76 of 158 TDs back poll for abortion law reform but not part of current talks

The Irish Family Planning Association has described as bizarre the exclusion of abortion reform from government formation talks despite a majority of TDs now being in favour of re-examining the law.

Analysis by the IFPA found 76 of the 158 TDs support holding a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution and a further 39 have indicated support for a citizen’s assembly to examine the issue of reform.

Just 39 have indicated they are opposed to repeal; and four have expressed no opinion — meaning that 73% explicitly want, or are open to, changing the law.

Niall Behan, chief executive of the IFPA, said: “Politically, this election was a watershed. For the first time you had the vast majority of candidates saying that they wanted to repeal the eighth and for the first time the vast majority of TDs want reform. So we’re seeing this shift in political thinking but bizarrely, it’s not coming up as a programme for government issue.”

Mr Behan’s comments came as abortion rights campaigners warned the case in Northern Ireland of a young woman sentenced for inducing her own abortion with pills bought online, could be repeated here.

The 21-year-old woman received a three-month suspended sentence after aborting a 10 to 12-week-old foetus using “abortion pills” — drugs intended for treating medical conditions but which have the side-effect of causing miscarriage.

She was 19 at the time and had confided in housemates that she was trying to find money to get to Britain for an abortion but was running out of time. Her housemates called police when they later discovered the aborted foetus in the household waste.

Anti-abortion group, Precious Life, said the case deserved a tougher sentence and called for it to be referred to the Court of Appeal. Group director, Bernadette Smyth, said: “Precious Life is very shocked that this judge’s sentencing was so manifestly lenient in respect of such a serious crime.”

Abortion rights groups here and in Britain, however, expressed shock at the prosecution and sentencing of the young woman.

Amnesty International said it was “utterly appalled” and Linda Kavanagh of the Abortion Rights Campaign said the woman was effectively sentenced for being too poor to travel to Britain.

“Prosecution such as this one will not result in fewer abortions. They will just increase the fear and stigma attached to what is a medical procedure, chosen by thousands of women on this island every year,” she said.

The woman was prosecuted under an 1861 act which has been repealed here but was replaced by the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which makes it an offence carrying a sentence of up to 14 years to procure an abortion outside of the strict “threat to life of the mother” criteria.

There is no recorded case of the authorities pursuing any woman here for importing abortion pills but Niall Behan said the law allowed for such a prosecution.

Customs officers seized 60 batches of pills in 2014 in interceptions of fake, illegal and illegally procured medicines but many more are thought to have got through.

Mr Behan said: “There’s a lot of indications that the pills are being used — between the reported seizures, women asking us about it, and raising it in counselling after the event. We don’t support buying the pills online, both for legal reasons and because these pills should really be prescribed in a medical consultation and taken under medical supervision.

“If a woman decides this is still the option she’s going to pursue, we will move to a harm reduction approach and we will tell her how the pills work and what precautions she should take.

“But the ultimate harm reduction is for safe and legal abortion to be made available here in Ireland.”

More on this topic

How a brave few are breaking Ireland’s abortion tabooHow a brave few are breaking Ireland’s abortion taboo

UN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern IrelandUN says UK violates women's human rights by criminalising abortions in Northern Ireland

Women march in Poland to demand Abortion rightsWomen march in Poland to demand Abortion rights

Readers' Blog: Pro-abortion agenda affected 8th committeeReaders' Blog: Pro-abortion agenda affected 8th committee


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