Saturday, January 30, 2010

New York Times: Abortion Foe Found Guilty in Doctor’s Killing

January 30, 2010


WICHITA, Kan. — In the end, it took jurors 37 minutes on Friday to convict Scott Roeder, an abortion opponent, of first-degree murder in the death of George R. Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions.

Mr. Roeder, who admitted in court to shooting Dr. Tiller in May and who said he felt it was the only way that he could halt the deaths of babies, stared straight ahead and showed no reaction at the verdict, which carries a sentence of life in prison.

For Wichita, it appeared to be a final chapter in the struggle over abortion that has focused on this city for three decades. Dr. Tiller, 67, who grew up here and had provided abortions here since the 1970s, had been attacked before (he was shot in both arms in 1993) but refused to stop his work and drew patients from all over the country. After his murder, his family closed the abortion clinic, leaving Wichita, so long a magnet for the debate, with no such facility.

But elsewhere around the country, the debate over abortion continued.

Nationally, abortion-rights supporters lauded Mr. Roeder’s conviction, saying it sent a powerful, unambiguous message to those who commit violence against abortion providers. But the trial, they said, also pointed up an urgent need for more law enforcement and further investigation into those who conspire to such violence. The federal Department of Justice has said it is investigating whether others were also involved in the killing of Dr. Tiller.

“They need to take this investigation to the next stage,” said Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who attended the trial. “We don’t have rigorous-enough enforcement.”

The case divided abortion opponents. Leaders of the best-known national groups had denounced Mr. Roeder’s acts. But some others who say they believe the killing of an abortion provider can be justified had portrayed the trial as unfair, and said they were disappointed by the outcome. They also asserted that the result might breed more violence.

“People had said if he were acquitted it would be open season on doctors,” said Michael Bray, who served time in prison for a conspiracy involving abortion clinic bombings in the 1980s and who also attended Mr. Roeder’s trial. “But if you want to see what’s going to stimulate people to do something, you’re inviting more of the same by not giving him a fair trial.”

Serving as the only witness in his own defense, Mr. Roeder, 51, of Kansas City, Mo., took a highly unusual step on Thursday: he admitted to jurors that he had planned for many years to kill Dr. Tiller, that he had gone to the doctor’s church carrying a gun several times until he ultimately succeeded.

On May 31, Mr. Roeder admitted, he walked into the church and shot Dr. Tiller point-blank in the forehead. Mr. Roeder testified that he believed that all abortions amounted to murder and that Dr. Tiller was breaking abortion laws.

Mr. Roeder’s defense team had hoped the judge in the case, Warren Wilbert, would instruct jurors that they could take into account Mr. Roeder’s motive and consider a lesser conviction of voluntary manslaughter if they believed he held, as Kansas law states, “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.”

But the judge ruled that the circumstances did not meet the requirements for such a conviction, and jurors on Friday were essentially given two choices: convict Mr. Roeder of pre-meditated murder or send him home.

Mr. Roeder will be sentenced in March; the conviction carries a life sentence, but prosecutors say they hope to ensure that he is not eligible for parole for 50 years. He was also convicted of aggravated assault for aiming his gun at other church members as he fled. Mr. Roeder’s defense team plans to appeal.

The three-week trial was extremely tense, and security measures extremely tight. In addition, a tiny courtroom left abortion-rights leaders sitting, silently, beside those who say violence against abortion providers can be justified.

Throughout, Dr. Tiller’s widow, Jeanne Tiller, sat in the front row, sometimes leaning against family members, other times looking down, her face in her hands. Family lawyers issued a statement on her behalf, describing the verdict as just.

“At this time, we hope that George can be remembered for his legacy of service to women,” the statement said, “the help he provided for those who needed it and the love and happiness he provided us as a husband, father and grandfather.”

Reflecting the split over this case among some abortion opponents, Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, which has headquarters here, said he was appalled by Mr. Roeder’s admissions, which he deemed “cold, calculated and despicable,” and unsurprised by the verdict. The anti-abortion movement itself, Mr. Newman said, had not been on trial here.

“Pro-life is a vibrant, relevant movement in America,” he said. “Scott Roeder is not.”

But Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue (who is in a dispute with Mr. Newman over the rights to the group’s name), described the trial as a “scam” because, he contended, Mr. Roeder had not been permitted to “really tell his side of the story.”

By not allowing Mr. Roeder to present, for example, descriptions and images of aborted fetuses, Mr. Terry said, jurors could not fully understand why he had killed Dr. Tiller.

Emma Graves Fitzsimmons contributed reporting from Chicago.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Irish Examiner: Human rights group attacks state policy on abortion

By Evelyn Ring

Friday, January 29, 2010

WOMEN entitled to a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one because of deliberately obscure anti-abortion policies, a leading human rights organisation has claimed.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Government of actively seeking to restrict access to abortion services and information, both within Ireland and for residents seeking care abroad.

In particular, it has criticised the lack of legal and policy guidance on when an abortion might be legally performed within Ireland.

"The Irish Government has failed utterly to ensure that health services are available to those women who are legally entitled to an abortion," claims a report by the independent body.

It says some doctors in Ireland are reluctant even to provide pre-natal screening for severe foetal abnormalities and very few, if any, women, have access to legal abortions at home.

Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said women in need of abortion services should be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation.

"But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatised and written out," Ms Mollmann said at the launch of a 57-paper report, entitled A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland, in Dublin yesterday.

"Irish law on abortion is in and of itself an affront to human rights. But it is made worse by the fact that even those who may qualify for a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one due to deliberately murky policies that carry an implied threat of prosecution."

Ms Mollmann said women should have publicly available information on how to seek abortion services abroad and there should be medical guidelines for the kind of abortions that are currently legal within Ireland.

"Your newspaper (Irish Examiner) just published a survey saying that over 60% of young adults agree that abortion should be legalised. So it is a little bit of a myth that the Irish population believes that abortion should be a criminal offence."

Rosie Toner, crisis pregnancy counsellor with the Irish Family Planning Association, said the report illustrated the reality faced by thousands of Irish women. Since 1980, over 140,000 women have been forced to travel abroad for an abortion, she pointed out.

"Women are put under severe burdens of distress to try and find medical services in other countries to give them a service they believe should be available to them here in Ireland," said Ms Toner.

The IFPA had been advocating for safe and legal abortion in Ireland over the last two decades.

The Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group said the report and three cases taken by Irish women to the European Court of Human rights demonstrate that successive governments had been blind to women’s needs.

"Making abortion illegal does not stop it happening, it simply makes it more stressful and dangerous," said spokesperson Dr Sandra McAvoy.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, January 29, 2010


Thursday, January 28, 2010

IFPA Welcomes International Scrutiny of Ireland's Restrictive Abortion Laws in new Human Rights Watch Report

Press Release - 28 January 2010

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has today (28.01.10) welcomed the publication of the Human Rights Watch report A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland.

The IFPA is not surprised that the Irish Government has been criticised by this important international human rights group. As a service provider IFPA has extensive knowledge of the extreme physical, financial and emotional hardship experienced by women who are forced to travel abroad for health care that should be available to them at home. According to the IFPA, the criminalisation of abortion in Ireland violates international human rights standards because it disproportionately harms women's health and well-being. T

he organisation believes that women and girls do not give up their human rights when they become pregnant nor should the State take these human rights away with impunity.

The experiences of women outlined in the Human Rights Watch report are illustrative of the reality faced by thousands of women in Ireland. Since 1980, at least 138,000 women have been forced to travel abroad to access safe and legal abortion services.

The IFPA believes that the criminalisation of abortion has little impact on abortion rates, it merely adds to the burden and stress experienced by women experiencing crisis pregnancies.

Ireland’s restrictive laws on abortion are out of step with those of its European neighbours. Forty four out of 47 European countries provide for abortion to protect women’s health.

This is the second time in the last two months that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws have been scrutinised by international human rights bodies. In December the European Court of Human Rights heard a challenge to Ireland’s abortion laws.

According to the IFPA, Ireland has a strong reputation for promoting human rights values around the world, yet it is unwilling to recognise the human rights of women in its own country. Ireland’s restrictions on abortion put it firmly outside of human rights norms.

