We, the undersigned, are writing to urge you to support the proposed amendment 30 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. The extension of the 1967 Abortion Act has wider implications beyond Northern Ireland, and would ensure earlier access to abortion for women in the Republic of Ireland.
You may be aware that abortion on the island of Ireland, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is governed by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. We believe that it is now time to end an 1861 Victorian response to the 21st century issue of abortion, and ensure that wider international developments in medicine, science and ethics are reflected in amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act.
We support a guarantee for the full enjoyment of the human rights of women in Northern Ireland in this area of sexual health and reproductive rights. We fully support the policy of the British Medical Association, which in its Annual Representative Meeting in 2003 supports the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
As NGOs and individuals working in Ireland, we have witnessed the financial, emotional and health consequences for women caused by laws that deny access to abortion services on the island of Ireland. Significantly international evidence shows that countries which criminalise abortion, as Ireland does, only pushes women into accessing unsafe and life threatening illegal abortions.
The law in Ireland (both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic) allows for abortion when the life of the woman is in danger. In practice, however, abortion is unavailable in Ireland in almost all circumstances due to ambiguity about when a physician may legally perform a life-saving operation. The law also fails to make any provision for a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, experiencing severe fetal abnormality, or at risk of permanent bodily harm such as blindness, diabetes, kidney or heart disease.
Official figures show that over 7,000 women per year travel to England for abortions from the island of Ireland. This figure is based upon the number of women providing Irish addresses (from the Republic and Northern Ireland) and vastly undercounts the actual number of women travelling, some of whom may give false addresses in England or travel to other countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.
On a daily basis our we witness how a woman's age, her emotional state, and her other life circumstances affect her decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term and her ability to do so. Yet the laws restricting abortion disregard all such factors.
Pregnant women with a fetal abnormality face an added burden. These women often have wanted pregnancies and are extremely distressed. A woman, who is treated in an abortion clinic abroad or by an illegal provider, is unable to access vital genetic analysis of fetal remains to determine implications for future pregnancies. We are aware that some women attempt to bring fetal remains back to Ireland for genetic testing or to bury the foetus in a family gravesite in Ireland. Due to a combination of stigma and a lack of information, these women sometimes smuggle the remains home after an abortion abroad.
A challenge to Ireland's ban on abortion brought by three women who had been forced to travel to England to obtain abortion services necessary to protect their health and well-being is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights and known as ABC v Ireland. Likewise, the ban on abortion in Northern Ireland has been the subject of judicial inquiry. See Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland v. Minister for Health 2004.
We believe that abortion is an intimate aspect of private life, intricately linked with a woman's sexual rights, the right to control her own body, and the liberty and security of her person. These values are unacceptably infringed upon by the forced continuation of pregnancy.
The full body of international law and the authoritative interpretations of this law as provided by international and regional bodies compel the conclusion that, in order for women and girls to exercise and enjoy their human rights fully, a number of conditions related to reproductive and sexual health policy and law must be present.
We would urge you to support Amendment 30 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.
Dr Mary Muldowney
Alliance for Choice, Republic of Ireland
Helen Keys, Spokesperson
Dr Sandra McAvoy
Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group
Dr Mary Favier
Doctors for Choice in Ireland
Alison Begas, Chief Executive,
Dublin Well Woman Centre
Niall Behan, Chief Executive,
Irish Family Planning Association
Proinsias De Rossa MEP, Labour,
Member of European Parliament for Dublin
Senator Ivana Bacik, Independent,
Member of Seanad Eireann,
Reid Professor of Law, Trinity College Dublin
Karen Kiernan, Director,
Catherine Forde BL, Spokesperson,
Safe and Legal in Ireland Abortion Rights Campaign
Rhonda Donaghy, Trade Union Organiser,
Mags O'Brien, Trade Union Tutor,
Keith O'Brien, Welfare Officer,
University College Cork
Linda Kelly, Equality Officer
Union of Students in Ireland
Anthony Muldoon, Welfare Officer,
Union of Students in Ireland
Dr Geraldine Moane
Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology,
University College Dublin
Margaret Martin, Director