Oireachtas Committee’s Abortion Report: -Some good ideas but ultimately inadequate

By November 15, 2000News

– Release date: 15 November 2000

Statement by Tony O'Brien, Chief Executive, IFPA

The IFPA welcomes publication of the report of the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution in response to the Green Paper on Abortion. The Association believes that the Committee deserves considerable credit for the way in which it has approached its work and in particular the conduct of the public hearings, in which we participated. The Chairman, Deputy Brian Lenihan and all the members of the Committee deserve thanks and appreciation for their 14 months deliberation on this issue. But did we really have to wait eight years for this?

We will study the Report carefully before responding fully. The following is an initial comment only.

Preventative Measures

The IFPA strongly endorses the Committee's consensus recommendation that a national plan to promote measures that may limit the number of unintended pregnancies should now be put in place immediately.

Essentially this involves increased action and resources in the area of Contraception and Education. This is a desirable end in itself and something for which we have consistently called for over 31 years. We regret that it has taken so long to achieve a consensus on this issue but welcome it nonetheless.
The IFPA, as the leading voluntary agency in the field, is committed to working with the Department of Health and Children to promote sexual health, reproductive choice and the avoidance of unintended pregnancies.

The Committee has suggested a Budget of IR£50,000,000 over a ten year period. We are doubtful if this would be a sufficient level of funding. We agree with the Committee that this plan would require at least ten years to achieve its objectives.
If only we had begun this process in the aftermath of the X case, rather than nine years later, how different things might be now.

We also strongly welcome the Committee's clear recognition of the vital role of emergency contraception (aka the Morning After Pill) as a means of preventing unintended pregnancy and as a vital part of any plan to reduce the level of Irish Abortion. This is a very important statement.

Post Abortion Care

As the leading Irish provider of non-directive pregnancy counselling services we recognise the critical importance of promoting post abortion medical check-ups. One of the consequences of the current position is that the take-up rate for such checks appears to be very low. We will work with the Department of Health and abortion service providers in Britain to reverse this position.

The Constitutional and Legal Questions

The failure of the Committee to reach a consensus on the legal issues is regrettable. In a sense, the very fact that this matter has been left to the Committee on the Constitution demonstrates that our whole approach to the question of Abortion is wrongheaded. As a nation, we have been stampeded into a constitutional cul de sac, and seem resolutely unable to find our way out. As a nation, our attention has been forced time and again onto complex constitutional, legal and medical minutiae. Ultimately, and in terms of daily reality, Abortion is not a constitutional issue. And it is high time we faced that fact.

Limiting the X case Judgement

The discussion about limiting the effect of the Supreme Court ruling in the X case is redundant. Not a single abortion has taken place in Ireland on those grounds. The 6,500 Irish women who will have abortions this year are not doing so because they are suicidal. The report offers no solutions to these women and those who, in the future, will find themselves in similar circumstances.

However the effect of the proposed third way would make it impossible for a future 'Miss C' to access abortion. She was only permitted to travel for the abortion because of the judgement in the X case. As a Ward of Court and as a minor in the care of the State, the Travel amendment was not applicable to her. I do not see how a proposal to restrict the X case Judgement can have any chance of success. Popular public opinion strongly supported the decision of the High Court in the C case. The proposed referendum would ask the people to tie the Judge’s hands in advance for any future similar case.

As a response to the everyday reality of Irish Abortion this Report is at best inadequate and at worst a 'cop out'. It lacks imagination or courage.

Of the options presented only the second has any obvious merit, in that it at least attempts to move us on from the February 1992 position.

Concluding Comment

The focus on preventative and aftercare measures is very a welcome development. It is not however a substitute for providing comfort and assistance to the women who experience crisis pregnancy and abortion. All the preventative measures in the world, like the never ending constitutional referenda, will not make abortion go away. One day we will have to face that fact, let it be sooner rather than later.

Any proposal to hold a further simplistic one line referendum on abortion should be resisted.