Irish Abortion laws: NO MORE THAN A VESSEL

If ever there was a tipping point in the national historic drama of Irish abortion laws, this latest horror is it, writes Rachel Doyle

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture said Irish law on abortion treats women ‘as a vessel, nothing more’

Approximately 150,000 women have travelled abroad to access safe and legal abortion services since Article 40.3.3 was inserted into the Irish Constitution in 1983.

An average of 12 women travel every day, or 4,000 women a year. Yet the details of this latest very traumatic case has forced us to look at one of the women who was unable to travel.

A migrant woman with little or no English was pregnant as a result of rape and was suicidal. We may never know the full details of this case, but we do know that the woman was let down appallingly and distressingly by the State she approached, desperately seeking help. The 8th Amendment raises some themes with which we are horribly familiar here in Ireland — class, power, and control.

There is ample evidence to suggest that restrictive abortion laws do not restrict abortion; the above numbers illustrate that Irish women travel to access abortion in their thousands. What this case has highlighted is the fact that for some women, travel is not an option.

Migrant women, women with little or no income, women who are unable to travel, and women who receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality are disproportionately affected by our abortion laws.

What is clearly required is that a woman’s decision to proceed with or to terminate a pregnancy be removed from the realms of the legal and judicial sphere and placed firmly in the hands of women, like all aspects of their healthcare should be.

Reproductive rights are human rights. Referring to the ban on abortion for a victim of rape, the UN’s Human Rights Committee chair and former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nigel Rodley, stated in July that the Irish law on abortion treats women “as a vessel and nothing more”.

Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Committee recently characterised the panel review system route for vulnerable women as a form of “mental torture”.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland has long highlighted the fact that the new legislation, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which prohibits abortion in all cases including cases of rape, incest, inevitable miscarriage and fatal foetal abnormality, with the single exception being where the life of the mother is at risk, would make little difference to the lives of women and girls in Ireland.

It was evident from the start that women or girls who are suicidal as a result of unwanted pregnancy would most likely travel abroad, if they had the ability and means to do so, rather than seek an abortion here under the terms of the legislation.

The new Act ignores the needs of women who decide that having an abortion is in their best interest, and criminalises women and those who support them, including their doctors, if they access abortion here in Ireland.

NWCI’s member group Doctors for Choice warned about the flawed panel review system which includes obstetricians who are not trained to adjudicate on mental health issues and excludes GPs who are trained to manage pregnancies in primary care up to 16 weeks. This most recent case proves that the Act is neither accessible nor workable in practice.

If we want to protect the lives and physical and mental health of women, we must respect the informed choices of women and their healthcare providers. For too long, women living in Ireland have had to resort to national and international courts to exercise their human rights; Magdalene survivors, survivors of symphysiotomy, Louise O’Keeffe, the women known as A, B, and C who challenged Ireland’s reproductive laws at the European Court of Human Rights, to mention but a few.

Government representatives have said they will not return to the issue of abortion, an issue of critical importance to women in Ireland. This is not acceptable. Article 40.3.3 must be repealed as a matter of urgency and removed as a source of ongoing discrimination against women in this country. We need a referendum to make this happen.

In the last decade, there has been a significant shift in public attitudes towards abortion. As documented by the Irish Family Planning Association, opinion polls and research consistently show increased support for access to abortion within Ireland.

Furthermore, in 2011, a study of 500 established GPs and almost 250 GPs in training revealed that 75% of GPs feel that there are situations in which abortion should be available in Ireland, with 52% believing that abortion should be available to any woman who chooses it.

The Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment was launched last October and the NWCI is one of 12 women’s and civil society organisations who are part of this coalition. Over the past number of days we have received overwhelming support for the campaign; we invite all those in favour of repealing the 8th amendment to come to a national Repeal the 8th Conference being organised by the Coalition. A woman is not a vessel. Let’s ensure our laws and our Constitution recognise that.

-Rachel Doyle is Head of Outreach at National Women’s Council of Ireland. The national Repeal the 8th conference is being held on September 6 in the Gresham Hotel at 10am. For further information, visit [url=http://nwci.ie/]


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