On May 25, Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland, with 66.4 percent of voters authorizing the Irish Parliament to legalize abortion in the Republic. Men and women of all ages, across urban and rural centers alike, voiced widespread support for the repeal in a country that is nearly 80 percent Catholic. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar praised the result, offering it as evidence that the people of Ireland “trust and respect women to make their own decisions and choices.” The Catholic hierarchy spoke out in opposition, however, with Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran saying those who voted for the repeal “should consider coming to confession.” Health Minister Simon Harris plans to draft legislation generally allowing abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy—and within the first 24 weeks in certain circumstances—that is expected to be implemented by the end of the year. Attention now turns to Northern Ireland, which remains the only part of Europe other than the island nation of Malta in which abortion is illegal. More than 170 politicians from Belfast, Dublin and London have written to the UK government urging the repeal of the sections of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act that criminalize abortion in Northern Ireland.
in Catholic Circles
On August 9, Argentina’s Senate rejected a bill that would have legalized elective abortion within the first 14 weeks of pregnancy by a vote of 38–31. Despite the measure passing in the lower house of Congress in June and having large support from growing women’s rights movements in the country, the institutional structure of Argentina’s Senate ultimately proved fatal for the proposed legislation. While the overall population was split on the issue roughly down the middle, the majority of the Senate represents the northern and Cuyo regions where around a quarter of the country’s population reside. The Argentine Catholic hierarchy vociferously lobbied against the measure in sermons and public statements nationwide, but devoted special attention to senators from these regions. The bishop of Tucumán province, in one instance, took time during an April Mass to call on each of the province’s representatives by name to reject the proposed legislation. The hierarchy’s efforts culminated in a “Mass for Life” held at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral on the eve of the vote. Argentina currently only waives the criminal penalty for abortion if there is a risk to the life or health of the woman, or in cases of rape. Clandestine abortions are the leading cause of maternal mortality in Argentina today.
On June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its 5–4 ruling in NIFLA v. Becerra, holding that California’s 2015 FACT Act—which requires licensed clinics that primarily offer services to pregnant women to post information regarding state family planning services, and unlicensed clinics that serve such individuals to post notification that they do not provide medical services—likely violates the First Amendment by imposing on the free-speech rights of fake health centers. The California legislature enacted the law based on claims that these centers intentionally mislead women facing unexpected pregnancies and provide inaccurate medical information in order to dissuade these women from seeking abortion care. Because the California law did not regulate all types of clinics that could potentially educate women about state services, the Court ultimately saw the statute as a content-based regulation on free speech that the state’s informational interest did not justify. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, chair of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Pro-life Activities, praised the Court’s decision.
During the June 13–14 Spring General Assembly of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the USCCB voted 183-2-2 to approve major revisions to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, updating the fifth edition of the Directives published in 2009. Part Six of the Directives—governing collaborative arrangements between Catholic healthcare providers and other healthcare organizations and providers—was entirely rewritten, expanding guidance as to the absolute authority of the diocesan bishops in overseeing such collaborations and focusing on the distinction between a Catholic actor’s “formal” and “material” cooperation with contemporary healthcare procedures that church teaching deems immoral, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide and direct sterilization. Additionally, the number of directives in Part Six increased from six to 11. The added directives focus on ensuring Catholic control over shared facilities and prescribing behavior for employees and representatives of Catholic healthcare institutions, and ensuring that any affiliation, collaboration, acquisition, governance or management operates “in full accord with the moral teaching of the Catholic Church, including these Directives.” Both the previous and updated versions of the Directives contemplate that these systems may be the only provider of healthcare for a given area. Catholic hospitals are present in all 50 states and treat one out of six patients in the United States.
In late June, as the local priest for the Church of St. Therese in Mount Marrion, Dublin, failed to appear to conduct Saturday evening Mass, Irish Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan and two female colleagues stepped in to lead the congregation of several hundred in prayer. Originally scheduled to read during the service, the minister performed most elements of a traditional Mass, save for proclaiming the Gospel and consecrating the bread and wine. Afterwards, Madigan—a key advocate for the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Ireland—lamented the shortage of priests and warned of waning church participation unless the Catholic hierarchy ordains women and allows marriage for male priests, stating that “the Church has to change to reflect society as it is today.” The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, responded in a statement that it was “regrettable that Minister Madigan used this occasion to push a particular agenda; her expressed view that a mix up in a Dublin parish on one particular Saturday evening should lead to the Universal Church changing core teachings is bizarre.” The minister shot back that she plans to raise this matter with the pope during the August World Meeting of Families in Dublin should the opportunity present itself.
Chilean police and prosecutors conducted surprise raids on the offices of the Catholic hierarchy in Santiago and Rancagua in mid-June in connection with allegations of widespread abuse of minors by priests across the country and a subsequent cover-up. All of Chile’s more than 30 active bishops offered their resignations in May following the scandal. Judicial authorities in Chile are at present investigating “at least 40” such cases, and two of the Vatican’s leading investigators—archbishop Charles Scicluna and Spanish monsignor Jordi Bertomeu—were in country at the time of the raids, meeting with Chile’s top prosecutor just hours later to discuss potential investigative collaboration. Earlier, the two compiled a 2,300-page report outlining the Chilean Catholic hierarchy’s systemic cover-ups, destruction of evidence and other obstructive efforts, leading Pope Francis to refer to “a culture of abuse and cover-up” among the Catholic hierarchy. “In Chile, we are all subject to common justice,” said prosecutor Emiliano Arias, leader of the Santiago raid. The Vatican has accepted the resignations of five bishops so far.