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IFPA Launches Campaign for Safe and Legal Abortion in Ireland

By August 8, 2005News

– Release date: 09 August 2005

The Irish Family Planning Association, today (9.08.05), launched a major campaign for the introduction of legal abortion services in Ireland. The ‘Safe and Legal in Ireland’ campaign will comprise a range of activities, including a legal initiative to challenge the status quo on abortion; a political lobbying campaign and sustained programme of national and international advocacy.

Announcing details of the campaign, the IFPA’s Chairperson, Catherine Forde said, “this campaign is of unique significance, as it represents the first major initative aimed at moving forward on abortion in this country. Previous campaigns on abortion have always been lead by anti-choice groups seeking further regressive and unworkable responses to abortion.

“Since the first Constitutional referendum on abortion in 1983, Ireland has changed: more women living in Ireland access abortion services and more women feel angry and frustrated that they have to travel to Britain and others countries to secure these services. The only thing that has not changed is the lack of courage and leadership demonstrated by successive Governments in dealing with abortion in a realistic and rational way.

The IFPA’s ‘Safe and Legal in Ireland’ campaign is all about ending the hypocrisy of exiling women in crisis pregnancy that choose to have an abortion. Last month, UK Ministry for Health statistics showed that 6,217 women who travelled from Ireland had abortions in England in 2004. From the IFPA’s own post abortion medical and counselling services, we know that potentially hundreds more women secured abortion services in countries such as the Netherlands, France and Spain last year. This highlights the hypocrisy of our legal ban on abortion, which is among the most restrictive in the world.

“Since its foundation, the IFPA has always challenged the restrictions that have prevented women and men making choices about the spacing of their children and caring for their own health. When we first opened our doors as a service provider and advocacy organisation in 1969, our great challenge was making contraception available. After decades of dealing with women with crisis pregnancy, we have decided to make our campaign for safe and legal abortions services in Ireland a priority. And we are confident that this campaign will have results.

“The campaign components have been endorsed by the Board of the IFPA in our Strategic Plan, and we are very pleased that Ivana Bacik, will be its main spokesperson,” said Catherine Forde.

In addition to unveiling the campaign, the IFPA also published its comprehensive policy position on abortion. Within the 13-point policy, the IFPA calls for the removal of Article 40.3.3 from the Constitution and says that abortion is a decision that should be made by a woman in consultation with her medical advisor. The IFPA also says that abortion is not an appropriate method of family planning and it should therefore only act as a solution to a crisis rather than as a means of regulating a woman’s fertility.

The Safe and Legal in Ireland Campaign

Detailing the specific elements of the ‘Safe and Legal in Ireland’ campaign, Spokesperson, Ivana Bacik, said, “the campaign components that we are announcing today are – we hope – just the start of what will become a very significant movement for legal abortion in Ireland. Over the coming weeks, months and even years, we intend to mobilise people on this issue and secure political commitments in advance of the next general election about moving forward on abortion.”

European Court: Legal Initiative

As a core activity of the campaign, the IFPA is facilitating a group of three women to challenge the Irish Government’s ban on abortion in the European Court of Human Rights.

Yesterday (8.08.05) a group of women living in Ireland – all of whom have had recent experience of a crisis pregnancy – lodged a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Their complaint centres around four Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. These include Article 8 with regard to the right of privacy in all family, home and personal interests, and entitlement to no public interference from any public authority in exercising this right; Article 3 which protects individuals from ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’; Article 2 which affords protection of the law to safe-guard the life of an individual and Article 14 which affords rights and freedoms without discrimination on any grounds.

“The IFPA has provided these women with the legal research and support to enable them to take this important case to the European Court. It is our assessment that the grounds under which these woman are taking the case are very strong, and we hope that the case will advance quickly through the Court, ultimately making a strong recommendation to the Government to address what, in our view, is a violation of human rights,” said Ms Bacik.

The identity of the three women will remain confidential as it proceeds through the European Court of Human Rights.

Political Lobbying

The IFPA will be seeking a meeting with the leaders of each of the political parties over the coming months to explain the rationale for safe and legal abortion, with a view to securing a commitment to move forward on the issue should they form part of the Government after the next general election.

According to Ivana Bacik, “last month, Minister for State at the Department of Justice, Frank Fahey, appeared before a UN Committee on Discrimination against Women, and stated that this Government has no intention of changing the legal status on abortion. This complacent response will be challenged, as there is a responsibility – at the very least – to provide a legal framework for the Supreme Court ruling in the 1992 X Case.

“In the past, those seeking to further restrict Ireland’s abortion laws have secured meetings at senior Government level, followed by commitments to tighten the law. Public opinion, most recently in the 2002 referendum, has shown that the Irish people do not want to move backwards. We hope, and expect that in our campaign for safe and legal abortion, people like the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other party leaders will respond in a rational way.”

National and International Advocacy

In preparation for the launch of the ‘Safe and Legal in Ireland’ campaign, the IFPA has been working with other pro-choice organisations to build support for our agenda.

“The response to date has been very positive, and we will now be extending this movement of support to include the wider community, including young politically active people who are anxious to see a realistic response to abortion in Ireland,” said Ivana Bacik.

Among some of the international work that is already planned, the IFPA and some Irish women who have had abortions will take part in hearings on abortion in the European Parliament in October.

Over the coming weeks, the IFPA will launch its campaign web-site, which will provide details of how the public can get involved, either through becoming a campaign activist or donating money.

“There are many, especially policy makers and politicians, who will not welcome this campaign for safe and legal abortion, because of the many bitter and divisive rows that have gone before on this issue. However, this campaign is unique and different, as it is the first campaign that has been lead outside of a referendum which looks to move forward on abortion,” concluded Ms Bacik.