Maria Steen of the Iona Institute accuses Amnesty International of "scaremongering" over abortion legislation

Maria Steen of the Iona Institute joined Pat Kenny to discuss abortion pills bought online

Amnesty, Iona Institute, repeal the 8th

image: Sam Boal/Rolling News

In the wake of a Belfast woman being issued with a suspended prison sentence after it emerged that she consumed illegal abortion pills in order to induce a miscarriage, Maria Steen of the Iona Institute spoke to Pat Kenny about the possibility of constitutional or legislative change in Ireland.

Steen noted that the case was an unusual one and the effects of it were felt not just by the mother, but by the other parties involved also. 

"The two girls involved have been vilified on social media, so I think there are four victims in this case. Firstly, obviously the poor little baby boy who lost his life. I think his mother is also a victim of the culture that she has grown up in, in that her repsonse to having an abortion was to put the remains of the baby in a household waste bin". 

Steen went on to note that the two other girls living in the house, apart from being vilified on social media, have also been through a traumatic experience: "Imagine what they found, they saw their housemate coming down the stairs with a plastic bag, putting it in the bin and some days later, when they went to put the bins out, they opened it up and found a perfectly formed little baby boy [...] Imagine having that memory indelibly marked on your mind's eye, particularly so for one of the girls who had recently suffered a miscarriage."

Turning to the topic of legislative change, as well as an Irish website that offers people access to buy pills and medication similar to the ones used in this case online, Steen underlined that "those of us in the pro-life lobby, we are generally in favour of prosecutorial discretion and leniency if a prosecution is brought.

However, she also stated that "Amnesty International has been, in my view scaremongering, and it's scaremongering at its worst and most dishonest, because there has never been a prosecution in this country [...] against a woman who has had an abortion". 

"I think it is unjust in the vast majority of cases for women who've had abortions," added Steen, "but there may be circumstances where a prosecution is warranted".

With a move to repeal the eighth amendment likely to be part of the discussion when a new government is eventually formed, Pat asked if the Iona Institute would be taking an absolutist position, including cases which involve rape, incest and fatal fetal abnormalities. 

"I'm not saying," responded Steen "that there are no circumstances in which medical people should intervene in a pregnancy [...] but the thing about the eighth amendment is that it values equally the life of mother and child."

"Really the question is why do we have fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution at all? And what is the nature of a fundamental right?" 

"There are certain circumstances where the majority wants to do something to a minority that is wrong [...] that is where we need a legal device that is anti-majoritarian which should be called a fundamental human right." 

Citing figures from the Rape Crisis Centre which showed that 33% of women impregnated by rape had an abortion, Steen noted that in cases involving rape, "very often we can have preconceptions about how women will react in that situation [...] but it's only actually a small minority of women who choose abortion in that circumstance.

"When we talk about abortion as a solution to rape," added Steen "we distract from the central issue which is the criminality of rape and the criminality of the man who committed that act."