Abortion rights in Ireland remain very restricted

Labour Party

The Republic of Ireland last week introduced new legislation on abortion in the wake of the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar.  The bill allow for some limited legal abortions but not in cases concerning rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities. It has drawn a considerable amount of criticism.

An international pro-choice group has even gone as far as to say that the new legislation is offensive and misogynistic when it comes to dealing with women seeking terminations because those concerned are suicidal.

Under the proposed legislation, three consultants reviewing the case of a woman with suicidal thoughts while pregnant must all agree that a termination should proceed. There is provision for an appeal by the woman to three further consultants if the first trio does not approve the abortion. The appeal panel must also be unanimous in approval for a termination to be granted under law.

But Johanna Westeson, regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights criticised that part of the bill, saying: “Imposing different standards for assessing threats to life for mental health reasons and threats to life for physical ailments runs contradictory to international medical standards and human rights norms. To suggest that women would fake suicidal tendencies to access abortion is not only deeply offensive and misogynistic, but also in stark violation of women’s human right to be treated with dignity.

The more barriers Ireland creates for women seeking legal abortion, the more likely women in crisis situations will opt to travel abroad than subject themselves to this humiliating process that the bill sets forth. This means that Ireland will continue to be in violation of its human rights obligation to make legal abortion accessible in practice.

Last Wednesday the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, insisted at a government press briefing that the laws on abortion would not be fundamentally altered if the bill passes the Irish parliament.

Kenny said: “The law on abortion in Ireland is not being changed. Our country will continue to be one of the safest places in the world for childbirth.

“And the regulation and the clarity that will now become evident through the protection of maternal life bill will continue within the law, to assert the restrictions on abortion that have applied in Ireland and will apply in the future.”

The Irish premier added that he was determined to reform the law on abortion without dividing the country. There are concerns within the main coalition party, Fine Gael, that any changes to the law risk splitting the party.

A number of Fine Gael backbenchers, particularly those from more conservative, rural constituencies have expressed disquiet about abortion law reform. Fine Gael has come under sustained pressure from anti-abortion groups who have targeted the party reminding many of them that they pledged to be “pro-life” and defend the rights of unborn children before the 2011 general election.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round -Up

Labour Party

This week the news emerged that Savita Halappanavar has died in Ireland after contracting septicaemia and E coli after being denied an abortion on an unviable foetus.

Savita, who was 17 weeks pregnant, died of septicaemia a week after coming to the hospital with back pain on 21 October at University hospital in Galway.  It later emerged that she was miscarrying.

After the 31-year-old dentist was told that she was miscarrying, her husband reportedly said that she had asked for a medical termination a number of times over a three day period, during which she was in severe pain.  But he said these requests were denied because a foetal heartbeat was still present and they were told at one point: “This is a Catholic country.”

Medical staff removed the dead foetus days later after the heartbeat stopped but Savita died of septicaemia on 28 October.

This is a deeply upsetting case and has understandably brought the abortion debate in Ireland in to sharp relief.  Savita’s husband Paveen has said that he will now campaign to get the abortion laws changed in Ireland “because it shouldn’t happen to anyone else”.  Alongside this on the streets of Dublin there was palpable anger over the death. More than 10,000 people marched from the city’s Garden of Remembrance to the Irish parliament chanting “never again”, while a leftwing Dáil deputy Claire Daly said the Indian woman died due to “political cowardice” among Ireland’s establishment.

When the marchers reached Merrion Square at the back of the Irish parliament a minute silence was observed in memory of Savita.

In their interview, Savita’s parents said: “We want the government of India to put pressure on Ireland to change the law so that this cannot happen in the future.”

In Dublin thought, the demonstrators encountered some hostility from a small group of anti-abortion activists in O’Connell Street. One nun beside held up a placard opposing abortion. It read: “Must millions of innocent unborn infants be sacrificed to satan for the death of one woman?”

I hope that this will wake Ireland up and make them confront their confused, hypocritical and dangerous attitude towards abortion.  As things stand, 3,000 women a year leave Ireland, mainly to the U.K, to get abortions.  This was not an option for Savita and her death was as tragic as it was completely avoidable.  My colleague, Irish MEP Paul Murphy, has organised an open letter to the Irish Prime Minister asking them to reconsider Ireland’s position on abortion.