In October of last year, Savita Halappanavar was suffering from a miscarriage and was admitted into an Irish hospital. Since she was only 17 weeks pregnant, the fetus was not viable to begin with, but she was refused an abortion under Irish law because the fetus’s heart was beating. As a result, Halappanaver came down with a disease called septicemia, which led to multiple organ failure and her eventual death.
Regardless of your own personal views on the contentious abortion debate, I believe that all reasonable people on both sides can agree that an abortion should have been performed to save the life of Halappanavar. Even my good friend Mark Hertenstein, a devout Protestant who is avowedly “pro-life,” has this to say in one of his "Protestant Perspective" blogs:
What is being said here is that in an ethical situation, one may be faced with doing nothing, which allows evil to prolong, or to do evil, which will destroy evil. I have heard the objection that this is too simplistic, that there is another way. When we are faced with an ethical dilemma of any magnitude, we are responsible, whether we like it or not. We cannot ignore it. Thus, in this state of responsibility, we can do or not do. And this sometimes means that we have the option to do evil or not to do evil but allow evil to perpetuate. We are responsible for it either way.
So, back to the question: mother or child? No matter what, if you have become responsible due to this situation, you have the blood of one or the other on your hands, either from what you do or what you leave undone. You are responsible, whether mother or child dies. So which is the responsible course? That requires the deepest concern, care, prayer and discernment. It means that only the mother and father, consulting their doctor and pastor, should make this decision and the Church should extend all manner of grace to whatever decision is made, not condemn one for choosing wrong when wrong is present in both options.
In effect, Hertenstein acknowledges that both choices are “evil” but also recognizes that one choice or the other has to be made, and that whatever decision is made should not be condemned.
This is one of the main reasons why I find abhorrent the extremist anti-abortion activists (who to me are neither “pro-choice” nor “pro-life,” but “pro-death”) who are trying to stop Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny from giving the commencement speech at Boston College. Kenny has been attempting to reform the archaic and crude law that led to the preventable death of Savita Halappanavar.
These extremists have increased their fervor in recent days. According to irishcentral.com, “The Irish organization ProLife Campaign.ie has apparently circulated attack letters against Kenny to Catholic organizations including the powerful Knights of Columbus which call for support on the issue. The Knights Order often refers to itself as the "strong right arm of the Church.” Additionally, letters against the selection of Kenny were not only sent to Father Leahy, the President of Boston College, but also to Cardinal O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston and even Pope Francis.
I highly doubt that Father Leahy will rescind his invitation, and Cardinal O’Malley most likely will not respond to these demands. However, I am apprehensive about what Pope Francis may do. The fact that he is not just the Pope, but also a Jesuit, may lead to him feeling responsible in some way for the actions of a Jesuit university such as Boston College. Also as a new Pope, he may want to make a defining move early in his tenure that will cement his legacy in some way. Although I do not believe that Francis is a man of vengeance and retribution, there are sinister forces present inside the Vatican who may want to punish Kenny for his vocal condemnation of the Church covering up sex abuse cases in Ireland.
In addition, Francis has been cracking down on American nuns not in line with official Church teaching, suggesting that he is unafraid to exert pull on Catholic institutions in America and bring them more within the sphere of Vatican influence. However, if this were to happen, there surely would be a mass public outcry against the Pope intruding on local affairs and expanding his reach -- something that, in light of other unresolved controversies and scandals, he would not risk at this critical juncture for the Church.
Besides the various ethical and political implications in play, there is something huge that the extremists are ignoring: the irrefutable legal factor. The law in question goes against a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision, which found abortion to be legal in circumstances which threaten the health and life of the mother. The fact that Kenny is trying to enact this decision into actual law, which should have been done 21 years ago, is something to be applauded.
Kenny’s own personal views on abortion, whatever they may be, are irrelevant and should not be brought into question. A letter from American Catholic groups states, “Enda Kenny is NOT a fit person to be the Commencement Speaker and an Awardee at BC. Please contact the following to DEMAND that Pro-Abortion Enda Kenny be DISINVITED." The letter goes on to list the phone numbers and addresses of Fr. Leahy, Cardinal O’Malley and the Pope, and also says that Kenny is “introducing legislation to legalize Abortion in Ireland, NOT 'promoting human rights.'"
However, nothing could be further from the truth. Kenny has previously stated:
“The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed, our country will continue to be one of the safest places in the world for childbirth. And the regulation and the clarity that will now become evident through the Protection of Maternal Life Bill will continue within the law, to assert the restrictions on abortion that have applied in Ireland and will apply in the future.”
To me, Kenny is acting in the best interests of human rights by making sure Ireland’s already strict abortion laws do not result in preventable deaths. Even if Kenny is personally “pro-choice” (which there is no indication of that I could find), he is certainly not letting that cloud his judgment or get in the way of his duties as Prime Minister. In fact, Kenny made a telling statement yesterday:
"My book is the Constitution, and the Constitution is determined by the people -- that's the people's book."
By attempting to abide by the ruling of the Irish Supreme Court and trying to do right by both the people and the law of the land of his country, Kenny is a man who Boston College should want to speak at commencement.
This brings me to my next point: academic freedom. The extremists are attempting to prevent Kenny from giving a speech at a university, which by its nature allows for diversity of opinion and the free exchange of ideas. I doubt that Kenny would bring up abortion in a commencement speech, but that does not matter to these extremists. As a private university, Boston College can invite whoever it wants to speak, and does not have to bend to outside pressure as a result. If the extremists get their way, Boston College will have a public relations nightmare on their hands. But even worse, it will not have lived up to its mission as a university, and is ultimately tantamount to education’s worst enemy: censorship.
Now, I am not criticizing the right of these extremists to protest and express their dismay at Kenny’s speaking engagement at Boston College. That is a right protected under our Constitution. What I am criticizing are their positions, devoid of all logic and reason, and their thinly veiled attempt to silence viewpoints opposed to their own. And if that means ignoring the weight of a serious ethical dilemma where there is no good choice, defending an arcane Irish law that defies the decision of the Irish Supreme Court, defaming the character of the Irish Prime Minister and attacking the integrity of academic freedom, then so be it.
Boston College must not give in to the extremists, and must allow Enda Kenny to give the commencement speech that he was invited to give. Anything less would be an absolute and utter travesty.