Saturday, July 25, 2009

From The Irish Times: Human rights court to hear Irish abortion ban case

by CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent

Wed, Jul 15, 2009

THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear a challenge by three women in Ireland to the Government’s ban on abortion in a full hearing before its grand chamber of 17 judges.

The women claim the restrictive nature of Irish law on abortion jeopardises their health and their wellbeing and violates their human rights. The identities of the three will remain confidential.

The court in Strasbourg, which is separate from the EU, adjudicates on human rights issues among the 47 states of the Council of Europe. Any court decision at this level is binding on the state involved.

The court’s decision to hold a hearing before the grand chamber rather than a smaller chamber of seven judges is regarded by legal experts as a sign of the significance of the issues at stake.

The three women at the centre of the case include a woman at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus develops outside the womb; a pregnant woman who received chemotherapy for cancer; and a woman whose children were placed in care as she was unable to cope.

Their complaints centre on four articles in the European Convention on Human Rights, including protection from “inhuman or degrading treatment” and freedom from discrimination. The case is expected to be heard later this year, although no firm date has been set.

In papers filed with the court and seen by The Irish Times , the Government has indicated it will launch a robust defence of the State’s restrictions on abortion.

It also insists the European Convention on Human Rights does not confer even a limited right to abortion and it would be “inconceivable” that member states would have agreed to this in drafting the convention. The main plank of its defence is that domestic legal remedies have not been exhausted by the women.

The women at the centre of the case – who are supported by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) – say the lack of any effective remedy at home means they have satisfied the requirement to exhaust domestic legal remedies.

In addition, they say that taking a case would have been costly, futile and could have forced them to relinquish their anonymity.

Niall Behan, chief executive of the IFPA, said: “The women are looking forward to have their voices heard in the grand chambers and having their human rights vindicated.”

After several referendums in recent decades and rulings by the higher courts, abortion is illegal but may be performed if there is a substantial risk to the mother’s life, including the threat of suicide. Abortion in the case of foetal abnormalities is not provided for. The case will be watched closely by observers given a ruling by the same court in recent years that resulted in Poland being instructed to guarantee access to legal abortions.

The case has drawn the interest of a large number of groups with divergent views on abortion who have sent in observations to the court on the case.

These groups, along with the three women and the State, will be asked to send in new briefs or observations to the court over the coming weeks.


© 2009 The Irish Times

From The Irish Times: Warning on biased crisis pregnancy 'counselling'


Tue, Jul 21, 2009

ROGUE PREGNANCY counselling agencies who seek to manipulate vulnerable women experiencing a crisis pregnancy are “quite appalling”, Minister for Health Mary Harney has said.

She was commenting on the announcement of a new campaign from the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) highlighting such agencies and giving information to women to avoid them.

Director of the Agency Caroline Spillane said between July 2007 and March 2008 its funded service providers had reported 67 cases where women had been been the victims of such “agencies” purporting to be unbiased but which had an agenda to steer women away from abortion.

These were just the women, she added, who made it to other agencies and who reported their experiences.

“The traits common to these organisations are that they misrepresent their services, they try to delay the appointment, they expose these women to highly upsetting images of late-term abortions or they may give misinformation about health issues. Some have even breached client confidentiality by phoning members of the women’s families.”

She said the CPA did not know how many such rogue agencies were operating.

The campaign was announced at the publication of the CPA’s annual report yesterday which also shows a continued decrease in the number of women travelling to Britain for abortions.

Outdoor advertising sites will be used as part of the campaign featuring a woman being controlled like a puppet, with strings attached to her arms and feet. The caption beside her reads: “Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated. Certain crisis pregnancy counselling information services want to influence your decision.”

It then gives advice on how to access free, non-judgemental support.

A section on the website also provides questions a woman should ask before making an appointment for counselling to ensure its bone fides.

Minister Harney said the Agency had “achieved huge things” since its foundation in 2001 and noted the 31 per cent decrease since then in the number of women travelling to Britain for an abortion, from 6,673 eight years ago to 4,600 last year.

There has also been a 20 per cent decrease in the number of teenage births in the period 2001 to 2007 – from 3,087 in 2001 to 2,464.

Ms Harney, describing these as “an incredible improvement” said “there is no way that would have happened without the assistance of this organisation.”

CPA chairwoman Katherine Bulbulia referring to the forthcoming amalgamation of the Agency into the HSE, urged the Minister to protect its functions, while acknowledging costs had to be cut in the current climate.

“Public sector reform is part of the process, but reform must be progressive. Government must resist the temptation to make decisions purely on a cost basis.

“There is a need to ensure continuity of work and maintain momentum.”

Ms Harney said she intended to ensure “structures do not get in the way of the appropriate thing happening.

