life threatening circumstances for the mother, and for rape and incest. That is quite accommodating of "dilemmas and circumstances of concrete life among the faithful".[Too accommodating[imo] as allowing abortion for rape and incest is the supreme manifestation of making the innocent pay the price for the sins of a parent! How can Christian faith and humanistic ethics support such a perverse moral reasoning?]

If the faithful are supporting abortion to get back at the Church for being patriarchal and for the sexual and other abusive sins of the past, such "signs of the times" and "voices of the people" regarding pro abortion mandates, cannot be taken as coming from moral insights and Holy Spirit discernments.[ the discerning sense of the faithful]. You can oppose the Church patriarchy and you can be outraged at the sexual and other abuse scandals, and should be, but that should have no bearing on ones moral reasonings about the morality of wanting legalized abortion on demand. If it does, ones moral reasoning is tainted by another agenda; standing up to the Church one has grievances, albeit valid ones, against. And secularization notwithstanding, the taking of unborn human life, is a[secular] human rights issue as much as a Christian faith based issue.

Michael Barberi
2 years 6 months ago

I think you are exaggerating what I said. While I had no idea that Catholic Ireland permitted abortion to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest, I also said (with emphasis here) that I do not believe in abortion on demand meaning for 'any reason'. The 'Law' is a legal issue and it must be settle legally. The law does not say women have to have an abortion. That decision is a moral one and left to a personal decision of conscience based on one's faith. In the U.S. the answer to the question "does personhood begin at conception" is complex especially in a pluralistic society. As a Catholic, I believe that life begins at conception because of my faith. However, the issue of personhood was never considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. That decision attempted to balance the right to privacy and a woman's right to choose with the right of the State and the protection of the potentiality of human life (e.g., they choose fetal viability). We can argue over what is human life and personhood, but this question was not fully vetted in the U.S. Courts. I hope it does.

In Ireland and other countries, I am not convinced that all the blame rests with a run-away secular culture. Keep in mind that Ireland is "predominately" Catholic. Are the majority of the people of Ireland infected with an evil disease that their faith cannot overcome? Or are such decisions merely personal immoral decisions that go against their Christian faith? If so, does the Catholic Church in Ireland deserve some blame here?

rose-ellen caminer
2 years 6 months ago

The unborn used to have legal protections[ I read it was already legal for incest, rape and the life of the mother in Ireland] , now they don't and can be killed for any reason. That life begins at conception is a scientific fact, as the zygote is nothing less then the first stage of a human being. It's alive with its own genetic makeup, differing from that of the mothers. It is not a person at the early embryonic stages, but certainly at some point in the gestation, it is, as it can feel and hear and exhibits autonomic behavior; sucking on its thumb and kicking, for example. How one could say that entity is not a person when it looks and acts like one and is biologically constituted as one, one separate from the mother, strikes me as a purely a political position to take.It is certainly not scientific.
[We don't have an inherent right to privacy under our Constitution;we do have the right to be free from coercion and undue search and seizure and the right to property. But a specific right to privacy does not exist].

The Roe v Wade decision was a- scientific , as the fetus is not a" potential" life, but a life, biologically. A person is whatever the legal system says it is hence Terry Chiavo got starved and dehydrated to death, and people born with mental disabilities can now be denied basic life support[ food and water] on the grounds they are not persons too. A person is whatever just enough people in positions of power say a person is. There are some now saying that since human beings are social animals, a person lacking the ability to bond with others is not a true person , and could be killed. Fetal viability is also an arbitrary criteria for legal protection. For one thing viability outside the womb keeps changing with new technology. And for another thing, there is no correlation between viability[ outside the womb] and being alive, nor is there a correlation between being viable and having sense perceptions and consciousness i.e. ,what we commonly refer to as being a person. Its just an arbitrary criteria that was decided on, which is now, unfortunately for living -sentient -capable- of -suffering -unborn humans, the law. Many human beings have suffered and died because of such arbitrary legalisms.

Faith need not even enter the arena in recognizing the humanity of the unborn and the arbitrariness that went into the legalization of abortion in the US.
Though I believe that abortion is evil, I am not going to say that pro abortion people, are "infected with an evil disease". "Infected with an evil disease" sounds like they are the victims of some supernatural ocurrance that denies them moral agency. I don't know why or how anyone can believe that abortion on demand is not wrong. For me killing unborn- sentient- humans is wrong, not because the Church says it is wrong, not because I believe in God, but it is wrong for the same reason that killing born humans is wrong[ exceptions for self defense against the perpetrator or justified wars;defending people].Even a human being at the non- sentient- embryonic state, should not be killed because already existing human life, being alive, is inherently justified in its existence. If you take away the life of the living entity, you've taken away[ its] everything. Might does not make right. For later states where the fetus can feel and is obviously human, and obviously a person, it is a violation of human rights and equality and the basic moral principle of "do unto others", for others are like oneself, when it comes to suffering and the right to its own life. And again "if you take away the fetus's life you've taken away its everything".[ Right to life as the fist of inherent human rights].

