The below letter to the Editor was published in the Irish Medical Times on 11th August 2017.
Those who advocate for the retention of the Eighth Amendment erroneously assert that it has deterred women from accessing abortion and deny the harms it has caused. (IMT letters 14th July)
UK Department of Health (DoH) statistics show that 158,130 women have given Irish addresses at UK abortion clinics since 1983, the year of the Eighth Amendment. None of these women was deterred by the Constitution from her decision not to continue a pregnancy that was unintended or had become a crisis. In fact, the DoH statistics show that the annual figure increased steadily each year from 1983, before beginning to fall in 2001. Why? Asked by a member of the Citizens’ Assembly in February about the reason for the decline in abortion rates in developed countries, Dr Gilda Sedgh of the Guttmacher Institute responded with two words: “Contraceptive use." I doubt that any reader of the Irish Medical Times would find that explanation unreasonable.
But while access to contraception means that fewer women need access to abortion services, it does not eliminate the need, and the State’s failure to address this need by providing necessary healthcare services harms women and girls.
Every single international human rights body that has examined Ireland’s abortion laws has raised serious concerns about their impact on women’s rights to health, to dignity, to freedom from ill-treatment and from discrimination. With good reason: the members of United Nations treaty monitoring committees are human rights experts. When they examine Ireland they see a legal framework which criminalises abortion unless there is a risk to a pregnant woman’s life, as distinct from her health. They see a law that gives foetal existence precedence over the right to health of a pregnant woman and mandates harsh criminal sanctions on women and healthcare providers if abortion is provided in any other circumstances. They see that in cases of conflict with foetal life, doctors are prevented from making clinical decisions in the interests of women’s health, and the health outcomes for women are irrelevant to the law.
The expert committees see that the denial of abortion in Ireland forces thousands of women to leave Ireland each year to access legal abortion services in another state. These women and girls, regardless of their age, means, health status, family or personal circumstances, must carry the entire financial, physical and emotional burden of accessing services in another state. These burdens fall most heavily on minors, women with disabilities, women on low incomes, women at risk of intimate partner violence, ethnic minority women, and asylum-seeking women and others who cannot travel freely to another state. These women also disproportionately experience delays in accessing services.
Supporters of the Eighth Amendment believe any woman who is pregnant should continue the pregnancy, regardless of her health and wellbeing, her personal and family situation, her age, the circumstances or the stage of the pregnancy, her personal beliefs, her life-plans or her own wishes. Ireland’s abortion laws are cruel, inhuman, degrading and discriminatory. This is reproductive coercion.
The IFPA presents evidence to UN human rights monitoring bodies because we care about the health and well-being of women and girls who experience unintended and crisis pregnancies. July 27th and 28th sees Ireland’s periodic review by the Committee that monitors states’ implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As a society, we should be ashamed that our reproductive health laws bring the State to the attention of this Committee.
Irish Family Planning Association