Sunday, December 6, 2009

Cork Women's Right to Choose Supports Legal Challenge to Abortion Ban

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group issues statement of support for the women whose legal challenge to Ireland's abortion ban will be heard in Strasbourg on Wednesday (9th December)

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group welcomes this week’s European Court of Human Rights challenge to Ireland’s abortion ban. On Wednesday seventeen judges will hear the cases of three women, identified only as A,B and C, all of whom were forced to go abroad to terminate their pregnancies. They will argue that restrictive Irish laws jeopardised their health and well-being.

The issues involved include access to abortion when there is a risk of an ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition where the foetus develops outside the womb; access to a termination when treatment for cancer is required; and the private decision not to continue a pregnancy under certain circumstances.

Spokeswoman Dr. Sandra McAvoy said:

“These courageous women deserve our support and our politicians deserve to have their failure to deal with this issue exposed to international scrutiny. In almost two decades since the X case ruling, successive governments have failed either to legislate or provide guidelines on when an abortion may be performed even to save a woman’s life. On the contrary, they have tried not only to roll back that judgement but also to ensure that women whose pregnancy threatens their health will be unable to have terminations. This will ultimately be recognized for what is: an abuse of women and a denial of their human right to life and health.”

A,B and C will argue that Ireland's ban on abortion has breached their human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. As a signatory to the Convention, the Irish Government is obliged to take measures to implement whatever decisions are made by the Court.

Spokeswoman Dr. Jennifer Dewan explained:

“The recent case of a Polish woman, Alicja Tysiac, whose sight was seriously damaged in pregnancy, resulted in Poland being instructed to guarantee access to legal abortions. The Irish state has argued that the women involved in Wednesday’s cases had not exhausted their legal options at home, implying that they could have gone to court like the teenager, Miss D, had to two years ago. No way should women have to expose the most intimate details of their pregnancies and lives in court or have to rely on judges to make decisions about their lives and health.”

Abortion is illegal in Ireland under the Victorian 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, though the 1983 amendment to the Constitution provides an equal right to life for both the "unborn" and the pregnant woman. In the 1991 X case it was found that a woman was entitled to have an abortion in Ireland where there was a "real and substantial" risk to her life, including the risk of suicide.
In all other cases abortion is criminalized, though polls show increasing public desire for change. A 2004 Crisis Pregnancy agency study found that 90% of 18-45 year olds support abortion in certain circumstances, with 51% stating that women should always have to right to choose an abortion. A 2007 Irish Times Behaviour and Attitudes Poll found that 54% of women believe the Government should act to permit abortion.

In conclusion, Dr. Sandra McAvoy said:

“The failure of the state to act with women’s rights and interests at heart has left the applicants in this week’s Strasbourg cases little option but to take the international route to achieve justice for themselves. Hopefully the outcome will be the protection of the lives and health of women resident in Ireland in the future. It isn’t acceptable any more to turn a blind eye and hope Britain will deal with this issue for us. We have tolerated a two tier system where women with money could travel and pay the €1,000 or so cost if they had health or other problems. As lawyer Catherine Forde put it, they are forced to scurry abroad like criminals. Over decades this has cost women dearly in stress and brought a range of health risks, for example, from late abortion when it has taken time to get the funds together It is time to say enough - and change our law… ”

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group calls on the public and elected officials to support this historic legal challenge and demonstrate to the Irish Government that we will not tolerate the continued violation of women's health and human rights in Ireland.