Summary and comment, Marge Berer, Reproductive Health Matters


This bill manages to allow abortion if a woman’s life is at risk while at the same time protecting the life of the fetus, as required in the Irish Constitution, and at the same time, meeting the conditions laid down by the European Court to legislate clearly on matters arising from previous court cases.


The bill allows abortiononly if there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother”, for example arising from a physical illness. It says that it is “not necessary for medical practitioners to be of the opinion that the risk to the woman’s life is inevitable or immediate, as this approach insufficiently vindicates the pregnant woman’s right to life”. However, it repeats often that there must be a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother.


It also says: “In circumstances where the unborn may be potentially viable outside the womb, doctors must make all efforts to sustain its life after delivery. However, that requirement does not go so far as to oblige a medical practitioner to disregard a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman on the basis that it will result in the death of the unborn.”


This appears to take particular account of what happened to Savita Halappanavar, as does the name of the bill.


It creates separate conditions for what to do if the woman is threatening suicide, including requiring at least three medical opinions as to whether to allow an abortion on this ground.


It makes it clear that legal abortion will be very rare. It allows a woman to appeal a decision against her but makes it extremely difficult to do so.


It allows for conscientious objection by individuals but NOT by institutions, which is important, and requires anyone objecting to find another medical professional to refer the woman to.


The bureacracy for medical professional control of the decision to allow an abortion is prodigious and possibly even unworkable in practice if a woman’s life is at risk. It potentially requires many medical professionals to be involved to agree an abortion is legal, far more than in any other country. The numbers required to agree to an abortion in case of a threat of suicide appear to say it is hard to believe any woman would actually commit suicide and so she must be examined by many to prove it. It requires any abortion to take place in an obstetric hospital unless it is a medical emergency, which also has specific conditions attached.


It makes it very clear that there is no restriction on travelling to another country for an abortion where it is legal. It almost invites women to continue doing so rather than go through this process.


Last, and not least, it says that anyone found providing or having an illegal abortion will be subject to punishment of up to 14 years in prison. This is very serious. In my opinion, it is perhaps the worst aspect of this bill from Irish women’s point of view.


I believe this bill is extremely successful at doing exactly what the European Court required, to clarify the law when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk, and not a step further. For all the easy criticism we can make of every word of it, it is a gift to the politicians who must have felt (no matter what their personal views) that their political lives were not worth having this fight. They can now say “We did exactly what we were told to do by the European Court” and no more. It will be impossible to oppose it – in those terms – from any point of view. The person/people who drafted it deserve a gold star for compliance with the political necessity involved.

The website has just gone live.

Doctors for Choice is an alliance of independent medical professionals and students advocating for comprehensive reproductive health services in Ireland, including the provision of safe and legal abortion for women who chose it.

We believe that women should be supported to make their own decision regarding their sexual and reproductive health and to manage their own fertility, with doctors and nurses providing expert advice and care without judgment, recourse to the law or fear of criminal sanction.

We welcome your support. If you are a doctor or a medical student we will gladly welcome you into membership. You can contact us at

Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.



t:  @doctors4choice

f:   Doctors For Choice Ireland


Workers Solidarity Movement

Mass Civil Disobedience in North Illuminates Role Of States In Abortion Discussion

Date: Mon, 2013-03-11 12:21

In an act of mass civil disobedience directly challenging the legitimacy of the state to regulate women’s reproduction against their own will, over 100 people in Northern Ireland under the banner Alliance for Choice have signed an open letter declaring they have taken, or supported others to take, a pill to induce an abortion.

The political action is designed to coincide with a vote in Stormont tomorrow that, if passed, would make it illegal for women to receive abortions in private clinics in the north. The proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill is being pushed by fundamentalists within what’s traditionally described as “both communities.” The proposal to change the law was tabled by the DUP’s Paul Givan, who chairs the Stormont Justice committee, and the SDLP’s Alban Maginness both of whom will never get pregnant. The Alliance party and Sinn Fein will oppose the amendment.

The act of civil disobedience itself is interesting from many perspectives, not least the way in which a coherent analysis within the letter makes apparent the links between women’s reproductive autonomy and the social/political policies of austerity that function to increase poverty and social inequality within national borders. That analysis is shared by the Pro Choice movements in the south.

Its also throws into stark relief one of the ambiguities of public discussion around abortion in the south. Whilst looking northwards, mainstream media seems to have little problem in conflating religious, social and political perspectives with the function of the state itself. Its one I and other anarchist share, and the contested nature of political identity and structural oppressions that gave rise to both to the civil rights movements as well as the provos make help illuminate that. That the state itself is an ideological entity is a given and assumed, even as the workplace practices of contemporary journalism give little reward or encourage for this to be untangled and explored. Neither is the tactic of civil disobedience in examined beyond the word ‘protest’.

