Irish Examiner – 29 January 2010
By Evelyn Ring
WOMEN entitled to a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one because of deliberately obscure anti-abortion policies, a leading human rights organisation has claimed.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Government of actively seeking to restrict access to abortion services and information, both within Ireland and for residents seeking care abroad.
In particular, it has criticised the lack of legal and policy guidance on when an abortion might be legally performed within Ireland.
"The Irish Government has failed utterly to ensure that health services are available to those women who are legally entitled to an abortion," claims a report by the independent body.
It says some doctors in Ireland are reluctant even to provide pre-natal screening for severe foetal abnormalities and very few, if any, women, have access to legal abortions at home.
Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said women in need of abortion services should be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation.
"But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatised and written out," Ms Mollmann said at the launch of a 57-paper report, entitled A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland, in Dublin yesterday.
"Irish law on abortion is in and of itself an affront to human rights. But it is made worse by the fact that even those who may qualify for a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one due to deliberately murky policies that carry an implied threat of prosecution."
Ms Mollmann said women should have publicly available information on how to seek abortion services abroad and there should be medical guidelines for the kind of abortions that are currently legal within Ireland.
"Your newspaper (Irish Examiner) just published a survey saying that over 60% of young adults agree that abortion should be legalised. So it is a little bit of a myth that the Irish population believes that abortion should be a criminal offence."
Rosie Toner, crisis pregnancy counsellor with the Irish Family Planning Association, said the report illustrated the reality faced by thousands of Irish women. Since 1980, over 140,000 women have been forced to travel abroad for an abortion, she pointed out.
"Women are put under severe burdens of distress to try and find medical services in other countries to give them a service they believe should be available to them here in Ireland," said Ms Toner.
The IFPA had been advocating for safe and legal abortion in Ireland over the last two decades.
The Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group said the report and three cases taken by Irish women to the European Court of Human rights demonstrate that successive governments had been blind to women’s needs.
"Making abortion illegal does not stop it happening, it simply makes it more stressful and dangerous," said spokesperson Dr Sandra McAvoy.
‘I was very angry. I felt let down, maltreated’
NONE of the 13 women interviewed by Human Rights Watch wanted to be identified, even though all had told friends and family about the abortion and had received support and understanding.
The women interviewed described feelings of isolation and shame, and their fear of public disapproval.
Sarah B talked of the "shame factor" and being "terrified of people judging me". She also spoke of her anger at being made to feel like a criminal by her country.
Aisling J had an abortion abroad after a scan conducted in another European country showed that the foetus she was carrying had spina bifida and hydrocephalus and could not survive.
She recounted several obstacles she experienced accessing diagnostic tests in Ireland during the early stage of her pregnancy .
"I was very angry. I felt let down, maltreated," she said.
Siobhán G was pregnant with twins when she discovered that both had fatal birth defects.
"I was forced to leave home and do everything in secrecy… I was made to feel that I was doing something wrong."
Mary H ended her pregnancy in Britain after antenatal tests showed that the foetus had Edwards syndrome, which leads to severe physical and mental disabilities.
"I was all over the place… Then (after an initial visit to an Irish clinic) I was on my own. I had to contact the place, make my own travel arrangements, hotel arrangements."
Aoife C, who is from a rural part of Ireland, was almost 28 weeks’ pregnant when she finally had an abortion in Britain and blamed a lack of information for having the termination so late in her pregnancy.
"Information wasn’t easily available… it was really hard to make the right connections," she said.
All the women interviewed for the report said costs associated with travelling was their most immediate and urgent concern once they had decided to have an abortion.
Sarah B went to Britain for an abortion when she was a student and part-time waitress. "First and foremost was the money thing, I was so broke, I was up to my eyeballs in debt."