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Irish bishops reiterate that Catholic hospitals cannot perform abortions

Taoiseach of Ireland, Leo Varadkar. The government is currently reviewing funding of voluntary hospitals. (Getty Images)

The Irish bishops’ conference has published a new code of healthcare ethics restating that Catholic hospitals cannot perform direct abortions.

The Code of Ethical Standards for Healthcare was given to the Irish government earlier this month, when it met with representatives of the bishops’ conference. The government plans to introduce abortion on demand up to 12 weeks before the end of the year.

The code applies to up to 20 hospitals connected to religious orders.

The Irish government says it will allow conscientious objection for individual medics and other staff, but not for institutions. The bishops’ code argues that the “ethos of a healthcare institute has the character of an ‘institutional conscience'”.

Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach, said: “Religious bodies are, of course, entitled to come up with their own ethical guidelines but the ones that should be followed in publicly funded hospitals are those of the medical council and that is what I would very much expect to happen.

“We need to work out a process and a system over the next couple of years when it comes to both health and education to make sure that the approach is one that is more appropriate for a modern country.”

The government is currently reviewing public funding of voluntary hospitals. A report to the health minister, Simon Harris, is due next month.

“My view is that we should separate the Church and state; that the Church should no longer be at the centre of public life, but it shouldn’t be excluded from it either,” Varadkar said.

Harris said in a tweet on July 26 that the provision of legal health services in publicly funded hospitals was “a statement of the obvious”.

“Conscientious objection is for individuals, not institutions,” Harris added.

Angelo Bottone of the pro-life Iona Institute wrote that, if institutions were not granted conscientious objection rights, a Catholic hospital may have to “refuse public funds and reduce its activities, or to close down its maternity department and continue to offer its services in other areas … What interest has the state in seeing a service that has been proven useful, if not essential, to a community, discontinued?”

In May the Republic of Ireland voted by 66.4 per cent to 33.6 per cent to repeal the Eighth Amendment protecting unborn life. The government plans to implement laws to legalise abortion up to 12 weeks before the end of the year.