For example this act of civil disobedience forces the northern state – via its police force and criminal justice system – to act or not act in a public fashion. The political act of disobedience is calculated to illuminate and educate about unjust structures of social/political/economic power as well as forcing the state to act in ways that regardless of the specifics, all actors know the state will itself be judged upon by the wider public.

However when looking closer to home, this Irish state seems to be continually framed – and likes to present itself as – ideologically neutral, as if it were a paternal independent arbitrator between two opposing positions. But this self image is patently false and can only be sustained under a social imagination that separates out abortion from the state’s historical role in the systemic abuse of women. But that’s simply not tenable to an increasingly political literate population, nor is it to the growing feminist movements on the island. The state is patriarchal in so far it has continually reproduced social conditions of inequality against women.

The Catholic Church has seen a massive diminishing of it social power, a direct result of the breaking of silence surrounding the systemic brutality that enforced its cultural weight in Irish society. Its “socially conservative” (read deformed, sexually repressive and violent) dogmatism, simultaneously anti-women, anti-homosexuality, is being challenged by an increasingly counter-hegemonic discourse. Woman in the pro choice movements are no longing pleading for control over their own bodies from a church and state nexus which have previously deemed itself the only legitimate authority that can dispense or renege on that autonomy. Many are, quite sensibly, demanding complete autonomy for themselves and each other.

Also the narrative that ‘abortion debate’ revolves around two opposing yet valid abstract moral positions is itself a mispresentation. There is no emotional or intellectual equivalency between the positions of “I dont want to be forced to remain pregnant against my will” and “You should be forced to remain pregnant against your will because I think abortion is ‘bad’”. I have yet to hear a anti abortion argument that doesn’t relegate women’s existence to forced birthing factories. Appeals to God and a paradigm of ethics and morals founded upon his (yes of course his) existence can of course can be made – and as an anarchist I support the freedoms that facilitate that – but they should be given no greater intellectual weight that the musings of Thomas the Tank engine or other fictional entities.  The function of suppressing women’s right to bodily integrity and reproductive choices does need a meta philosophy to justify itself. It is not to role of critically thinking, emotionally literate human beings to do that however.

If you align yourself to the Catholic Church you need to get used to the idea that many people see this as reason enough to reject the idea that you are an ethically coherent and emotionally literate human being. You have some ground to make up given our collective history. Likewise if you are a member of a political organisation that oversaw generations of state sanctioned abuse. And indeed this is also the case if you “believe” in unending economic growth on a planet of finite resources and growing inequality and social injustice. You simply come with too much baggage and too much incoherency to expect your ideas be deemed valid or socially useful merely because you hold them.

What come from this is the basis of a position that makes coherent arguments against state coercion in all its forms, but that also recognises that the state itself is deeply ideological itself, rather than an arbitrator. The tactic of mass civil disobedience has yet to be used within this wave of feminist struggle for social justice in the south. However when that happens, the state itself will be forced to act, and in doing so illuminate part of itself that so far has remained invisible in mainstream media narratives

Heres the letter

Open Letter

We, the undersigned, have either taken the abortion pill or helped women to procure the abortion pill in order to cause an abortion here in Northern Ireland.

We represent just a small fraction of those who have used, or helped others to use, this method because it is almost impossible to get an NHS abortion here, even when there is likely to be a legal entitlement to one.

We know that Stormont Ministers and the Public Prosecution Service are aware that such abortions have been taking place in the region for some years, but are unwilling to prosecute for a range of reasons, at least partly to do with not wanting an open debate around the issue of when women here should have a right to abortion.

We are publishing this letter now because of the Givan/Magennis amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill which we believe is aimed at closing down the debate on abortion here, as much as it is about closing down Marie Stopes.

We want to emphasise that medical abortions happen in Northern Ireland on a daily basis but without any medical support or supervision. We were delighted when Marie Stopes came to Belfast as it meant that women who are unwell, and therefore eligible for a legal abortion, can access a doctor to supervise what we have done or helped others to do without medical help.

We live in the only part of the UK that still does not have a childcare strategy. We face huge cuts in children’s living standards if the Assembly passes the Welfare Reform Bill without major amendment. If our politicians showed as much zeal in protecting the lives of children who are already born, perhaps we would have fewer women seeking abortion because of poverty.