The IFPA has called on the Government to take responsibility and stop exiling women experiencing crisis pregnancies.


Human Rights Watch: Ireland: Abortion Limits Violate Human Rights

Policies Designed to Sabotage Access Both at Home and Abroad
January 28, 2010

(Dublin, January 28, 2010) - The Irish government actively seeks to restrict access to abortion services and information both within Ireland and for its residents seeking care abroad, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 57-page report, "A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland," details how women struggle to overcome the financial, logistical, physical, and emotional burdens imposed by restrictive laws and policies that force them to seek care abroad, without support from the state. Every year thousands of women and girls travel from Ireland to other European countries for abortions.

"Women in need of abortion services should, as a matter of international law and - frankly -human decency, be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation," said Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatized, and written out."

In Ireland, abortion is legally restricted in almost all circumstances, with potential penalties of penal servitude for life for both patients and service providers, except where the pregnant woman's life is in danger, but there is little legal and policy guidance on when, specifically, an abortion might be legally performed within Ireland. As a result, some doctors are reluctant even to provide pre-natal screening for severe fetal abnormalities, and very few - if any - women have access to legal abortions at home. The government has indicated that it has no current plans to clarify the possible reach of the criminal penalties. The government does not keep figures on legal and illegal abortions carried out in Ireland, or on the number of women traveling abroad for services.

"Irish law on abortion is in and of itself an affront to human rights," Mollmann said. "But it is made worse by the fact that even those who may qualify for a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one due to deliberately murky policies that carry an implied threat of prosecution."

But women also face more active sabotaging of their health decisions by the state. Throughout the last two decades, the Irish government has used injunctions to prevent individuals from traveling abroad for abortion. As recently as 2007, a 17-year-old girl in the custody of the Health Services Executive had to go to court to get permission to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion.

Organizations that provide information on how to access abortion services abroad face restrictions on when and how this information can legally be conveyed, under threat of penalties. And the government does nothing to prevent "rogue" agencies that represent themselves as providers of information about abortion from circulating blatantly misleading and false information.

"Women should not have to make decisions about their health and lives based on lies," Mollmann said. "Yet the law leaves ‘rogue' agencies unregulated and threatens honest service providers with fines or worse if they help a distressed woman make a phone call to a clinic abroad."

© Copyright 2010, Human Rights Watch


Guardian: Summary of the Irish abortion legislation report

by Alexandra Topping
Thursday 28 January 2010

What Human Rights Watch discovered in its investigations of abortion laws and pro-life groups in Ireland

The Human Rights Watch report A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland accuses the Irish government of limiting information about how to access abortion services abroad.

According to the report, "rogue" agencies, representing themselves as providers of information about abortion, have told women that, should they choose to have an abortion, their relationships are likely to fail, that they may become infertile or need a hysterectomy, or a colostomy bag after the procedure.

Sinead Ahern from Choice Ireland, a pro-choice group, went undercover to visit an agency. Having told the woman that she was five weeks pregnant, at which point her foetus would have been the size of a grain of rice, she was shown a plastic fetus the size of a pen.

"[The woman] told me that's what my baby looked like … the plastic foetus was sucking its thumb and had eyelashes."

She described being asked to sign a consent form. "It said I understand that I most certainly will need a hysterectomy ... that I might end up with the need for a colostomy bag ... [it said] most women end up with infections, infertile."

Another woman who visited an agency with her boyfriend described being separated from him. "They said I'd probably never have kids [if I had an abortion] that we'd probably split up … They said your family is going to reject you."

A women who contacted a service called British Alternatives in the Golden Pages [the Irish equivalent of the Yellow Pages] was asked from the start of her consultation about adoption.

"I was devastated I was in this situation and I was afraid of getting a doctor who was unsympathetic [...] Nothing tipped me off about whether they were pro-life. I was in a state and just looking for something friendly. British Alternatives sounded very friendly."

LINK © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Download the Human Rights Watch Report on Abortion in Ireland

The Human Rights Watch report 'A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland' launched today (28th January 2010) in Dublin
can be downloaded at:

Guardian: Ireland accused of 'grossly misleading' women over abortion risks

by Alexandra Topping

Thursday 28 January 2010 13.27 GMT

Human rights group says women seeking information about terminations are told they will often cause irreparable damage

The Irish government came under increasing pressure to overhaul its ban on abortion today, after it was accused of exposing women to "grossly misleading" information about the procedure.

