Protesters gather in Dublin for separate abortion rallies

Protesters for and against abortion were staging separate rallies in Dublin today as each side stepped up their campaigning.

The Pro-Life Campaign urged people to stand up for “the right of the unborn child” at its Unite for Life Vigil but were accused of going against legislation that would save the lives of women.

The Government has committed to legislate and introduce regulations to allow abortion if there is a real and substantial risk to a woman’s life, including the threat of suicide.

Pro-life spokeswoman Caroline Simons said the Government’s argument that abortion is needed to treat threatened suicide in pregnancy was demolished at last week’s Oireachtas hearings on abortion.

“The psychiatrists who addressed the hearings were unanimous that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal ideation. But there is evidence that abortion increases the risk of future mental health problems for a significant number of women,” she said.

“The facts are simple. Where a pregnant woman’s life is at risk, Irish law and current Irish medical practice allows doctors to intervene to ensure women receive whatever treatments are necessary to safeguard their lives, even where this unavoidably results in the death of the baby.”

The Unite for Life Vigil, which was supported by a number of pro-life groups, was taking place on Dublin’s Merrion Square after the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, held prayers for “the child in the womb” at St Andrew’s Church in Westland Row.

Separately, pro-choice campaigners were staging a counter-demonstration nearby and said pro-life groups are protesting against the introduction of legislation that would save the lives of women living in Ireland.

“They’re protesting against legislation that the majority have voted for in a referendum. They’re protesting against a supreme court decision. They’re protesting directly against what the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights) says Ireland needs to do to protect the human rights of pregnant women,” a spokesperson said.

The abortion controversy was reignited by the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar on October 28 after she suffered a miscarriage.

The 31-year-old’s husband Praveen claims that doctors at University Hospital Galway refused to carry out an abortion 17 weeks into his wife’s pregnancy because a foetal heartbeat was present.

They were told that Ireland “is a Catholic country”, he says.

As the inquest into Mrs Halappanavar’s death opened in Galway yesterday, city coroner Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin promised a transparent inquiry which would be open to public scrutiny.

Two other investigations into her death from suspected septicaemia are under way.

Elsewhere, senior churchmen led by Cardinal Sean Brady discussed the subject with government ministers and Taoiseach Enda Kenny during a three-hour meeting yesterday.

A new pro-choice group, Abortion Rights Campaign, was also established with members across the country.

Clare Daly TD said the campaign is not a sprint but a marathon.

“We’re here for the long haul,” she said.

“In the meantime, we want the immediate introduction of legislation for the right to safe, legal abortion when a woman’s life is at risk, including from suicide.

“We also want the simplest, broadest legislation that includes the right to abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormality. We will keep the pressure on until we get this.”

The Abortion Rights Campaign is planning a series of events at the end of February to mark the 21st anniversary of the x case which centred on a 14-year-old girl who was raped and became pregnant.

The Attorney General asked the courts to impose a travel ban on the girl which the Supreme Court later overturned because of her suicide risk.

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