Christiane McGuffin, Derry
Bronagh Boyle, Belfast
Goretti Horgan, Derry
Judith Cross, Belfast
Siusaidh Laoidhigh, Belfast
Roisin Barton, Derry
Virginia Santini, Belfast
Julia Black, Derry
Natalie Biernat, Derry
Adrianne Peltz, Bangor
Elizabeth Byrne McCullough, Belfast
Naomi Connor, Belfast
Catherine Couvert, Belfast
Caitlin Ni Chonaill, Belfast
Helen McBride, Armagh
Wendy McCloskey, Derry
Alice Lyons, Bangor
Maev McDaid, Derry
Janet Shepperson, Belfast
Mary Breslin, Derry
Anita Gracey, Belfast
Grainne Boyle, Belfast
Catherine Rush, Derry
Yvette Wilders, Limavady
Deirdre Kelly, Derry
Sarah Wright, Belfast
Sharon Meenan, Derry
Shannon O’Connell, Bangor
Ciara Smyth, Belfast
Shannon Sickels, Belfast
Jason Brannigan, Belfast
Connor Kelly, Derry
Claire Hackett, Belfast
James Doherty, Derry
Jill Letson, Derry
Noella Hutton, Derry
Glen Rosborough, Derry
Ann Harley, Derry
Ryan McKinney, Belfast
Kieran Gallagher, Derry
Jeanette Hutton, Derry
Julie Rogan, Derry
Matt Collins, Belfast
Pat Byrne, Derry
Susan Power, Derry
Aisling Gallagher, Belfast
Betty Doherty, Derry
Mel Bradley, Derry
Edward Gary Hill, Belfast
Sha Gillespie, Derry
Abby Oliveira, Derry
Joanne Butler, Derry
Majella Keys, Derry,
Gerard Stewart, Belfast
Maisie Sharkey, Derry
Orlagh Ni Leid, Belfast
M. Campbell, Derry
Tiarnan O Muilleoir, Belfast
Laura McFeely, Derry
Brenda Graham, Derry
Janet Shepperson, Belfast
Donna McFeely, Derry
Daisy Mules, Derry
Malachai O’Hara Belfast
Eileen Webster, Derry
Véronique Altglas, Belfast
Dianne Kirby, Derry
Helen Quigley, Derry
Sadie Fulton, Belfast
Aaron Murray, Derry
Aoife McNamara, Co.Down
Eileen Blake, Derry
Diana King, Derry
Paula Leonard, Killea
Kitty O’Kane, Derry
Sara Greavu, Derry
Eve Campbell, Derry
Katherine Rowlandson, Derry
Justine Scoltock, Derry
Eamonn McCann, Derry
Catrin Greaves, Belfast
Anita Villa, Derry
Caolan Brown, Derry
Asha Faria-Vare, Belfast
Chrissie Kavanagh, Derry
Elaine Power, Derry
Maria Caddell, Belfast
David Stewart Campbell, Lisburn
Ellie Drake, Belfast
Lisa Byrne, Derry
Siobhan Doherty, Derry
Stella Green, Belfast
Jim Collins, Derry
Guy Hetherington, Belfast
Amos Gideon, Belfast
Stephen Connolly , Belfast
Catriona Acherson, Belfast
Timothy Lavety, Belfast
Ellen Wilson, Belfast
Richard Bailie, Belfast
Manuela Moser, Belfast

The letter contains signatures of 100 individuals from Northern Ireland who have accessed or helped women to access illegal (under Section 58 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861) abortion pills, such as those available from Women on Web (WoW).


Since the letter was published, the following names have been added:

Emma Campbell, Belfast
Judith Thurley BA (Hons) RGN, Belfast
Lynda Walker, Belfast
Claire McCann
Lily Hendron, Coleraine
Nick Ní Fhéasóg
Claire Molloy, Belfast
Peter McCormack, Belfast
Áine Jackman, Belfast
Seanín Ní Connalláin, Belfast
Ruth Wilson, Belfast

Thursday, Dec 13, 2012 6:36 PM UTC

It was worldwide news when a woman died in Ireland after being denied an abortion. She was hardly the only tragedy

By Irin Carmon

By now, many have heard the name of Savita Halappanavar, whose death in a Galway hospital this fall was a chilling reminder of how abortion bans can be deadly.

That case had the benefit of a vocal and angry person to speak on the dead woman’s behalf — her husband, Praveen. He has said she requested a termination that may have saved her life — but was told, “This is a Catholic country.” (An official inquiry by the hospital has yet to be released, and Praveen Halapannavar isappealing to the European Court of Human Rights.) But for every Savita, there are thousands of women whose names we don’t know, women who aren’t even counted.

The most commonly cited statistic suggests that complications from unsafe abortions led to approximately 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide. That’s a World Health Organization figure first arrived at in 2000, which hasn’t been re-evaluated. Every year, when WHO says how many women have died from unsafe abortions, they’re simply taking the same percentage of the global maternal mortality figure — 56,000 in 2003, or 47,000 in 2008. But one epidemiologist, Caitlin Gerdts, wondered if that number wasn’t a potentially vast understatement.

