Sunday, April 27, 2008

Council of Europe Press Statement

Wednesday, 9th April 2008

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group Welcomes Council of Europe's Call for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in Europe

In advance of the Council of Europe's session on abortion on 16th April 2008, Cork Women's Right to Choose Group welcomes the report issued by the Council of Europe's Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men calling for access to safe and legal abortions in all European countries.

The Report recommends that European states:

1) Decriminalise abortion if they have not already done so;

2) Guarantee women's effective exercise of their right to abortion and lift restrictions which hinder, de jure or de facto, access to safe abortion;

3) Adopt appropriate sexual and reproductive health strategies, including access of women and men to contraception at a reasonable cost and of a suitable nature for them as well as compulsory relationships and sex education for young people.

The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men specifically picks out Ireland, along with Andorra, Malta, and Poland, as the only countries in Europe where abortion is not available on request.

As a result of the X Case in 1992, abortion is legally available in Ireland in cases where there is a substantial threat to the life (as opposed to the health) of the mother, though in reality this has neither been legislated for nor tested. In most cases, doctors do not perform abortions in Ireland even in order to save a woman's life, as a result of sexual violence, or in cases of lethal fetal abnormalities, and those women who are able and can afford to are forced to travel abroad.

The Report highlights that laws banning abortion are discriminatory because they expose women to increased health risks and undermine women's capacity to make responsible decisions about their lives and their bodies. In the case of Ireland, women who for whatever reason cannot travel abroad to obtain an abortion are forced to have a child they may be ill-equipped to care for. According to the Report, "going through with an unwanted pregnancy can take a heavy toll on women's physical and emotional well-being and that of their families." The Report also exposes the hypocrisy that banning access to safe and legal abortion does not prevent it from happening; it only forces it underground, making the decision to obtain an abortion more dangerous and traumatic for women.

"The Government's continued failure to clarify the X case ruling and legislate for access to safe and legal abortion in Ireland is discriminatory against all women, and particularly disadvantaged women," said Sandra McAvoy, spokesperson for Cork Women's Right to Choose Group.

The Report's recommendations are in line with international commitments Ireland has already made in relation to the Cairo Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the Beijing Platform for Action, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), all of which recognize women's rights to bodily integrity and reproductive choice as human rights.

"We urge the Government to follow the recommendations of the Council of Europe and other international organisations and provide access to safe and legal abortion in Ireland by repealing the 8th Amendment to the Constitution (Article 40.3.3) banning abortion in Ireland," Ms. McAvoy said. "In addition, people must have access to proper crisis pregnancy counselling, sex education, and reasonably priced contraception."