Every pro abortion Catholic has an answer of why or how they are Catholic yet believe in the right to kill the unborn. I see a disconnect but they don't .I think they just buy the "competing rights" argument, andbelieve that if the fetus is perceived as a threat the right of the mother is supreme. They probably don't believe that the fetus is can feel pain.They see it as an affirmation of historically downtroden women empowering themselves , I guess. The low hanging fruit; the right to kil the unborn as an expression of freedom and empowerment! How a Catholic or a non believer can have such a view about innocent capable of suffering human beings, I don't understand.

The Catholic Church deserves a lot of blame for a lot of sins , but the Church is not to blame for members who believe in abortion and voted this way. The basic beliefs of Christianity ; that we are created by God who is good, that every human being has a soul and is beloved of God, that we were created for sharing in the life of God eternally i.e., that humans are sacred. All this basic Christian theology should form ones views about whether we have a right to kill the unborn. Regardless of any sins committed by the Church hierarchy; one has nothing to do with the other.[imo]

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Rose-ellen, you make a nonsensical argument that Irish citizens are punishing their parish priests by seeking abortions. Holy moly.

Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago

Wrong - Savita Halappanavar died of undiagnosed sepsis. a failure of doctors and not priests. In any case, how does a rare tragedy like that justify abortion for the 1st 12 weeks of a person's life, for any reason or no reason. Pro-choice is evil and the worst child abuse. It is primarily a failure of the liberal laity. It's advent was predicted by Saint Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae.

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Tim, how many children have you adopted and raised to the age of 18?

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

J - is this the best you can do? See my response above.

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Be part of the solution. Quit preaching from your no-skin-in-the-game choir. Adopt a child.

Vince Killoran
2 years 6 months ago

Criminalizing abortion is not the answer.

Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago

It is if the question is should all human life be protected in law.

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Tim, how many children have you adopted and raised to the age of 18

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

For the 5th time, see my response above. This money question is as old as Solomon - 1 Kings 3:16-28

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Not a money question. It's a question of moral integrity, Tim. Be part of the solution instead of preaching at people-- whether at women facing a profound crisis or men and women who articulate an understanding of that real life crisis in all its real life detail --- when you have no skin in the game. Be part of the soluruon. The shaming and lecturing has not worked.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 years 5 months ago

J
Careful......you are becoming a troll

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

I am asking the question that needs to be asked of every man who persists in lecturing at, preaching at, shaming, hectoring women of child-bearing age. It has not worked. Women all over the world, in every class, every religion, every level of education continue to find the harsh realities of bearing/raising children in this world unmanageable. Whether you men like it or not ---whether you think women just haven't heard your spiritualuzing or politicking or philosophizing or whatever pedantic strategy you prefer ----that remains the truth.

So become part of the solution and respond to what the humans who bear children are telling you:

Help. Stop lecturing us. Help concretely, consistently, every day. Doing the dishes or an hour at the food bank or haranguing women during the 40 days for life is not getting it done. YOU sacrifice with those women. Adopt one child or mother/child and give your time, money and treasure to them rather harangue already overburdened women, rather than giving your time, talent and treasure to organizations that do that lecturing for you.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 years 5 months ago

J
Strikes me that you are doing the lecturing !
What makes you think that many of us are not reaching out to support mothers and children in need? .....Do you presume that it follows that one who opposes abortion does not reach out to support mothers and children in need? You really do presume too much in seeming pursuit of the justification of your position that abortion is either just fine or morally excusable. I have no idea what you personally do to respond to your own exhortations, nor is it any of my business.

J Jones
2 years 5 months ago

Stuart, I have not made the statement that "abortion is just fine or morally acceptable".

The women you wish would bear these children are unlikely to be receptive if their own humanity is not front and center. You and Tim are offended by what I am saying to you, by the assumptions I am making about you, by my temerity in asking you to take on a child you do not want?! Can you IMAGINE how women who have found out they are carrying an unwanted pregnancy feel when you guys compare their situation to that of slave owners and Nazis at the camp ovens? My God, men, have a little compassion, and thank you very much for making my point. I have nothing more to say. Peace.

Phillip Stone
2 years 5 months ago

J Brookbank
If I understand correctly, this is legislation which permits abortion on demand.
It is not dealing specifically with the result of rape, it is dealing with total liberty to kill a child in the womb because it is not wanted.
"Do no murder" (from the Hebrew) is an inflexible, clear and unambiguous instruction from God Almighty.
No ifs, no buts, no maybes. If compassion negates this, Almighty God is guilty of lacking it from your expressed opinion.
You err gravely in all your contributions to this discussion.

Let me remind you, human females are persons and as persons they are just as much moral beings as male human adults and so subject to the absolute moral strictures which adhere to every creature made in the image and likeness of God. Any other attitude is straight out sexism.

Women lie, steal, commit adultery, assault and fornicate - is the fact of being a woman occasion to allow them license to do so?