A few years ago, Gerdts was planning to write her dissertation about maternal mortality at a hospital in Zanzibar, Tanzania. “From the data we were able to gather I was sure that we had missed a number of women who had died likely from unsafe abortion,” she told Salon. Even in the original WHO report, she said, the authors “talk about how unsure they are about that estimate, and how they have the aggregate data, and how the data that they did have from countries where abortion-related mortality is the highest were of the poorest quality. They say directly, this is the best number we can come up with –  but we think it’s an under estimate.”

And a lot has changed since 2000, in both directions: Some countries, including in sub-Saharan Africa, have liberalized their laws; others, notably in Central America, have toughened their bans. Meanwhile, misoprostol, a pill which can induce a miscarriage identical to a spontaneous one, has become more widely distributed across the developing world. “There has been so much happening in the last decade,” said Gerdts, who is now affiliated with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at University of California, San Francisco. “It’s impossible that the number has stayed the same.”

She eventually proposed a statistical model that would take into account what the researchers were getting at but not naming: Stigma. Specifically, women who were coming into hospitals seeking post-abortion care and would be reluctant to attribute the bleeding to a self-induced abortion because they feared social and criminal consequences. And, said Gerdts, “Doctors aren’t going to record it because they’re afraid of repercussions. Or maybe the woman hasn’t even told her family she was pregnant or that she had induced abortion.”

Gerdts and her colleagues canvassed 300 women treated for post-abortion or miscarriage care in that Tanzanian hospital, and found that only seven of them admitted they had induced abortion. But over 85 percent of these women said they were “unsure or unhappy” about their pregnancies, suggesting that not all of them had spontaneous miscarriages. And that’s not even counting women like Halappanavar, who may have been eligible for what life-saving exceptions sometimes do exist on the books but who died out of physician reluctance to test the boundaries of the law.

If these women hemorrhaged to death or died of sepsis because they couldn’t access a safe termination, few, if anyone, would have known that it was no ordinary miscarriage — or that it could have been prevented.


The Irish Times – Thursday, November 22, 2012

PAUL CULLEN, Health Correspondent

The State has paid substantial compensation to a woman who was forced to travel to Britain for an abortion despite being terminally ill with cancer.

The case was settled in just three months, her solicitor, Michael Boylan, said yesterday.

Michelle Harte, Ardamine, Co Wexford, sued for violation of her human rights last year after a hospital ethics forum had decided against authorising an abortion on the basis that her life was not under “immediate threat”.

“This was resolved very, very quickly, which is unusual in my dealings with the State,” Mr Boylan said. Ms Harte, a former nurse from London, has since died of her cancer.

In 2010, after she became unintentionally pregnant while suffering from a malignant melanoma, doctors at Cork University Hospital advised her to terminate her pregnancy because of the risk to her health.

Mr Boylan said her obstetrician was willing to perform a termination but was “hamstrung” by legal issues. The issue was referred to the hospital’s “ad hoc” ethics committee.

Appalling delay

He said there was an absence of clear guidelines about what to do and an “appalling delay” ensued. After the committee refused the termination, there were further delays because Ms Harte did not have a passport.

“I couldn’t believe the decision [to refuse an abortion in Ireland] when it came,” Ms Harte, who was then 39, told The Irish Times in December 2010. “Apparently my life wasn’t at immediate risk. It just seemed absolutely ridiculous.”

Her condition worsened significantly during this time and she was not able to receive cancer treatment because she was pregnant. She eventually travelled to Britain for an abortion; she had to be helped on to the aircraft due to a deterioration in her condition.

Mr Boylan of Augustus Cullen Law then sued the State on her behalf for infringing her rights under the ABC case, in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had breached the human rights of a woman with cancer who had to travel abroad to get an abortion.

In that case, the woman – “C” – had a rare form of cancer and feared it would relapse when she became unintentionally pregnant. However, the woman said she was unable to find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued to term.

Ms Harte’s lawyers served a statement of claim in May 2011 against the HSE, Ireland and the Attorney General. It was settled by July 2011. Mr Boylan declined to specify the amount but said it was substantial. Ms Harte died that November.

Mr Boylan said his client, a mother of one, was delighted not to have to go through the trauma of a court case and was pleased some compensation was available for her family.

An International Day of Action for Legal Abortion in Ireland following the tragic and unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar will take place on Wednesday 21st of November. There will also be a picket at the Irish Parliament, The Dail.

Pickets will take place at Irish Embassies or central city locations across the world to register our disgust at the death of this woman due to the ambiguity around the issue in Ireland. Ireland’s abortion laws are antiquated and must be changed. This would never have happened if women had the right to choose in Ireland.

Demand change now, picket your local embassy! Post details of our local event here and we’ll add them to the description. Protesters at embassies are being asked to hand in a letter of protest. A standard letter will be available soon, or you can write your own.


