Senior law lecturer Mairead Enright yesterday said current laws are flawed, meaning women undertaking an abortion had little option but to keep it secret.
Ms Enright, who lecturers at Kent Law school, was one of the speakers at a conference of ’Abortion Privacy/Abortion Secrecy’ in UCC yesterday which was also addressed by Prof Carol Sanger of Colombia Law School.
Ms Enright said: “It is clear that Irish women have plenty of reasons to keep abortions secret. In particular, except within the narrow constitutional limits, abortion within Ireland remains a crime which attracts a maximum 14-year prison sentence. Although the law may not deter women from seeking abortions, it likely discourages women from disclosing that they have had abortions.
“There is also a sense in which an abortion remains the business and concern of a wider religious community. Women in Ireland may feel vulnerable to interference from uninvited religious third parties.”
She referred to concerns raised last year over pro-life organisations funding a case seeking to injunct a woman from travelling abroad.
Ms Enright also claimed the conscience clause within the new Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act also raised concerns, in that “doctors who object to termination may not comply with the legislative obligation to hand the woman’s care over to an alternative practitioner”.
She stated: “Women remain vulnerable to the activities of rogue crisis pregnancy counselling services.”
On the issue of addressing the balance between privacy and secrecy, she said: “More broadly, Irish law does little to relieve women of the obligation to share knowledge around, and influence on, their abortion decision in process.
“An Irish woman seeking an abortion is inevitably part of a large network of other actors, the size of which increases in proportion to her own vulnerability.
“It is still the case that women in the care of the State who fall outside the “risk to life” regime may find themselves compelled to go to court to exercise their right to travel.”