Cardinal Sean O'Malley gestures during a press conference at the North American College in Rome, Italy, on March 14. / Michael Sohn, AP
BOSTON - An attempt by politicians in Ireland to alter their country's ban on abortion reaches Massachusetts on Monday when Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny gives an address to graduates at Boston College, a Catholic university.
Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley has said he will not attend the graduation ceremony, as is customary, to protest the school's refusal to disinvite Kenny, who is leading an attempt to amend Ireland's ban on abortion.
Kenny is to deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree from Boston College, which is run by the Jesuit order of the Catholic Church, the same religious order to which Pope Francis belongs.
The pope supports the Irish bishops who oppose Kenny's attempt to amend the Irish constitution to allow abortion for pregnant women when two doctors agree their lives are at risk.
The bishops and Irish opposed to abortion say such exceptions are the way abortion advocates in other countries have opened the door to the right to have abortions for any reason.
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn has said the invitation was made because of Boston's longstanding connection to Ireland. But O'Malley says the invitation ignores the directive of U.S. bishops that Catholic institutions "not honor government officials or politicians who promote abortion with their laws and policies."
Similar objections were raised by the U.S. bishops when President Obama was invited to address graduates of Notre Dame in 2009. Obama supports abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, which the Catholic Church says in both cases destroys a living child.
Abortion is illegal in Ireland, the only European Union nation where this is the case outside of tiny Malta. On Friday, a committee of the lower house of Irish Parliament known as the Dáil took up a proposal to allow abortion when the health of the mother is at risk, including from suicide.
The bill has created a furor in Ireland with some questioning whether the country is abandoning its culture and values.
Ireland's main political parties are in disarray as some party members have split from their leadership over the measure. The Roman Catholic Church, still a major influence, is denouncing lawmakers who support it. The European Court of Human Rights is pressuring Ireland to relent, while protest groups of women for and against the expansion of abortion rights are marching in the streets.
"The issue of abortion in Ireland is so contentious," said Clare Quigley, 23, a medical student in Dublin.
The consensus in Ireland for decades has largely been that abortion is morally wrong. That belief was codified into the Irish Constitution in 1983 when a 2-to-1 majority of the Irish voted for the Eighth Amendment, guaranteeing "the right to life of the unborn ... with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother."
Irish women still got abortions; they had to go to England to get them. Polling showed a gradual weakening of support for the country's ban in certain circumstances, and in 1992, Ireland's Supreme Court ruled that a threat of suicide by a woman denied an abortion was a proper exemption to the ban. It was left to lawmakers to make the exemption clear if they chose to do so.
The October death of Savita Halappanavar gave momentum to the movement to liberalize abortion.
Halappanavar, 31, was going through a miscarriage and pleaded for an abortion. Her doctors, who risk prison if they perform abortions illegally, refused. She contracted septicemia (blood poisoning) and died.
Her death and the way she was treated by doctors made headlines across Ireland and Europe. Kenny, who until then had vowed to voters he would not alter the ban, switched positions.
The proposal before the Dail would allow a woman get an abortion if two doctors agree that the pregnancy jeopardizes the woman's life. Three doctors must agree that a risk of suicide is present. Doctors who decide wrongly in the eyes of the law could face 14 years in jail.
Hogan reported from Dublin
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