Rally at the Dail, 150 Pearse Street, Dublin 2 Dublin, Ireland

Protest Wednesday, 21 November 2012
17:30 until 19:00 in UTC+05:30
at the Town Hall in Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka

Press call/picket at the Irish Embassy in London
at 9am to allow or the student protests later in the day

Scottish Solidarity Protest 5:30pm
Irish Consulate, 16 Randolph Crescent, Edinburgh

Vigil for Savita and protest Irish abortion law outside the Irish embassy in Berlin
6pm Botschaft von Irland Jägerstraße 51 10117 Berlin

Vigil at 6pm at Irish Embassy, Chaussee d’Etterbeek 180, Bruxelles 1040, Belgium



International Day of Action for Legal Abortion in Ireland Following Tragic, Unnecessary Death of Savita Halappanavar


· Protests to be held at Irish Embassies across the world and at the Dail Wednesday 21st November

· Letter of Protest signed by MEPs to be sent to Taoiseach

Socialist Party / United Left Alliance MEP Paul Murphy today called for an international day of action for legal abortion in Ireland following the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar:

“The death of Savita Halappananavar is the tragic and unnecessary result of the failure of Irish governments to introduce abortion legislation. The failure to separate Church and state has resulted in the Catholic Church in Ireland having an over-bearing, conservative grip on health and educational policies.

“I am calling for an international day of action for Wednesday 21st to call for legal abortion to be introduced in Ireland. Protests will be held in cities and at Irish embassies across the world to put pressure on the Irish government to introduce legal abortion. Already I know that protests will take place in cities across Britain, in Belgium, Germany and Sweden.

“Along with Mikael Gustafsson, chair of the women’s Rights and Equality committee, I have initiated a letter of protest at the failure of the Irish state to legislate for abortion rights. The letter has already been signed by over 20 MEPs.

“International pressure can only embarrass the government, the people of Ireland must turn out in vast numbers at Saturday’s protest and maintain a campaign thereafter to force the government to legislate for full abortion rights.”

Reluctant politicians need to get real and change law on abortion

By Colette Browne

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

IF Labour is wondering why its support has suffered a vertiginous drop since last year’s election it need only look to its TDs’ shameful contributions to last week’s Dáil debate on abortion for answers.

One by one they got to their feet and waxed lyrical about their sympathy for women who find themselves forced to travel abroad for an abortion, fulminated about the appalling failure of successive governments to do anything to resolve the legal quagmire that enmeshes this most controversial of issues, declared their unwavering support for legislation to finally give effect to the X Case judgment — and then promptly voted against a Bill that would do just that.

Now, let’s get a few things straight. It may come as a surprise to hear this but women in this country have had a constitutional right to an abortion, if their lives are at risk, for nearly 30 years, since the constitutional amendment was passed in 1983.

A High Court judge, in the X Case in 1992, said the failure of government to enact legislation to give legal effect to that right was “inexcusable”. Six years later another judge, in the C case, said she didn’t want the High Court to become a “licensing authority” for abortion — vulnerable women constantly forced to mount costly legal actions to determine their right to an abortion.

The response of government, in 2002, was to try to pass a constitutional amendment that would have removed the right of suicidal women to an abortion. They would rather have let them die. Thankfully, the Irish people rejected that amendment.

In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said the State’s failure to implement a framework to allow a woman unambiguously determine her right to a lawful abortion was a breach of her human rights.

The judgment is binding and while the court could not tell the State how to comply with its obligations under international law it did pointedly note that Ireland is almost alone in the Western world in not having enacted legislation to clearly define in statute the conditions governing access to abortion.

Remember, this is not abortion on demand. Or even abortion for health reasons — no matter how serious those health issues may be. The ECHR ruled that the State’s preferred practice of exporting desperately ill women for abortions was perfectly fine. The only thing this ruling relates to is access to an abortion when that abortion will save the life of the mother.

Still, the Government felt compelled to create yet another stumbling block before legislation could even be contemplated and long-fingered action by creating an expert group to discuss how best to bring itself into line with the court’s judgment.

The reasons for this are purely political and have nothing to do with women or their best interests. TDs are simply too craven to accept the implications of the ECHR ruling so they have outsourced the decision to a quango that will be cynically used to deflect criticism when it eventually reports back and recommends legislation.

Then , of course, there will be another endless delay before legislation is drafted and, if the Government manages to get around to it before the end of its term, it may be enacted.

Incredibly, last week was the first time in the history of the State that an abortion Bill was debated in the Dáil, but TDs like Michelle Mulherin still insisted that those supporting it were moving too fast — as if a 30-year delay wasn’t long enough.

The faux controversy surrounding the Bill, the only purpose of which was to grant women an abortion if one was required to save their life, was truly horrifying and reveals the naked contempt with which women are treated by the body politic.

