Most of the women and girls who attend Rape Crisis Centres after being made pregnant as a result of rape go on to keep their babies.
However, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland says it can not know for certain whether they parented by choice or because the option of abortion was not available to them in this country.
The RCNI yesterday joined with the National Women’s Council and the Irish Family Planning Association in urging the Government to legislate for abortion after what they said was 20 years of inaction.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the infamous “X case” in which a suicidal 14-year-old rape victim was prevented by the High Court from leaving the country to have an abortion.
The Supreme Court overturned that ruling but, despite its judgment paving the way for legal abortion in limited circumstances here, neither the Government of the day nor its successors have legislated for it.
RCNI spokeswoman Cliona Saidlear acknowledged the Government’s appointment of an expert group last month to review the situation in light of the European Court of Human Rights 2010 finding that women’s rights were being breached by being forced to travel abroad for abortion, but she said experience had shown that concrete action was elusive.
“In terms of prevarication around this issue, the Irish state has run out of excuses. We have spent too many years dodging this question. But it remains to be seen what will actually be done about it,” said Ms Saidlear.
Figures compiled by the RCNI over the last five years show that between 5% and 10% of rape victims who seek help from the 16 crisis centres around the country became pregnant as a result of their ordeal. The number for 2010 was 75. Between 49% and 66% went on to keep their babies while between 8% and 16% opted to terminate their pregnancy.
There was no definite trend as the figures moved up and down over the period, as did the numbers who opted to put their baby up for adoption or who suffered a miscarriage.
But Ms Saidlear said the RCNI was concerned that any rape survivor’s options would be restricted when they were already trying to deal with a traumatic situation.
“We try to support them in making the choice that works for them and their circumstances and when they make a choice to terminate because that is the right choice for them, then it is wrong that barriers are put in front of them.”
She said women who wanted a termination but lacked financial and other supports were particularly disadvantaged. “We do know that, if people do not have resources, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to have access to abortion. That access is all the more limited by the fact that they have to travel abroad.”
The Government-appointed expert group, which is chaired by Mr Justice Sean Ryan and comprises 13 other medical and legal experts, has been told to report back to the Cabinet within six months.
A Dáil debate is expected to take place before then, however, as a group of TDs from the United Left Alliance have put forward a private members’ motion calling for legislation to be drafted.
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