Boston — Cardinal Sean O'Malley skipped Boston College's commencement on Monday to protest its decision to honour Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who backs legislation to permit abortion, and the cardinal's views were echoed outside the ceremony by a few dozen anti-abortion activists.
The protesters gathered at an entrance to the stadium where Kenny gave the commencement address and received an honorary degree, with some holding signs saying it was a scandal that the Catholic school was hosting Kenny.
The bill supported by Kenny allows abortion only if a doctor authorises it to save a woman's life. But opponents say it would lead to widespread abortions because of a provision that permits it if a woman threatens suicide.
Protester CJ Doyle of the Catholic Action League called that "the proverbial Mack truck loophole". Doyle said Boston College's decision to honour Kenny undermines the church's anti-abortion teachings.
"What rational person can reasonably be expected to take seriously Catholic opposition to abortion when our own Catholic institutions honour someone who's trying to legalise abortion in his country?" Doyle said.
Kenny didn't mention the controversy during his address to the graduating students.
Woman refused abortion dies
Afterward, Kenny told reporters the bill does nothing to change an 1861 Irish law that makes abortion a crime punishable by life in prison.
Instead, the bill "is setting out clarity and legal certainty, that is intended to save lives, not to end them", he said.
In 1992, Ireland's Supreme Court ruled abortion should be legal if doctors determine it's needed to save the woman's life. In 1992 and 2002, voters rejected two referendums to allow abortion to stop a physical threat to a woman's life, not including suicide.
The current bill is being debated following last year's death of a woman who was hospitalised at the start of a protracted miscarriage during her 17th week of pregnancy. Doctors refused her request for an abortion and she died of massive organ failure.
The bill permits a single doctor to authorise an abortion if the woman's life is in immediate danger. Two doctors must approve if a pregnancy poses a potentially lethal risk. The approval of three doctors is required if the woman is threatening suicide.
O'Malley announced he'd skip Boston College's graduation earlier this month, saying Irish bishops had concluded the bill "represents a dramatic and morally unacceptable change to Irish law", and noting that US bishops have asked Catholic institutions not to honour officials who promote abortion.
Boston College spokesperson Jack Dunn said on Monday that Kenny's invitation was unrelated to the controversial legislation and was offered solely because of historical ties between Kenny's country and a school founded by an Irish Jesuit to serve Irish immigrants.
He said the invitation to Kenny in no way erodes the school's anti-abortion stance.
"Boston College as a Catholic institution fully supports the church's commitment to the unborn," he said.