Imagine if politicians had been debating a Bill that offered life-saving treatment for diabetics, or asthmatics or cystic fibrosis patients and it had been defeated in favour of waiting an indeterminate length of time for a report and subsequent identikit legislation? There would have been outrage, deservedly so, but because the debate concerned women, and their right to an abortion, politicians were too cowardly to act.

It really was nauseating but the behaviour of Labour TDs, only one of whom, rebel TD Patrick Nulty, supported the Bill, was particularly odious.

At least those TDs implacably opposed to abortion didn’t betray their conscience. They opposed this abortion Bill and they’ll oppose the next one. It was Labour TDs, with their mealy-mouthed words of support and their patronising extensions of thanks to the proposers of the Bill for raising the issue, who abandoned their principles when they casually torpedoed it.

Support for last week’s Bill, a highly restrictive piece of legislation that would have required the opinion of two doctors before an abortion could be performed to save a woman’s life, is a no-brainer. The real debate we need to have in this country is extending that right to women whose physical or mental health is seriously harmed by their pregnancy.

Currently, most Irish women cannot avail of a medical abortion, a pill taken over the course of a number of days, because of the logistics of travelling abroad. They have to opt for a day procedure, a surgical abortion, which, for safety reasons, cannot be performed as early as a medical abortion.

So, women are forced to wait for up to two months, while their pregnancy progresses, before they can leave the country for a much more invasive procedure. They are also less likely to access vital after-care services, once they return to Ireland, because of the stigma attached to their decision to travel for a procedure that, if performed here, could result in a conviction and a life-sentence.

THEN there are the women who discover, much later in their pregnancy, that the foetus has a genetic condition that means it will not survive the birth. They too are told, tough, to continue with the pregnancy and endure the birth. Why? Because a succession of male-dominated governments have presumed to tell women how they should react to that devastating news and feel perfectly content removing any vestige of personal autonomy from one of the most difficult decisions they will ever have to make.

This isn’t an area in which the State should be meddling at all. It is a personal medical decision that should be taken by women in conjunction with their partners and their doctors. Instead, women are reduced to the status of insentient incubator and instructed to grin and, literally, bear it by the self-dubbed pro-life lobby — whose concern for life doesn’t seem to extend past the moment of birth.

The 4,500 women who are unwilling or unable to comply with this diktat every year are shipped, out of sight and out of mind, beyond our puritanical shores — their silent sacrifice deemed an acceptable price to maintain the State’s illusory veneer of moral rectitude.

The abortion law on the statute books is 151 years old while the constitutional ban was introduced when a prescription was required to buy condoms and homosexuality and divorce were illegal. Ireland has changed. It’s time the law did too. – Last Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012, 13:40


The Government has defeated a Dáil Private Members’ Bill implementing the X case ruling to provide limited access to abortion by 111 votes to 20.

The Private Members’ Bill, put forward by Socialist Party TD Clare Daly, along with People Before Profit TD Joan Collins and Independent TD Mick Wallace, seeks to create a legal framework for abortion in Ireland where a woman’s life is at risk.

The vote was opposed by Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail. It was backed by Sinn Fein and number of independents.

Minister for Health Dr James Reilly rejected the Bill on the grounds that the House should await the report of an expert group on the matter.

Speaking before the vote, Ms Daly said she respected other people’s opinions, but there had some inaccuracies in the debate. The Bill, she said, did not seek abortion on demand. She said it was incredibly limited and solely provided for the situation whereby an abortion would be permissible in Ireland where the life of the woman was at risk, including from suicide.

Following a 1992 Supreme Court ruling – known as the X-case – abortion has been legal in circumstances where there is a substantial risk to the life of the mother. However, successive governments have not enacted legislation to give full effect to the ruling.

Minister of State for Health Roisín Shortall thanked Ms Daly and her colleagues for moving the Bill. She reiterated the Government’s commitment to the “expeditious implementation’’ of the European Court of Human Rights judgement. This found the State had violated the rights of a woman who had cancer and who was forced to travel abroad to get an abortion.

Ms Shortall said she agreed with people who were critical of the fact that the issue had not been addressed. “Many years have been lost in respect of the commitment to legislate for the X case,’” she added.

She said it was unfair to criticise the current Government, given that an expert group had been set up and legislation would be introduced in accordance with its recommendations.

“As soon as the expert group reports at the end of June, the Government is absolutely committed to taking action in this area,” Ms Shortall added.

During the debate, Fine Gael TD for Mayo Michelle Mulherin said “fornication” was the single greatest cause of unwanted pregnancies in Ireland.