According to Human Rights Watch, Irish legislation – under which women who have an abortion in Ireland face a life sentence in prison if prosecuted – is putting women's health at risk and exposing them to deliberate misinformation from rogue pro-life agencies.

Women have been told they may become infertile, require a hysterectomy or possibly need a colostomy bag after an abortion by agencies that target women seeking advice about unwanted pregnancies, says the report.

It comes as Ireland waits for a landmark ruling from the European court of human rights on the case of three women who accuse the government of putting their health at risk by forcing them to travel abroad for terminations.

"Women in need of abortion services should, as a matter of international law and human decency, be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation," said Marianne Mollmann, the women's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatised, and written out."

According to the report, the government limits information about legal abortion services and has failed to crack down on false claims from "rogue" agencies masquerading as unwanted pregnancy support groups.

One 29-year-old woman was shown a video of ultrasound images and pictures of mothers by an agency called "British Alternatives".

"[The woman] put a model of a small foetus in my hand ... told me to name my baby, asked me how I would feel if I killed the baby," she said.

Another woman described being harassed over the phone by a pro-life agency for weeks: "They would ask 'Is your baby still alive? Have you killed it yet?'."

The Irish government recently launched a campaign urging women who feel that have been given false information about abortions to inform the authorities, but this assumes that women have access to the correct information, said Mollmann.

"This is abdicating their responsibility and putting it on the shoulders of already distressed women. The government needs to take decisive action to shut down and prosecute these rogue agencies," she said.

It is currently illegal to have an abortion in Ireland under any circumstances, unless the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, although women have the legal right to terminate their pregnancy abroad.

According to UK Department of Health figures, 4,600 women who had abortions in the UK in 2008 gave Irish addresses, but the real number of Irish women having terminations is likely to be significantly higher, said Mollmann.

"This law does not stop women getting abortions but it does prevent them getting one in a timely manner, which increases the risk involved," she said.

The difficult economic situation in Ireland is making it increasingly difficult for some women to meet the cost of an abortion, estimated by HRW at between €800 and €1000 (£690 and £862) for the procedure and travel costs, said Niall Behan, CEO of the Irish Family Planning Association.

"We are increasingly seeing women who can't travel being forced to look at other options that are not safe. There is evidence to suggest that women are having illegal abortions, not on a huge scale, but on any scale is unacceptable," he said.

The Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland has previously accused the IFPA of creating unnecessary fears about women's health and argues that Ireland without abortion is the safest country in the world in which to be pregnant.

In the case currently before the European court , three women, known as A, B and C, are arguing their right to privacy and family life have been violated.

One of the women who had a termination became pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer and feared for her health and that of her child. Another is a former alcoholic and drug addict whose four children were in care. She feared her pregnancy would prevent her getting her children back, and borrowed cash from a money lender to finance the termination. A judgment is expected in the autumn.


Cork Women's Right to Choose Group welcomes publication of Human Rights Watch Report on Abortion in Ireland

Press Release
Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group

Issued: Thursday 28th January, 2010 at 11.00am

Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group today welcomed the publication of the Human Rights Watch report “A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland.”

Spokeswoman Dr Sandra McAvoy said:

“The report does not just set out in legal language how Ireland is in breach of international human rights law. It demonstrates, in their own words, how real women’s health and well-being suffer because our government is blind to their needs. We are not talking small numbers. At least 140,000 Irish women have had abortions, have had the stress of a crisis pregnancy, from whatever cause, and then the stress of raising money and travelling abroad.

“The report lays out what an abortion costs, close to €1,000 after 15 weeks. On top of that there is travel cost, accommodation and childcare, if you have children. A waitress is quoted about how she was ‘so broke, I was up to my eyeballs in debt’ another woman talks about the stress of raising money, ‘there was panic over the money – there was a lot of panic.’ It talks about women going to loan sharks, with the threat of violence if they can’t pay back, and about women forced to continue pregnancies because they cannot afford to travel. The report shows that the situation is even more difficult for Traveller women and for asylum seekers whose allowance is €19.10 a week.

