Medical Treatment (Termination Of Pregnancy In Case Of Risk To Life Of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012

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Health, Women's Rights

In conjunction with Deputies Mick Wallace and Joan Collins I have brought forward the Medical Treatment (Termination Of Pregnancy In Case Of Risk To Life Of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012 in order to provide a legislative basis for the legal termination of a pregnancy in the very limited circumstances where such treatment is deemed necessary to prevent a woman’s death, including the threat of suicide. This was the outcome of the Supreme Court judement in Attorney General v. X in 1992.

It is hard to credit that the most basic level of reproductive rights have been denied to women in Ireland for so long – two decades on, despite women having the right to an abortion in Ireland in these circumstances, neither the Irish government nor international human rights bodies have been able to find evidence of a single lawful abortion carried out in this State, proving that failure to give legislative effect to the Supreme Court ruling means that all women living in Ireland who need to terminate a pregnancy are forced to travel abroad to access this medical procedure. Can you imagine any other circumstance where a Supreme Court ruling has been ignored? Not only that, but since the X case judgment Irish governments have held two referenda seeking to overturn the ruling and remove suicide as legitimate grounds for abortion – on both occasions the Irish public rejected this proposal. However, the vast majority of elected representatives remain scared of this issue and will always play it safe. This issue has gone on long enough. If they are to be persuaded to pass this piece of legislation the call to support it must come from voters.

The reason we have brought forward the bill in this limited form is that it is in line with the constitution and not open to challenge, and therefore it is much harder for cowardly politicians not to support it. If passed it would represent an historic step forward.

The right to access abortion is fundamentally a human rights issue. In this regard, a range of domestic and international human rights bodies have repeatedly drawn attention to this country’s restrictive laws on abortion and it is clear that we are badly out of step with international best practice where 44 out of 47 European countries provide for abortion to protect women’s health.

Moreover, despite Ireland’s prohibitive regulation, the fact remains that abortion is a reality for thousands of women in Ireland – our friends, sisters, mothers, daughters. Those who have the means can travel to England and elsewhere seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Due to the stigma surrounding abortion in Ireland many must do this, under severe financial and emotional strain, without the support of their families. For those unable to leave the country, such as minors, undocumented women, and women living in poverty, the situation can be even more difficult. Historically, the State has consistently failed all of these women, and it continues to do so to this day.

The unfairness and inequality which characterises Ireland’s abortion laws is replicated in the current government’s approach to tackling the economic crisis. Just as our extremely restrictive abortion laws disproportionately and adversely impact upon the most vulnerable who cannot leave the State, the political choices made in Budget 2012 targeted the least well-off in our society such as lone parents, and those with large families and young children.

In the current climate it is easier than usual to push the issue of abortion to the margins but fearful politicians should not be allowed to use our economic turmoil as a cloak to hide behind The right to sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental part of the right to health. Criminalising women for ending crisis pregnancies is outrageous and does not work. There are many reasons why women decide to have an abortion, all of them valid and none of them easy.

Below are two emails which I have received on this issue, which I believe explain way better than I could, why we need abortion in Ireland. The first woman asked me to highlight her story wherever possible so that it could help explain to people in Ireland the complexities of these issues and why the law must be changed.

One woman’s story
“At my first scan I was told our daughter had a condition called anencephaly. This is a neural tube defect which meant part of her brain and skull had not formed properly while everything else had grown perfectly normal. Our daughter had no hope of surviving and would die without a doubt. If she survived the pregnancy, she would probably die at birth or within a few hours. To say we were heartbroken is an understatement. We were told in Ireland I had to carry my baby full term, I was told I would not be bought in early (in fact I would be let go two weeks over), I would not be given a C section and I would have to go through the labour. Alternatively I could travel to the UK to terminate our pregnancy.

How would I cope emotionally? How could I keep growing day by day and feel this baby inside me? How would I deal with the questions from well meaning people – when is your baby due etc.! How could I watch my perfect baby struggle and die in my arms? After much deliberation I felt it would be too difficult to continue with the pregnancy knowing our daughter was going to die and opted for a termination in the UK.

Because of our laws I was not allowed receive any help from the hospital here. I was given one recommendation of a well known UK clinic and we went with this. I was treated so coldly….. I had to leave my home, my comfortable surroundings and travel to a strange country….

this situation was difficult enough to cope with without having the added problems of travelling to the UK. I had to leave my own local hospital where I felt safe, where I knew I could be looked after…… had I been allowed stay here I would not have had the health risk of flying home so soon. I could have had all my family around me…..

I think its absolutely imperative that abortion be legalised in Ireland particularly where a woman’s life is at risk AND where there is no hope of the baby surviving. It is not humane to ask a woman to carry her baby when you know the outcome is death. It is not fair emotionally. As my doctor told me – I was a life support machine for this baby, without me, there was no way she could survive. If someone ends up on a life support machine here after a car crash for example, family members are asked to turn off that machine when there is no hope – women should be given the same right when it comes to their unborn baby who will not survive.

It’s time for change – the majority of people fighting legislation have not had the experience I have had and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

One Woman’s Understanding
Nobody wants to see a proliferation of abortion, and it’s never an easy decision, but the fact is that it must be there among the services provided by family planning clinics, and you can be sure that if the Irish government had to pay for abortions it would also invest in free family planning services and ensure that young people got comprehensive life skills education in this area. In other words, it would behave ethically. Making women travel abroad for costly, traumatic abortions is not ethical. The only reason that the figures have gone down is because it’s now possible for Irish women to buy mifepristone on the Web and thus have their abortions at home. The argument that abortion is never “medically necessary” just doesn’t wash because contraception also isn’t “medically necessary” but it’s there to allow people to regulate reproduction/plan their families and be responsible (e,g, use a condom). As for the assertion that abortion will become permissible up to birth (!), the fact is that if a woman has easy and affordable access to family planning she can have a safe termination within days of becoming pregnant. The current system actually encourages late abortions. The lack of free planning services and access to free/affordable contraception, separation of the sexes in schools and the lack of separation of church and state actually encourages the situations that lead to unwanted pregnancies in the first place.