- 21 Feb 22
Negotiations have been proceeding about the plan to establish a new National Maternity Hospital on the same campus as St. Vincent’s Hospital in Elm Park, on the south side of Dublin. However, as crunch time approaches, the reality is that the same old issues remain unaddressed. If the deal goes ahead, the hospital will be run under the ethos set out by the Religious Sisters of Charity – compromising the medical care being offered to Irish women disastrously.
Oh no, I hear a voice at the back of the class exclaiming, not another article about the National Maternity Hospital! Well, I’m afraid there’s no getting away from it. The clock is ticking. Plans are being hatched. And they are – it turns out – very bad plans indeed.
So let’s get this out there upfront: as International Women’s Day approaches, on March 8, it is scandalous that the Department of Health and the HSE are on the brink of sanctioning what will be the greatest new betrayal of women in decades on the part of the Irish State. It is absolutely vital to resist the deal that is being concocted behind closed doors with every fibre of our collective being.
Because we have arrived at a crunch point. If the deal is done, there will be no going back...
A CROCK OF THE SMELLY STUFF
You might have imagined it all differently, looking at the headline on a front page news story in The Irish Times last week. “New maternity hospital to provide all procedures allowed under Irish law,” the headline read. Well, that’s reassuring, you’d have thought, and turned over to page three.
The sub-headline offered double reassurance, making it even easier to move on without bothering with the detail. “Legal measures in HSE licence designed to ensure NMH can carry out terminations,” it said. Clearly, you were meant to think: so they’ll be carrying out abortions there whenever a woman – and her partner if one is involved – feels that it is the right and necessary thing to do and a doctor or two agree. Why is anyone worrying? Sure, it’ll be grand...
But the more I thought about the sub-headline, the worse the twitching in my antennae became. There was something fishy about it. What, really, was it trying to tell us? I took a closer look.
It is saying – obviously – that the HSE has inserted ‘legal measures’ into the licence it is proposing to sign with the company that is on the brink of being afforded the extraordinary privilege of running the NMH. The purpose of these measures is, apparently, to ensure that the hospital “can carry out terminations.”
But this is ludicrous nonsense. Already, under law, the National Maternity Hospital can carry out terminations, subject to the provisions of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. No extra legal measures are necessary.
I looked again at the headline. It has the air of a definitive statement. The (proposed) new National Maternity Hospital, it is saying, will provide all procedures allowed under Irish law (including, we are meant to infer, abortion). Which, when you think about it, involves an element of crystal ball-gazing. How do they know? On what basis is this being stated so emphatically?
Sadly, the headline is also misleading.
I read the article and I can tell you this much for nothing: in the information provided on the proposed licence, there is no guarantee that the operation of the hospital will stray even one millimetre away from the ethos originally set out by the ‘Mother’ of the Religious Sisters of Charity, Mary Aikenhead, who founded St. Vincent’s Hospital in 1834. In fact, quite the contrary.
Under the terms of a deal that has been overseen and approved by the Vatican, The Sisters of Charity will be handing over their interest in the land, and in the running the hospital, to a company called St. Vincent’s Holdings. That company is specifically obliged – and clearly intends – “to uphold the values and vision of Mother Mary Aikenhead.”
WHAT WILL THAT MEAN IN PRACTICE?
Mary Aikenhead, the Founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity, said that “the sanctity of life belongs to all persons from conception to their natural end.”
In case anyone is in the slightest doubt, this is the founding principle of the Roman Catholic Church’s anti-abortion stance – and St. Vincent’s Holdings will seek, in every way it can, to impose it on women who are sucked into their embrace at the National Maternity Hospital, if they are given control over the day-to-day running of what is one of the most important, and symbolic, institutions in Ireland.
“The core values of Dignity, Quality, Compassion, Justice and Advocacy are central to everything we do,” the mission statement of the Sisters of Charity adds.
This too is the sotto voce expression of an anti-abortion stance.
• In the world of the Sisters of Charity, and therefore of St. Vincent’s Holdings, ‘justice’ includes the assertion of the ‘rights’ of the foetus from the moment of conception.
And what about ‘advocacy’?
• This can be taken as code for the fact that it is part of the mission of the Sisters of Charity – and again by extension St. Vincent’s Holdings – to advocate, at every opportunity, to any woman who has decided to proceed with an abortion, that this is the wrong course of action – and to prevail on her and, or, her partner, that it is better to carry the pregnancy to its conclusion, no matter what the impact on the mental health of the potential mother; nor, indeed, on her physical health short of death.
Journalism is, of course, not the real problem here, but I do want to dwell on The Irish Times story for a moment, because it reads like a masterpiece in getting your spin out there, on the part of Roman Catholic Church interests. I quote (with comments in brackets):
– “The talks are well advanced and the parties are working towards a final settlement in coming weeks,” we are told. (And anyone standing the way will be responsible for holding this amazing deal up).
– “Although the plans to move the NMH from Holles Street in Central Dublin to the St. Vincent’s campus has been in train since 2013, the project has been mired in controversy for years.” (Guess who’s to blame? Not the Roman Catholic Church or the Sisters of Charity, that’s for sure, but rather those ‘opposed to the plan’...).