Compassion is a human trait and as such just as likely to be mistaken as to be appropriate or maybe it would be better to put it like this - compassion is due to the slain infant more than the conspirator to their killing.
It is not her body in the context of property or possession, it instantiates her existence as a being consisting of both material and spiritual essence - she belongs to God who has endowed her with the capability of co-operating with Him in making more persons.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 years 5 months ago

J
You are correct: You did not state that abortion was just fine or morally acceptable but you were totally presumptuous in assuming that people opposing abortion do not support women and children in need. ....and therefore the inference was they must be either stupid or hypocrites
As you worded the proposition a person could/would be excused from supporting women and children in need if he just supported abortion on demand. For me to suggest that you were such a person would be just as presumptions as you were! I decline to get on that trampoline

Edwin HEss
2 years 6 months ago

To my mind, the abortion situation in Ireland was largely influenced by the continuing revelations of sexual abuse of innocents by priests and the willingness of bishops to hide it, and even participate in it in some cases. It comes as no surprise that many people no longer trust the Church authorities on a number of moral issues. Personally, I believe that the Church will survive but much needs to be done.

As for the immigration problem first tell me why we accept the idea of requiring people who want to be a part of America and come by air or water, must pass through an immigration process, but, on the other hands, some people feel that the masses who come by land need no control at all.

On another point, it is not good to see such an anti-Trump bias appearing in an America editorial. I cringe when I read such things as “the draconian immigration policies and open race-baiting of the nominally pro-life Trump administration” and “Under this regime, the dignity of human life is subordinated to political ends even when, by happenstance of political alliance, it is being defended”. Comparing him to an evil Pharaoh and Herod does not help either. Never in my Jesuit education do I recall this sort of thing being tolerated.

When it comes to President Trump. I can understand that many politicians (of both parties) hate his guts, and even fear him in some cases, because he went from civilian to top politician in one simple leap, but I still hope that something like this magazine can avoid such distortions and inflammatory words.

I canceled my subscription to, and support of, National Catholic Reporter about a year ago when I realized it was only doing pro-Democratic articles and saw nothing at all worth supporting in the actions of the new administration. Recently, America Magazine found me and I was sold on it, but now I realize that I have to be a bit more cautious. Hopefully, my concerns will prove to be baseless.

Jay Zamberlin
2 years 5 months ago

I love how "socially aware" Catholics, i.e., democrat voters, stubbornly acknowledge their own undermining of the very values that they somehow think are legislated into existence -- vis-a-vis the denial of the foundational value of all, the respect for life, and that its very existence is God ordained, and human, and thus the unborn enjoys the same "rights" as you or I, and those rights are not to be abridged, period. To do so destroys any moral standing that you would claim on any other issue and rots to the core your politically aligned constituencies. Abortion is simply one more - albeit modern and ostensibly antiseptic (it's not)- child sacrifice to the idols of selfishness, hedonism, narcissism, (you get it, we are GOD now) and helps create the sort of obliquity that you decry - all while you get to rail against supposed hypocricy in the church and regurgitate other tell-tale virtue signaling deflections. Sister Anastasia used to call that "rationalization." Still holds true, and you're as deluded now as those she was describing then.

Crystal Watson
2 years 5 months ago

There isn't anything in the bible about abortion, and there isn't anything to show that the death of a fetus would be murder, or even that a fetus is considered a person. Child sacrifice is the sacrifice of a child, not a fetus. No matter how many times pro-life people call a fetus a baby or a child, neither the bible nor our present laws support that idea.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 years 5 months ago

Crystal
When was the last time you heard a pregnant woman refer to herself as "carrying a fetus"? And when have you heard a Baby Shower refererred to as a"Fetus Shower".
You make the unbelievable statement that the Bible does not support referring to a fetus as a child". That is nonsense-see Mathew 1:18-20: Joseph considered divorcing Mary because "she was found to be with child"........and the Angel appearing in Joseph's dream said accept Mary as your wife .."....For the Child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit”.
The very essence of the incarnation was that God became man ....and the Bible fully supports that that occurred at the moment when Mary carried "a Child conceived by the action of the Holy Spirit"

Jim Lein
2 years 5 months ago

It seems that the countries with abortion bans provide the least support for women with unwanted or problem pregnancies. Ironic? Cruel? It is relying on the state, the law, Cesar, rather than on the way of Jesus and support for all, especially the most needy. And who is the most needy, the unborn in need of intra-uterine nourishment and a calm and secure environment, including a woman who feels able to have a baby. Banning abortion does not meet these needs. Forget the law--don't rely on it--follow Christ in the direction of pooling our resources to meet needs before satisfying our wants. Don't let the words socialism or taxes prevent us from doing this.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 years 5 months ago

Jim
Buy a newspaper ...read about Venezuela....From the richest nation in South America to one of the poorest in a mere 18 years. Just as you espouse, Chavez systematically "pooled that nation's resources" by nationalizing its industries, establishing price controls, creating a public dole and exporting his political socialism to his neighbors. As you do. he also invoked Christ's name to support his Chavismo socialism. The result has been an exponential multiplication of the Venezuelan poor with hundreds of thousands fleeing that country and the remainder fighting each other in the streets for food.

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