“Women talk about being made to feel they are doing something criminal because the penalty for having an abortion here is up to life imprisonment. One talks about ‘having to lie to everyone … the lies and the shame make you feel like you’re doing something really wrong, like a drug dealer.’ Abortion is available as a health service in other European countries and women in Ireland face the same health and pregnancy problems as their European sisters. Having an abortion has to be decriminalised.

“Other women talk about the lies they were told about abortion in rogue agencies, the activities of which have been known for at least a decade but on which the government has resisted taking action, though counselling services that provide genuine information are strictly regulated.

“The message is clear. This report and the three cases taken by Irish women to the European Court of Human Rights demonstrate that successive governments have been blind to real women’s needs. For thirty years they have been too much under the influence of anti-abortion lobbying groups, they deserve to have their failure to protect women’s health and well-being women exposed to international scrutiny. Making abortion illegal does not stop it happening, it simply makes it more stressful and dangerous. We call on the government to take the recommendations in the report seriously, to redress the balance, and begin to protect real, live women’s interests.”
Release ends.

Irish Examiner: Rights body calls for legalised abortion

By Catherine Shanahan

Thursday, January 28, 2010

ONE of the world’s leading human rights organisations has called on the Government to decriminalise abortion.

In a report by Human Rights Watch, the Government is accused of violating a long list of human rights in its treatment of abortion and related issues including "health, information, privacy, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, life, equal protection under the law, and nondiscrimination".

Entitled A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland, the report says the actions of the Government in the face of the "need for abortion" have been "erratic and divisive" and it calls for a change to its restrictive abortion laws to meet its obligations under international law.

Last week, the results of an Irish Examiner/Red C poll found two-thirds of 18- 34-year-olds believe abortion should be legalised in Ireland.

The document urges the Government to take "immediate steps toward decriminalising all abortion for women living in Ireland", and it criticises the Government for doing "little to mitigate the effects of a condemnatory public discourse on abortion".

The report, which will be launched in Dublin today, was partially leaked on, an online news service set up by Canadian pro-life organisation, Campaign Life Coalition.

The website accuses Human Rights Watch of promoting the "right" to abortion and claims it "advises the elimination of other civil rights" because "it urges that doctors be legally obliged to refer their patients to an abortionist, that publicly funded health institutions be required to have an abortionist on staff, and even that conscientious objection be limited "to individual medical staff, excluding institutions and administrative staff’." also reports that Human Rights Watch bases its plea for a change in the Irish abortion laws on grounds that "authoritative interpretations of international law recognise that obtaining a safe and legal abortion is crucial to women’s effective enjoyment and exercise of their human rights".

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life (as distinct from the health) of the mother.

This includes a risk arising from a threat of suicide.

Women can travel abroad to get an abortion and it is lawful to provide information about abortions abroad, subject to strict conditions. It is not legal to encourage or advocate an abortion in individual cases.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Thursday, January 28, 2010


Friday, January 22, 2010

RHRealityCheck: What Does Choice Mean to You?

For Immediate Release
Friday, January 22, 2009

The RH Reality Check Community Commemorates the 37th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

Thirty-seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, ruled that a woman may choose to terminate a pregnancy under specific conditions set forth by the court. In many countries, abortion is still criminalized, clandestine, unsafe, and potentially deadly. Even in the United States, where abortion is still nominally legal, the freedom to choose abortion is seriously limited by lack of access to providers, cost and other restrictions.

Access to safe abortion is a necessary but not sufficient condition for realizing reproductive health and rights. A woman's right to bodily autonomy also depends on access to sexuality education, freedom from violence, the right to choices in childbirth, the ability to afford preventive and curative care for sexual and reproductive health needs, and other conditions.

In honor of Roe v. Wade Day, RH Reality Check asked established and emerging leaders in the field to answer the question: "What Does Choice Mean to You?"