“The remit of this agency and its function will transfer and I will endeavour to ensure the very important function will remain in place, notwithstanding the changes.”


© 2009 The Irish Times

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Make Noise For Choice

On 4th June 2009, we posted information about a petition circulating in Europe called Make Noise For Free Choice ( to promote access to safe and legal abortion throughout Europe. On 12th July 2009, the Sunday Times had an article on Make Noise for Free Choice.

The article talked about the campaign and the creator of the petition, Birgitta Ohlsson of the Swedish Liberal party, who described Ireland's abortion laws as 'medieval' and 'terrifying'. The article then went on quote ONLY pro-life campaigners in Ireland on their response to the Make Noise For Free Choice campaign, and failed to elicit a comment from ANY of the active Irish pro-choice organisations and/or activists working to promote access to safe and legal abortions and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services in Ireland.

The failure to contact any of these groups or activists for their comments is simply bad journalism, and only serves to perpetuate the myth created by anti-abortion organisations that the campaign for safe and legal abortion in Ireland is coming from outside of Ireland, instead of being something that the majority of the Irish population think is a right women should have in Ireland (see for instance the results from the 2006 ESRI/RCSI poll on attitudes towards abortion in Ireland).

Please make your voices heard by posting a response to the article online or sending a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Times ( calling for fair and objective journalism on the abortion issue!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From RH Reality Check: Come Together to Prevent My Murder

By Jen Boulanger

Created Jun 30 2009 - 8:00am

In my 15 years as the executive director of the Allentown Women’s Center, a reproductive health care facility located in northeast Pennsylvania that also performs abortions, I have never felt more vulnerable. In the weeks since the murder of Dr. George Tiller, I have witnessed first hand an upswing in aggression and violent rhetoric by protestors; they’ve become more emboldened. After Dr. Tiller’s murder, mainstream pro-life organizations issued statements condemning acts of violence, but more needs to be done by the pro-life movement and by the Obama administration to reign in the rhetoric and identify those prone to violence.

This is a foundational common ground issue. No shared path can be discovered unless all parties embarking on it are truly safe. The pro-life movement has a deep interest in eliminating violent people from within its ranks and violent rhetoric from its messaging. These elements are corrosive and serve to alienate the majority of pro-life Americans who are peaceful and want to work through legal means. The Obama administration has an immense common ground opportunity at this very moment. He needs to take seriously the statements of nonviolence that pro-life groups released and build upon those pledges. Reasonable Americans on either side of this issue are united in their desire to fight this form of domestic terrorism that threatens the lives of healthcare providers and the legitimacy of the pro-life establishment. We all have a stake in this; that’s where the most potent common ground is discovered. Unless the Obama administration makes nonviolence a priority and works with peaceful pro-life groups toward that goal, I fear we will witness more violence and terrorism by those claiming to act on behalf of the pro-life cause.

Like Dr. Tiller, I have been called a baby murderer, and other chilling things including “the bride of Lucifer.” My husband and I have been told, “a family that kills together goes to hell together.” The physician who works at my Center and I get picketed at our homes monthly by a member of the Army of God, an organization that supports the use of violence to stop abortion and glorifies those who commit acts of murder. People calling themselves “Lehigh Valley Pro-Lifers” have targeted my mother – sending her hate mail shaming her and accusing her of raising a bad Catholic. I have been told by someone from this same group that I am going to die soon.

And while the news crews that covered the Tiller murder have now packed up and moved on, aggressive protesting in the weeks since the murder of Dr. Tiller has escalated. My abortion provider colleagues from across the country have noticed this alarming trend. Since Dr. Tiller’s murder, the threats and violent rhetoric have gotten much worse. On the day of Dr. Tiller’s funeral, one of our volunteers was asked, “How do you prefer to die, by knife or by bullet?” A week later, a protester told me, “Abortionists were executed after World War II by the Nuremburg Trials” and posed this rhetorical question, “You know what Von Brunn did at the Holocaust Museum?” This protester’s son, who has picketed the clinic since he was a small child (he is now in his early twenties), has made a point of mentioning ammonium nitrate, which is used in making bombs, to us while protesting on several occasions.

This is not “sidewalk counseling” designed to persuade women from choosing abortion. It is terrorism designed to intimidate, threaten and harass clinic workers. Comments like these made to anyone would be considered threats – but when made outside of abortion clinics, they are also violations of the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) law. The protesters know this and that they are thumbing their noses in the face of federal law is a sign to law enforcement that not enough is being done to protect those who work at abortion clinics.

