“Will Ireland’s Catholic hospitals defy Varadkar?


Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Catholic hospitals in Ireland will be obliged to perform abortions when the law passes from the Lower and Upper House, if they receive public funding. Will they defy the Prime Minister’s ruling?


When Pope Francis visits Ireland this August, he will find a nation changed beyond recognition since Pope John Paul II visited in 1979. The country that 40 years ago looked like an outpost of traditional Catholic life has seen a spectacular collapse in the faith and an exodus from a scandal-hit Church.

Pope Francis despite his personal popularity – will be loudly admonished by Irish politicians and media for being “behind the times” on sex and gender issues.

Even though Leo Varadkar’s government was keen to get the abortion referendum out of the way before the papal visit, the result has not taken the issue off the table. Instead, it has opened up new questions as the government moves to clarify its proposed legislation.

While answering parliamentary questions on June 12, Varadkar was pressed by the Socialist Party’s Mick Barry to state that under the proposed legislation Catholic hospitals would be required to perform surgical abortions.

Varadkar replied: “The model we intend to follow for the abortion legislation … will allow individuals to opt out based on their consciences or religious convictions but will not allow institutions to do so.

“As is the case under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, hospitals such as Holles Street, which has a Catholic voluntary ethos, the Mater, St Vincent’s and others will be required and expected to carry out any procedure that is legal in the state.”

He added: “Conscientious objection provisions will apply to individual doctors, nurses and midwives who do not want to participate in providing abortion services, but 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 the state once the legislation is passed by the Dáil and the Seanad [the lower and upper house].”

Varadkar went on to attack those small hard-left parties that believe there should be no Catholic institutions in public life. But, as Mick Barry pointed out, this was beside the point. The question is what the government will do about abortion provision, and its proposal has two parts. The first is that there will be no right to opt out of the new provisions for institutions receiving state funding. The second is that individual medical practitioners may conscientiously opt out of direct involvement in abortion procedures, but would be obliged to refer a patient for abortion if she requested it.

This is especially important in Ireland because of how strong the Catholic influence in healthcare is. The Church established hospitals and schools in the 19th century because there was no state provision at the time.