Essays in the series come from Gloria Feldt, former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America who talks about her perspectives on choice from a career spanning over 30 years and now as a grandmother; Bianca Velez, a young professional with the Pro-Choice Public Education Project (PEP), who talks about choice as a meaningless concept in the absence of reproductive justice, and Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, founder of PEP, who talks about the first time she realized the importance of choice in her personal life; Bianca Laureano, who recalls the death of Rosie Jimenez, the first woman to die under the Hyde Amendment; Eileen Ehudin Beard, of the American College of Nurse-Midwives tells the story of Joy Szabo, whose local hospital threatened her with a lawsuit if she didn't consent to have a cesarean section simply because she wanted the freedom to choose a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean); and Steff Hedenkamp who talks about choice in childbirth, among others.

Silvia Henriquez, Executive Director for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, shares the story of her father, a physician from El Salvador who saw women with botched abortions come through the emergency rooms in his home country, only to see many of them die. Henriquez writes, "The term "choice" was not used to describe [what] led women to the emergency room in El Salvador 37 years ago. And in 2010…"choice" does not encompass the reproductive health decisions that low-income Latinas are making every day."

What does choice mean to women around the world in 2010? These leaders and others answer today on RH Reality Check.

For more information: Jodi Jacobson,, +1 (301) 257-7897

Irish Times: Cost of CervicalCheck service higher than in other countries


Tue, Jan 19, 2010

THE COST of the provision of the CervicalCheck service in Ireland is high by international comparisons, a new report published by the Health Information and Quality authority (Hiqa) has found.

The report on the Evaluation of the Use of Resources in the National Population-based Cancer Screening Programme and Associated Services , which was published last Friday, said that the current professional fee paid to GPs for performing the smear test and providing the appropriate follow-up and communication with the patient is €51.69, following an 8 per cent reduction introduced last year.

The Hiqa report said that this cost “appeared high”. It said that in the Netherlands, for example, the cost was €10.95 (based on 2005 figures).

“The overall cost to the Irish health service of delivering the CervicalCheck programme, based on the current information, is estimated to be €43 million annually to screen approximately 300,000 women.

“In the UK, the annual cost to the National Health Service of providing such a service to 3.8 million women is estimated to be €175.95 million (£155 million). The average cost per woman screened in the UK is therefore €45.95 (£41) compared to the average cost per woman screened in Ireland of €144,” it stated.

The report found that differences in costs between countries may reflect differences in service configuration and reimbursement.

“However, the degree of variation in costs between countries is unlikely to be explained by these differences alone, suggesting that the costs of CervicalCheck are high”, it stated.

The report said that fees in Ireland in respect of smear tests presented an opportunity for cost efficiencies in the overall screening service. “A significant withdrawal from the programme by any contractor due to a fee reduction could however limit the choice of smeartaking locations”, it stated.

The report said that there were clear benefits associated with the provision of cervical smear tests in the primary care setting. These included:

* The holistic relationship established between the woman and her GP/practice nurse, which is beneficial for other aspects of her healthcare;
* The ready availability of the full medical history and case records for the woman if previously seen within that primary care practice;
* Continuity of care including the follow-up of abnormalities;
* Support of the GP for the practice nurse, and immediate access to the GP for a second opinion if required.

© 2010 The Irish Times


Irish Examiner: Survey: 60% in favour of legal abortion

By Catherine Shanahan and Orla Barry

Thursday, January 21, 2010

THREE-in-five 18-35 year olds believe abortion should be legalised, according to a sex survey which found one-in-four women has experienced an unplanned pregnancy.

The national poll also found almost 10% of 18-34 year olds has been involved in a relationship where an abortion took place.

The survey carried out by Red C on behalf of the Irish Examiner found three-in-four women believe the morning-after pill should be available over-the-counter (OTC). Curiously, less than one in seven men said they had been in a relationship that resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. But Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, research and policy manager with the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme, said not all men may know their partner is pregnant.

According to the Irish Family Planning Agency (IFPA), the cost of
accessing the morning-after pill has been an increasing cause of
complaint, particularly in the last 12 months.

CEO Niall Behan said they had also seen a fall in the numbers seeking long-term contraceptive methods because of prohibitive costs. The morning-after pill is inexpensive but a GP prescription is required.

Dr Mel Bates, spokesperson for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), does not believe that free GP visits for the morning-after pill would work. "The woman will come in for the pill, but we may deal with many other issues. How would you decide who to charge and who not to charge?" he said.

