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IFPA Response to the Labour Party Policy on Abortion

By May 15, 2003News

– Release date: 16 May 2003

The Irish Family Planning Association has said that the Wrynn Report, which lays out the Labour Party’s policy position on abortion, is an important political milestone in moving forward on the issue.

According to the IFPA, the fact that the contributors to the report recognise that ‘there should be a wider set of circumstances in which abortion would be available than is currently possible, or would be possible under the X case judgement’ is welcome. This reflects a moderate view which, the IFPA believes, represents the middle ground of Irish public opinion.

However, the Labour Party policy does not comprehensively deal with the abortion issue. It would be necessary for article 40.3.3 of the Constitution to be repealed in its entirety to enable the provision of abortion services in Ireland which fully reflect all of the needs and circumstances of Irish women who make the decision to terminate their pregnancy.

Even if the legislation, along the lines of what is being proposed by the Labour Party was implemented, Irish women would still travel to Britain to access abortion services.

In reacting to the three specific areas for which the Labour Party proposes to legislate, the IFPA made the following comments:

A risk to the life of the woman, including the risk of suicide

The commitment to bring forward legislation which would provide for legal abortion in Ireland where the life of a women was at risk, including the risk of suicide, is the very minimum required to give effect to the constitutional right to life of a pregnant woman, and is therefore welcome.

In the Human Life in Pregnancy Bill, 2001, which was the subject of a constitutional referendum in 2002, the Government sought to restrict the risk to the life of a woman to physical conditions only, thereby attempting to rollback on the 'X Case' judgement.

With the rejection of the 2002 Abortion Referendum, it appears that there is public support for such legislation and the Labour Party proposal is in keeping with this.

Foetal abnormality which is such that the foetus will never be born alive

The current situation whereby women who experience severe foetal anomaly do not have access to termination services in Ireland is unacceptable.

The provision of legislation to enable terminations to be carried out in circumstances where the foetal anomaly is such that it is incompatible with life is important. Not only would it provide women in this situation with the choice to have a termination in Ireland, it would also ensure that the medical profession could have access to the full medical records of such women. This legislative provision would enable them to provide a continuum of care, make an assessment about the anomaly and advise the patient on future pregnancies.

However, in drafting its legislation, the Labour Party must take into account that there are a variety of conditions that may give rise to a foetal anomaly. With each condition, circumstances may vary (eg. the survival period of the foetus). The forthcoming legislation should ensure that all conditions associated with severe foetal anomaly, resulting in incompatibility with life, are taken into account.

A risk of significant injury to the physical health of the mother

It is disappointing that the Labour Party proposes to bring forward legislation to deal only with a risk of significant injury to the physical health of the woman.

The IFPA does not believe that there are reasonable grounds for isolating the physical health from the overall health of a woman.

The Constitution of the World Health Organisation states, in its opening paragraphs, that 'health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.'

It would follow therefore, that the Labour Party’s decision to isolate physical health is contrary to this definition of health.

Additional Commentary

In examining the Wrynn Report, the IFPA has noted the absence of any provisions to provide for access to termination services in Ireland for women who have become pregnant as a result of sexual abuse and who may not wish to continue with the pregnancy.

While it is unclear if legislation could be brought forward in the absence of a constitutional referendum to provide for termination services for women in such circumstances, the Report itself fails to focus on the difficulties facing women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest and do not wish to continue with the pregnancy.

However, despite its shortfalls, the Report does recognise the important role which comprehensive sex education and family planning programmes play in reducing crisis pregnancy in Ireland. It has been proven that in those countries, even where abortion services are legal, the instances of crisis pregnancy is significantly determined by the quality and prevalence of comprehensive education and family planning programmes.

Call on other political parties to address the abortion issue

The apparent consensus within the Labour Party in embracing the Wrynn Report and the subsequent low-level media focus and public reaction on the policy move, is indicative that there is an acceptance that, as a society, we must move forward on the issue of abortion.

The Labour Party must be commended for taking a lead in recognising this.
The IFPA is now calling on all political parties to take steps to define their policy on the issue of abortion. There is an onus on all elected representatives to deal with abortion in a realistic way. Political abdication has dominated for too long.