“In an ideal world there would be no unwanted pregnancies and no unwanted babies. But we are far from living in an ideal world,” she said. “Abortion as murder, therefore sin, which is the religious argument, is no more sinful, from a scriptural point of view, than all other sins we don’t legislate against, like greed, hate and fornication. The latter, being fornication, I would say, is probably the single most likely cause of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”

Labour Party deputies voted against the Bill despite expressing support for such a move at last week’s party conference. A spokeswoman said last night the issue of abortion was a sensitive one and should not be dealt with through a Private Members’ Bill.

At the party’s annual conference last weekend, Labour members supported a motion in favour of legislating to give effect to the X-case ruling. Labour has consistently called for such a move since the 1992 ruling.

“In the meantime women who need life-saving abortions, and their doctors, are in the same invidious legal position as they were 20 years ago,” he said. “Nor will the European Court of Human Rights be content to see Ireland’s legislators continue to drag their heels. Action is long overdue – and this Bill is a minimum first step.”

Ireland has produced many brave and influential women whose lives have helped change Irish society, but it’s a tragic irony that one of those who’s had the biggest impact – and sparked the longest-running controversy – is someone whose name we don’t know, who was only 14 when she came to our (and the world’s) attention and who you can bet would have given anything to have never been heard from in the first place.

She’s known as Miss X, and 20 years ago she was raped and impregnated by a much older family “friend”. Ireland is still governed by 1861 (!) legislation which makes abortion a crime punishable by life imprisonment, so her parents took her to England. When they contacted Irish police to ask if the embryonic remains might be useful as evidence, the police contacted the Attorney General, who promptly sought an injunction to compel her to return to Ireland and remain for the next nine months.

This astonishingly cruel and repressive act was “justified”, according to the Attorney General, by Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. Passed by referendum in 1983, the Article reads:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

Miss X, however, was threatening suicide if she was forced to bear her rapist’s child and so her lawyers argued that her own right to life – also protected by Article 40.3.3 – was engaged. In the High Court, Justice Declan Costello (who was eulogised on his death last year for his commitment to social justice) applied a crude balancing test to reach his decision: if Miss X was forced to continue the pregnancy, she might die, but if she was allowed an abortion the foetus would die. He thus granted the injunction barring her from travel.

On appeal, the Supreme Court took a different approach: a majority deemed abortion permissible under Article 40.3.3 where it is established, as a matter of probability, that there is a real and substantial risk (not necessarily an immediate or inevitable one) to the woman’s life. The risk of suicide, it held, fell within these exceptional grounds.

The government responded to the decision – and the controversy engulfing Irish society – by putting three more referenda to the people (the Irish Constitution can only be changed by referendum). One would have overturned the X decision to the extent that it deemed suicide a risk entitling a woman to an abortion. The second would clarify that Article 40.3.3 did not impinge on the freedom to travel outside the state – a necessity since a majority of the Supreme Court had also felt that the rights of the “unborn” would supersede the right to travel where there was no risk to the pregnant woman’s life. The third aimed at resolving another ongoing controversy, allowing information to be made available about legal abortion services outside the State.

The Irish people voted sensibly, around two-thirds defeating the first referendum and slightly smaller majorities passing the other two. This still left the State with one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, however – and the cowardice of successive governments, in refusing to legislate for the decision, means that 20 years on we still don’t know exactly what it means in real terms. How is it to be determined whether a pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to life? Who gets to decide? And what remedies are available to a woman denied an abortion despite believing she falls within the criteria set out in X?

There are no answers to these questions – and the consequences for some women are dire. In 2010, a woman named Michelle Harte from County Wexford, a cancer patient, was advised by her doctors at Cork University Hospital that she should have an abortion because of the threat posed by her pregnancy. However, the hospital ethics committee – which apparently did not read the X judgment very carefully – overruled this advice, deeming the risk to her life insufficiently “immediate”. The identity of those on this “ethics committee” is unclear, but it is stated to include a number of non-medical people, including some with “theology and philosophy backgrounds”. What kind of bullshit policy allows theologians to overrule doctors’ decisions about the medical risk to someone’s life?

Another woman harmed by the lack of legislation in this area is known to us as “C”. She was one of three plaintiffs who challenged Ireland’s abortion laws before the European Court of Human Rights, which found in her favour (although not in the other two’s) in December 2010. In a ruling that was entirely predictable after the 2007 Tysiac v Poland case, the ECHR held that Ms C’s Article 8 (private and family life) rights had been breached by the State’s failure to make abortion actually available in the extremely limited circumstances where it is legal. (Ms C, like Michelle Harte, was a cancer patient; she testified that she could not even get medical advice on the risks posed by her pregnancy, such was the chilling effect of the anti-abortion criminal law.)

The State is obliged to abide by the rulings of the ECHR (although there is little in the way of enforcement mechanisms) and so, as a practical matter, it has one of two options. It can either amend the Constitution to remove the “due regard to the equal right to the life of the mother” clause – thereby making abortion illegal even to save a woman’s life – or it can set out a clear and transparent mechanism, with a proper appeals procedure, for women who believe they meet the X criteria.