Kerry-based GP Dr Eamonn Shanahan said he used the opportunity to "talk to her about why she found herself in this predicament and what her plans are for her sexual health in the future".

Family planning clinics, the Wellwoman Centre and the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme are all in disagreement with doctors over fears about abuse of emergency contraception if it was available OTC.

Dr O’Keeffe said a number of studies had concluded that the pill does not impact on a woman’s primary use of contraception.

The recession may also be impacting on the numbers becoming pregnant. Women in their late 20s and 30s attending Dublin’s Wellwoman Centre on discovery that they are pregnant are less distressed than during the healthy economic times. The clinic believes women see the recession as a good time to have a baby.

"I noticed the change about a year and a half ago" said Dr Shirley McQuade, the centre’s medical director.

"Women in long-term relationships with mid-range jobs were saying this might not be the worst time to be pregnant. Most are working shorter weeks and they don’t see themselves in line for a bonus anytime soon."


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Irish Examiner: 75% of young adults had unprotected sex but most go untested for STIs

By Catherine Shanahan and Orla Barry

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

THREE in four young adults have had unprotected sex – but less than two in five have ever been tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

An analysis of sexual behaviour of adults aged 18 to 34 – carried out by Red C on behalf of the Irish Examiner – also found men are more casual in their attitude to unprotected sex and more likely to have one-night stands.

On average, men admitted to six one-night stands, double that of women. The more casual of both sexes admitted to 11 one-night stands or more; however two thirds lived to regret it, particularly women.

Overall, a third of the 500 adults surveyed said they had sex within the first three dates.

Niall Behan, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) blamed the casual attitude to safe sex on the failure by people to have "the conversation".

"The quality of the conversation being had, both in Irish households, and in wider society regarding our sexual behaviour, needs to vastly improve," he said.

Unsurprisingly, the poll also found two in five felt the quality of sex and relationship education they had received at school was poor.

The findings, described as ‘alarming’ by the Dublin Aids Alliance, more than a quarter of males surveyed said they had had 11 or more sexual partners, one in five women said they had 11 or more sexual partners.

Men were also more likely to say they had sex within the first three dates (46%) compared to 21% of women.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Friday, January 15, 2010

Cork Independent: Pill Stoppers

by Deirdre O'Shaughnessy

14 January 2010

Since the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, women have been encouraged to take control of their own fertility cycles and sexual health. With contraception legalised inIreland as late as 1979 – by prescription only – we have been slower than other nations to adapt to the reality of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.

STIs are on the rise here, and the issue of unwanted pregnancy remains sensitive, with thousands of women still travelling to the UK each year for abortions. NGOs like the Irish Family Planning Association are to the forefront of offering advice on sexual health, particularly following the abolition of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency as a stand-alone body in 2007.

While many women planning to become sexually active consider the Pill as the obvious choice of contraceptive, the Pill does not protect against STIs and, increasingly, is being replaced by alternatives.

Health factors that may put women off the Pill include high cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as painful periods, while lifestyle factors as varied as smoking and shift work mean that the routine of popping a Pill at the same time each day does not suit every woman.

*Mary, a 25-year-old scientist from North Cork, says she gave up the Pill "in order to be assured of not getting pregnant. "I am in a long-term relationship and was tired of having to remember taking it daily. I was also tired of worrying about being pregnant if I had a stomach upset or a split condom." She has had the contraceptive implant for a number of months now. " I feel overall that it has been a good move as I do not need to replace the implant for another three years," she says.

Meanwhile, *Ellen, a student from Cork City, "gave up on the pill years ago". She uses Evra, a transdermal patch.

"Hardly anyone seems to know about this form of contraceptive but it's much handier, you have three patches per month, changing just once per week and having a free week when your period is due," she explains.

"You don't need to take it orally or every day, which is great for scatter brains like me, or even for travelling or staying overnight somewhere, it allows you to be more spontaneous in your planning. They don't fall off in the shower or bath and are easy to conceal, I usually put it on my butt cheek, that way even if I was wearing a bikini you wouldn't see it. I also only go on contraception when I am in a relationship, and give my body a break from the hormones in between."