“The Religious Sisters of Charity are due to transfer ownership of the lands at St. Vincent’s to an independent entity…” (St. Vincent’s Holdings is a legally ’separate’ entity, created by the Sisters and their advisors as a ‘get around’, but it is surely not ‘independent’ in any meaningful definition of the word, since the Vatican sits behind every relevant decision, and SVH is committed to maintaining the ethos of the Religions Sisters of Charity).
The article acknowledges that the text of the licence will not set down a list of specific procedures permitted under Irish law.
I think I can say exactly why this is. There is no way that the religious interests involved will sign up to a document which specifies that they must carry out abortions. That word is verboten. Where abortions do take place in hospitals run under the Catholic ethos, they are characterised as NOT abortions, but merely a necessary procedure to save the life of the mother that has the unfortunate consequence of causing the loss of the life of the foetus.
Rather than making any reference to this obfuscation, The Irish Times article repeats someone’s unofficial line.
“The reluctance to go down that road (of specifying the procedures),” it says, ”reflects anxiety that including such a list might create complications over the introduction of any new procedures that might, in the future, receive State approval. Any such list would lead to a reopening of the hospital’s founding documents.”
Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but this has to be a crock of the bovine smelly stuff. Wording is worked out in all sorts of contracts that covers the likelihood – indeed the inevitability – of future changes and developments.
In recording contracts, to take just one example, the rights characteristically taken by the record company include the exploitation of the material on any and all current platforms for the dissemination of music, including release on vinyl, CD, the World Wide Web, streaming via Spotify or other digital or social media platforms and any other use of the master recording in film, on TV, in advertising or other means by which sound recordings are transmitted – including all manner of media and platforms not yet invented that may at any time become available now or in the future for the full term of copyright in this or in any other planetary jurisdiction or solar system without limitation in respect of either location or positioning in the space-time continuum.”
I made that up, but you get the picture. It is not exactly rocket science to future proof a legal document that includes a list to cover the situation as it stands today.
The HSE and the Department of Health should insist on any and every medical provision or intervention allowed by the State, now or in the future, being available untrammelled at any time in the National Maternity Hospital. They could list all of those that are currently covered– including the use of the word ‘abortion’ – and then go on to make a generalised statement about any provisions that might be made in the future. The only thing standing in the way here is that the other side won’t accept it.
APPALLING BETRAYAL OF WOMEN
The former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr. Peter Boylan, has been brilliantly trenchant in his criticism of the deal on a Twitter thread.
“We know the malign history of Catholic ethos in women’s health,” he said. “We know US conservatives want to roll back Roe v Wade.
“What level of risk on Catholic ethos are we going to take in the new hospital? Build it, hand it over to St Vincent’s Holdings and hope for the best?
“Or build a State-owned hospital on State Land?”
And then he nails the key issue, in a way that prefigures what will certainly happen in the National Maternity Hospital, under the proposed deal...
“What about the argument that there is no abortion today in 9 HSE maternity units?” he asks. “That is because the staff have asserted conscientious objection because of their *Catholic faith*
“I know this because Simon Harris appointed me to advise the HSE on the implementation of the 2018 Act that followed Repeal the 8th. I visited 17 of the19 units myself, and spoke to the staff in every single one. The Minister promised all the money they needed for the service, but private Catholic ethos prevails.”
I remember Seamus Mallon of the SDLP describing the Belfast Agreement as “Sunningdale for slow learners.” Well, to help any slow learners out there in relation to the National Maternity Hospital, I will spell it out once again.
• If a deal is done to allow St. Vincent’s Holdings to run the National Maternity Hospital, they will seek at every turn to impose a Roman Catholic ethos on the hospital and on patients, irrespective of their religious beliefs – or lack thereof.
• They will do this by stealth, in as much as they can. They can appoint only staff that they believe will toe the Roman Catholic line. They can be quietly obstructive in relation to procedures the Church is opposed to. I believe that this is how it will work.
• They will not just allow conscientious objection, they will likely encourage it, if individual doctors try to enable a more liberal interpretation of the circumstances where abortion is permissible, than the Roman Catholic one (which is based on the idea – not always adhered to as we know – that you save ’the life of the mother first’).
• The bottom line is that you cannot trust a word said by people who are ideologically committed to the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church. The doctrine of ‘mental reservation’ specifically allows them to lie if they can deem it to be necessary in enforcing the Church’s interests. Relying on that doctrine they can enter into contracts knowing that they intend to interpret them in the the narrowest possible way that suits their religious beliefs. Also that they can resile on the agreements if this can justified on the basis of the presumed moral righteousness of their position.
• This, I believe, is what they are aiming to achieve now in relation to the National Maternity Hospital. Without any consideration of the will of the Irish people in relation to Repealing the 8th amendment, they are working assiduously to gain control of the National Maternity Hospital, with the aim of controlling and limiting the extent of abortion to what is in any event already allowed, in a different guise, under Roman Catholic law.
Yes. All procedures will be ‘available’. The Vatican can have a good laugh at that one. Because that doesn’t mean that the procedures have to be carried out except in the most exceptional circumstances that are permissible within a Roman Catholic ethos.
This is what the Government are being asked to sign up to.
To proceed with this deal would be an appalling betrayal of Irish women, and of the progress we have made towards creating a more compassionate, caring, equal, liberal society over the past twenty years in particular.
There can be no better way of celebrating International Women’s Day, than for the women of Ireland to rise up and do everything that is necessary to prevent this betrayal. It can be done.