To readers outside Ireland, the fact that this even poses a dilemma for the government must seem indescribably bizarre – something you might expect to find in the Taliban’s Afghanistan or Khomeini’s Iran, but not in an ostensibly modern, advanced OCSE country in northwestern Europe. And in fact, it’s pretty bizarre to us too. A referendum to remove the right to a life-saving abortion hasn’t a hope of getting past an Irish public that believes by almost nine-to-one that such abortions should be legal. It’s notable that in the two referenda that have attempted to roll back the X decision – the one immediately following the judgment in 1992, and a second one a decade later – it was only the eligibility of potential suicides that was at issue; the possibility of taking the right away from women facing other risks to their lives, women like Michelle Harte and Ms C, wasn’t even contemplated. Why on earth would it be contemplated now?

And so, as Choice Ireland noted several months before that predictable ECHR decision, the Irish anti-abortion movement have taken a different tack: they’re now picking a fight with the English language. In regular ludicrous press releases and columns like this one, they’re trying to convince a (not-buying-it) public that there is no need to protect the right to a life-saving abortion, because there is no such thing as a life-saving abortion, because – wait for it – it isn’t really an “abortion” if the purpose is to save the woman’s life. It’s a “necessary medical procedure”, or something to this effect. Which just happens to end in the death of the foetus or embryo. Got that?

Now you know, and I know, and anyone who’s ever opened a dictionary knows, that that’s a load of rubbish and there’s not a chance of the law being changed to reflect it. But what the hardcore anti-abortion movement lacks in logic and public support, they more than make up for in political power. Quite simply, the major political parties in this country are scared shitless of them – and I mean all the major political parties, not just the two right-wing ones (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael) that have consistently pledged not to legislate for the X case. The two next-largest parties, Labour and Sinn Féin, both support the right to abortion in life-saving and a couple other scenarios, but neither trusts a woman to make up her own mind about the decision. In fact, prior to the last election (which returned five members of the United Left Alliance), there was not a single pro-choice party in the Irish parliament. And even the ULA declined to campaign on the issue during the election, although to their credit they’re starting to make up for that now.

A consequence of this hold that the foetalists have over politicians is that more than a year after the ECHR decision (and, of course, twenty after the X case) we’re still waiting for implementation. And we’ll be waiting a while more. The government “met” its obligation to tell the ECHR how it was going to implement the decision by stating that it would establish an “expert group” to consider how to implement it. Just telling that to the ECHR took six months. It took another seven to announce who was being appointed to the group and the group’s terms of reference. The group’s conclusions are to be reported back to the government in a further six months. What happens then is anyone’s guess.

There are a lot of aspects of this story that I find sickening, but perhaps none more so than this: we in Ireland are in the midst of several years of austerity budgets, which this and the last government have justified by saying they need to make “hard decisions”. So they have made the hard decision to cut income supports for working and unemployed people, lone parents and those in need of extra assistance to care for the children they have. They have the made the hard decision to impose new stealth taxes and increase VAT, all of which will have a disproportionate negative impact on those already struggling to cope. They have made the hard decision to cut funding for community and support services for low-income women and families, and to combine the Equality Authority and Human Rights Commission into a single (and even weaker) body at precisely the time when discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers is increasing. So, the Irish government has no problem making the hard decisions that hurt women and families, and the hard decisions that make it more likely that some pregnant women will seek abortions. But legislating to ensure that a woman who might die without an abortion can get one in Ireland?

It seems that’s a hard decision too far.

Please go here for information on the Action On X campaign, or email actiononx at gmail dot com

The Irish Times – Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN, Political Correspondent

MEMBERS OF the medical, legal and nursing professions are to sit on a 14-member expert group being set up to address the outcome of last year’s European Court of Human Rights ruling on abortion rights in Ireland.

Minister for Health James Reilly received approval at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting to establish the group. It will be in place by the end of the year or shortly thereafter and will have six months to deliver a report to Government.

The European Court ruled last December that the State had failed to implement existing rights to lawful abortion where a mother’s life is at risk. The court found the State violated the rights of a woman with cancer who said she was forced to travel abroad to obtain an abortion.

The programme for government pledged to “establish an expert group to address this issue, drawing on appropriate medical and legal expertise with a view to making recommendations to Government”. As required under the procedures of the court, the Government submitted an action plan last June, outlining its intention to set up the expert group.

Also at yesterday’s meeting, Taoiseach Enda Kenny received approval for the establishment of an interdepartmental committee on European engagements as a subcommittee of the Cabinet.

Minister of State for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton is expected to play a prominent role on this committee, which will monitor and co-ordinate the Government’s involvement with EU institutions.

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