Does the Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill allow for abortion up to birth?

The claim that the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 allows for abortion up until birth has become more prominent in recent days, and it’s not hard to see where the logic comes from. (In the description that follows, I have tried to use the language in the bill as closely as possible.)lhouse

The first thing to do is establish what “unborn human life” is according to the bill:

“unborn”, in relation to a human life, is a reference to such a life during the period of
time commencing after implantation in the womb of a woman and ending on the
complete emergence of the life from the body of the woman

The bill is structured to make ending unborn human life a criminal offence except in three situations, namely:

  • Where there is a risk of loss of life from physical illness.
  • Where there is a risk of loss of life from physical illness in an emergency.
  • Where there is a risk of loss of life from suicide.

In all three cases, the bill states that it becomes lawful (subject to certain review and assessment procedures) to carry out a medical procedure during the course of which an unborn human life is ended; as long as it is the reasonable opinion of the medical professionals involved that the risk to the woman’s life can only be averted by carrying out that procedure.

The logic, therefore, seems to be that since no literal reference is made to delivering an unborn human life in circumstances where that life would be viable outside the womb, the bill allows terminations that result in the ending of unborn human life right up to birth.

It would take a test case to definitively determine the correct interpretation of the proposed law once enacted but the claim being made seems to anyway misunderstand what the text implies.

The bill defines the reasonable opinion of the medical professional (or team) as follows:

“reasonable opinion”, in relation to a medical practitioner or review committee, as the
case may be, means an opinion formed by the practitioner or committee, as the case
may be, in good faith which has regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as
far as practicable

Any determination made by a medical professional must consider the preservation of unborn human life. There is no situation where it is medically necessary to end the life of unborn human life if that life can continue outside the woman in question, therefore there are no circumstances where the bill is sanctioning ending human life where a foetus could merely be delivered instead.

What the bill is covering is situations where a genuine threat to the life of the mother has been identified. Given that neither the bill, nor the constitution, permit elective abortion in any scenario, it’s impossible to imagine how time limits could be appropriate since if the threat is established to be genuine, both lives will be extinguished. This means that in cases where the foetus is viable outside the womb, the best chance of survival for both is by definition a termination of the pregnancy.

What the various pro-life campaigns need to establish is the scenarios where they believe a doctor might determine it medically necessary to end the life of a viable foetus in order to save the life of a woman and thereby enjoys protection as a result of this bill.