As we have seen with violent incidents in the past, such as the maiming of a nurse and murder of a security guard in Alabama, the murder of two receptionists in Brookline Massachusetts, and the murder of a clinic escort in Florida, extremists target not only the doctors, but everyone who helps provide women with abortion services including volunteer escorts, security guards, clinic staff, administrators, and their family members. Local law enforcement and the Justice Department must recognize that doctors and clinic staff need protections and that often it’s the staff to whom the aggressive protesting and verbal abuse is most directed. Given the history of murder of and violence against clinic staff, as well as doctors, when clinics are put on high alert and federal marshals are dispatched, the protection they offer should take into account, among other factors, who at the clinic is most targeted by protesters.

The recent rise in hateful rhetoric is not only poisonous but also contagious. Recently, we have seen protesters who were at one time peaceful become more aggressive and angry. Unhinged people, like Scott Roeder, are attracted to the high vitriol –it helps them justify to themselves their violent acts. The majority of pro-life groups maintain that these acts of vigilantism are made by lone assailants and are not condoned by their own members. Yet at our clinic, peaceful protesters demonstrate side by side with the extremists. Pro-life groups and individuals that truly abhor the violence against reproductive health care providers need to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people among them who are masquerading as pro-life sympathizers in order to justify killing people. Those who protested with Scott Roeder knew of his violent tendencies and that he supported violence against abortion providers. More red flags could have been raised about him to local law enforcement had a determined anti-violence effort been underway.

As we have seen in the past several years, just because a pro-life President or Congress is in power it has little to no effect on reducing the number of abortions. In fact, anecdotal evidence (it will be several years until actual data is compiled) indicates we are now witnessing a surge of abortions as a result of the “pro-life” Bush administration’s failed economic policies. Yet the anti-abortion extremists seem to be under the impression that because we have a pro-choice President their values are somehow more threatened and that they have no recourse except by becoming more aggressive. Pro-life political leaders have the power to change this. Taking part in common ground efforts that are solution-oriented is the first step.

I see a great opportunity for both sides of the issue to come together with the Obama administration to take action to prevent future violence. It is time for mainstream pro-life groups to step up and promote reasonable dialogue and stop the hateful rhetoric. At the same time, President Obama must also do more than just say he is outraged by Dr. Tiller’s murder. He can work with his administration to put forth new and improved legislation that addresses the weaknesses of FACE, protects free speech, and provide local law enforcement with the ability to act quickly when protesters break the law which is often the first warning sign that violence might follow. The Obama administration needs to immediately convene pro-life groups, the Justice Department, pro-choice groups, abortion providers, and anti-violence experts to formulate a tangible plan before someone else is murdered.

There are effective solutions that both sides can agree to including safety zones around the entrances of clinics that allow patients and workers to enter and exit buildings and parking lots safely. Pro-life advocates can agree to assist law enforcement in identifying sociopaths like Scott Roeder, who have no qualms breaking laws. Restrictions on home pickets could be put into place that help protect providers who have been targeted outside of their homes. An alert system can be put in place so that authorities can act quickly to apprehend those who break laws designed to protect clinic staff and preempt any further acts. And FACE legislation can and must be improved so that there are clearer guidelines and more strict enforcement.

Dr. Tiller’s murder could have been prevented. My murder can be prevented. President Obama, I need your help.

Published on

From BBC News: Abortion guide to be challenged

Campaigners have won High Court permission to challenge government guidelines on abortion in Northern Ireland.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) was granted leave to seek a judicial review in its bid to have the advice redrafted.

Lawyers for the body claim the guidance issued to health professionals is misleading and legally inaccurate.

The document was published in March after a series of legal battles.

Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland, except in limited circumstances where the mother's life or mental well being are considered at risk.

SPUC is seeking a High Court declaration that the government guidance does not properly set out the law.

Full hearing

During the first stage of its legal battle lawyers for the group claimed the guidance also fails to deal with the rights of the unborn child and provided inadequate advice for conscientious objectors within the medical profession.

The Department of Health's legal representatives rejected allegations it had failed to make clear that abortion was illegal in Northern Ireland apart from in the most exceptional circumstances.

It was also stressed that the document was for health workers rather than the general public.

After weighing up the arguments, Mr Justice Weatherup granted leave to apply for a judicial review.

The case will now advance to a full hearing later this year.

Outside the court, Liam Gibson, SPUC's Northern Ireland Development Officer, said he was pleased to get the opportunity to put forward issues he claimed were not properly considered during the original consultation process.

But Audrey Simpson, director of the Family Planning Association said SPUC had a weak case.

She expressed frustration that a new "vacuum" would continue until the legal challenge is resolved.

"We had planned to produce an information leaflet for women so they know what their rights are, but we can't do that now until we know how the judicial review will go, and whether it will be amended."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/06/30 11:43:18 GMT