– Release date: 15 February 2002
The Irish Family Planning Association has pledged to fight the forthcoming abortion referendum more vigorously than in previous referenda on the issue.
Launching its campaign for a No Vote today, the IFPA said this referendum was so dangerous and regressive that every effort was required to maximise public opposition to it.
According to the IFPA's Chairperson, Noeleen Hartigan, "as a provider of reproductive healthcare to over 300,000 clients, it would be irresponsible of us not to campaign to safeguard the health and lives of women.
"While it would be preferable if all our resources were being directed into improving services and reducing crisis pregnancies, we have been left with no choice but to invest in a Vote No campaign."
The IFPA revealed that it would be organising a widespread bill-board campaign, as well as leafleting and encouraging client advocacy in the run up to polling day on March 6th.
The slogan for the IFPA's campaign is 'Don't Step Backwards – Vote No'.
Scare Mongering by the Taoiseach during today's launch, the IFPA heavily criticised the peddling of myths and scare mongering by the Attorney General and Taoiseach in particular.
The Association's Chief Executive, Tony O'Brien, said, "the Taoiseach has called for calm and honest debate in this referendum campaign, but he now seems to be neglecting his own advice.
"He is scaring people into voting yes, by suggesting that unless this referendum is passed, Ireland will be faced with a liberal abortion regime.
"This is playing politics with women's lives and we hope that its does not take the suicide of a pregnant girl or woman, who has been denied an abortion, to make Bertie Ahern aware of the errors of his ways.
"Ireland has lived with the X Case ruling for 10 years now. The liberal abortion regime which the Taoiseach is predicating if the referendum is lost, has not happened during that time.
"If Bertie Ahern was being honest, he would tell the people that this referendum is about stepping back to the 1980's and ignoring the plight which was faced by Miss X and Miss C, both of whom were young girls, raped, pregnant and suicidal.
"The Attorney General is also being far from honest. He is attempting to hood- wink the Irish people into believing that, if this referendum is passed, we will see closure on twenty years of referenda on this abortion.
"However, because of the very detailed and complex nature of what we are being asked to vote on, the IFPA predicts that the electorate will be back in the polling booths in less than five years if this referendum is passed.
"In anycase, if the electorate can be ask us to vote twice on the Nice Treaty, it is can be reasonably assumed that, if the Government of the day is not satisfied with this referendum outcome, we will be asked to go to the polls again," said Tony O’Brien.
Legal issues IFPA Board member and Barrister, Catherine Forde, said she was not reassured by a commitment given by the Health Minister last week to ensure that suicidal victims of rape and incest could have their abortions paid for by their health board.
"The point that's been missed here is that if a minor who has been raped, pregnant and suicidal is in care and wants an abortion, the main barrier is not money, but the fact that permission is required from the courts to enable the girl to travel.
"The Supreme Court judgment in the X Case, enabled the 13 year old girl at the centre of the C Case in 1997 to travel for an abortion. Should a future similar case arise, the girl or woman would not be permitted to travel and would be denied an abortion here. In this context, these proposals create the conditions in which there may be a future suicide by reasons of the enforced continuation of pregnancy.
Commenting on how this referendum criminalises women, she said "by approving the prohibition on abortion in our Constitution, the abortion, or its procurement, will be the only criminal offence which cannot be amended by the Oireachtas,apart from treason.
"By giving such Constitutional protection to the prohibition on abortion, the act of self-inducing an abortion is set apart from a brutal act of rape and incest, for instance."
Medical Issues IFPA Board member, Dr Niall O'Leary, who is a practicing General Practitioner, said that the availability of the morning after pill would not be affected in any way if the abortion referendum were rejected.
"As with 95% of Irish doctors, I have been administering emergency contraception since I started my medical practice 21 years ago. Regardless of the outcome on March 6th, the availability of emergency contraception to women will not change.
Indeed, even in the event of the referendum being passed, the 5% of doctors who refuse to give the morning after pill, will be under no obligation to make it available to their patients.
The availability of Levonelle can only be addressed if the drug is issued with a licence, and legislation is not required to enable this to happen.
Dr O'Leary also expressed concern over how the referendum provisions dismiss the opinion of psychiatrists when it comes to treating with pregnant women who are suicidal.
"Everyday psychiatrists have the final say when it comes to admitting patients to psychiatric hospitals. Their valued opinion in everyday cases involving patients with mental illness is what counts when determining if certain patients should be admitted or not.
"However if this referendum is passed, when it comes to suicidal, pregnant women, the opinion of a psychiatrist will not count, even if this is the opinion shared by every psychiatrist in the country.
"This is a serious step backwards in the recognition of mental illness as a real health issue in Irish society," he said.