In its opposition to marriage equality and the Child and Family Relationship Bill the Iona Insititute claims to be doing so in the name of children’s rights. I decided to analyse the Iona Institute’s position on a number of policies to see if they truly prioritise the best interests of children.
The Law Reform Commission (LRC) produced a consultation paper in 2009 (full report published in 2011) concerning the medical treatment of children. Part of the paper recommended that medical professionals should be allowed to prescribe contraceptives to 16 and 17 years old without parental consent. 14 and 15 year old could also be prescribed contraceptives without parental consent under certain conditions and also to 12 and 13 years providing the parents are consulted. The rationale was that doctor-patient confidentiality still applies to individuals under 17. There was also the fear that the lack of confidentiality would act as a deterrent against seeking medical advice thus exposing children to pregnancy risk and sexually transmitted diseases. The Iona Institute made a submission to the Law Reform Commission, written by Professor David Paton, which argued against the LRC’s recommendations. Paton argued that LRC’s recommendations were ineffective in lower pregnancy rates and STD’s among people under 17. However, the Office for National Statistics has reported that the pregnancy rate for 15-17 year olds is the lowest since 1969 and the rate for under 16s also decreased. There is also a huge amount of evidence which shows how effective easy access to contraceptives and comprehensive sex education are in reducing the number of teen pregnancies.
Basically, teen pregnancy rates can decrease in one of two ways—if teens have less sex or become more effective contraceptive users—or through some combination of the two. The evidence clearly indicates that more and better contraceptive use has been the main factor driving the long-term decline in teen pregnancy.
The research shows that adolescents need more comprehensive education, not less, and increased access to contraceptive services, not less. To argue anything else misses an opportunity to sustain these trends.
Unwanted pregnancies and STDs can result in physical, psychological, and emotional consequences. It is in the best interest of children to inform them about contraceptives and their effective use.
Agencies and authorities which govern adoption prioritise the best interest of children when assessing prospective adopting couples and finding the child a home. The agency may find that adoption by a same-sex couple would be in the best interest of the child. This is something the Iona Institute disagrees with, they argue that heterosexual, married couples should be preferred. To argue that a heterosexual couple should be preferred over a same-sex couple even if the agency deems that the same-sex couple is better suited does not make any sense. In fact, Iona think it is acceptable for Christian adoption agencies to completely refuse to adopt to same-sex couples entirely, regardless of suitability. This certainly has not got the best interest of the child in mind. That is why adoption agencies do not preference heterosexual, married couples because it is not in the child’s interest to do so.
Over 90% of primary schools are run by the Catholic Church, this means many non-Catholic children are forced to attend a school that violate their freedom of conscience. The Iona Institute recognises this and agrees that there needs to be greater choice in schools to accommodate non-Catholics. However, only a secular (or at least majority secular) education system can truly protect the rights of all children. The Iona Institute does not agree with a secular education system but only greater choice where there is sufficient demand for choice. But rights are not predicated on numbers, a violation of rights is a violation whether it is one or one thousand. Having the state fund a school catering to your ethos is a privilege not a right. Having state funded education that does not violate your freedom from religion and freedom of conscience is a right, not a privilege. Many Catholic schools employ discriminatory admission policies, referring to non-Catholic children as “a category two child”, only to be considered if there are places left. If the child is accepted then they must endure faith formation which violates their freedom of conscience or opt out which is simply segregation and leads to ostracism.
The Iona Institute also believes that Catholic schools should be allowed to teach its ethos. This includes saying that non-Catholics and non-Christians are going to hell, but worse it also means the dissemination of Catholic sexual morality. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “homosexual acts are gravely depraved […] and intrinsically disordered, […] contrary to natural law”. Such teaching is intrinsically homophobic and damaging to LGBT students. We would not allow Mormon schools to teach that black students are cursed so why is this acceptable? LGBT people suffer greater amounts of ostracism and bullying in school which means they are 7 times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts. Catholic sexual “morality” only exacerbates this.
So how does the Iona Institute, which claims to care about children, find itself at odds with what is best for children so frequently? Well, the answer is simple and obvious: ideology. Iona has many policies that relate to children, some I agree with, but when the rights of children clash with Catholic ideology then children are second best.
- Catholicism bans the use of contraceptives so the LRCs recommendations, which would lead to increased usage, goes against Catholic theology. Thus Iona oppose it despite the fact the policy would decrease unwanted pregnancies, STDs and abortions.
- At times same-sex couples may be deemed best suit to adopt children, but Catholicism doesn’t exactly approve of homosexuals so Iona opposes the best suited model in favour of preference for heterosexual couples.
- Iona wants the Catholic Church to retain control over many primary schools and only allowing wider choice when demand allows. This will mean the rights of non-Catholic children will continue to be violated in admissions and in freedom of conscience.
- Iona thinks Catholic schools should be allowed to teach its sexual morality ideology despite how hateful it is and the harm it causes to LGBT individuals.
So does the Iona Institute prioritise the best interest of children? Only as long as it doesn’t conflict with their ideology, in each of the instances above religion takes priority over the interest of children.