*Joanne, a teacher living in the city, stopped using the Pill after five years when her periods became debilitating. "I always had bad periods, losing a day of work every time, and realized that I could fix that by changing my contraceptive. After visiting a gynaecologist I had the Mirena coil inserted. It is brilliant – I don't need to remember to take anything, being sick doesn't affect it, and best of all, my period is down to two days of minor spotting."

Interestingly, *Sarah, an information officer, uses a modern natural method called the 'symptom-thermal method'. It involves taking your basal (waking) temperature daily and noting other fertility indicators such as cervical mucus and position of the cervix. "The modern technique is as effective as any pill if used correctly, has no side effects and has the added advantage of giving you a much better understanding of your own body. Another bonus for me is that both partners need to cooperate and take responsibility for their fertility," she says. It might sound complicated, but there is even an iPhone app dedicated to helping women with the method, and it is more commonly used in mainland Europe.

While none of these methods protect against STIs – only a barrier method such as condoms or Femidoms will do that – they all provide just as effective protection against unwanted pregnancy as the Pill does.
So why don't we know about them?

According to Dr Caitriona Henchion, Medical Director of the Irish Family Planning Association, many Irish women have "at least some" knowledge of contraception, which comes from friends, GPs, and maternity hospitals. "However," she says, "this knowledge can be very patchy and often inaccurate reflecting a friend's experience rather than scientific evidence.

"Knowledge in the area of sexual health generally is much poorer particularly in relation to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and gynaecological issues suggesting that these subjects are still taboo with less knowledge sharing. "Many women also look for information on line, which also is very variable. Generally, sites which have personal accounts can be misleading and cause unnecessary alarm. A good site is"

She says the combined oral contraceptive Pill is still a very popular contraceptive choice in Ireland. This pill contains both oestrogen and progestogen. However, there has been a move, as illustrated above, towards 'LARCs'; Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives.

These are:
Depoprovera, contraceptive injection, lasts 12 weeks, contains progestogen only, very effective;

Implanon subdermal contraceptive implant, progestogen only, very effective, lasts three years;

Mirena Intrauterine system (IUS), progestogen only, very effective, lasts five years;

Copper intrauterine device (IUCD), hormone free, lasts three to ten years depending on device, very effective.

According to Dr Henchion, "Many women prefer these methods as they offer high efficacy and eliminate the need to remember daily pill taking. Also as they are progestogen only or hormone free, they are suitable for older women, smokers and some women who cannot take COCs." They do have drawbacks; they may interfere with period and may not suit everyone.

As well as this, new brands of Pill are coming on the market all the time. One such pill is Yaz, which eliminates the break between packs, usually the cause of the user forgetting to take the next pill.

Choice of method depends on medical and family history, past history of problems with contraceptive use and personal choice.

"Women should ask for written information on any method of interest to them before deciding," Dr Henchion advises.


Irish Times: Cervical Cancer Vaccine Proceeds


Fri, Jan 15, 2010

Up to 30,000 girls in first year at secondary school are to be offered the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer by this summer.

In 2008, the Government said it was not in a position to introduce the vaccine on cost grounds. However, Minister for Health Mary Harney said this afternoon that following talks with pharmaceutical companies the price for the vaccine has been "quashed".

She said originally the cost of introducing the HPV vaccine scheme was estimated at €16 million but the new price was €3 million.

"The vaccine will be offered free of charge this year for approximately 30,000 girls who are now in first year of secondary school," Ms Harney said. "This is the same group of girls who would have received the vaccine under the previous plan for 2009."

The minister also announced plans to establish a national colorectal screening service.

She said that detailed preparations would commence immediately and screening would be introduced from 2012.

Research published last year by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) found that the vaccination scheme was the most cost-effective strategy option in the Irish healthcare setting regarding the prevention of HPV types 16 and 18, which account for 70 per cent of all cervical cancers.

Evidence from the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA) concerning the vaccination’s effectiveness shows that a nationwide free school-based programme is vital to achieve coverage of more than 85 per cent of the target population.

Fine Gael this afternoon welcomed the decision to introduce the cervical cancer vaccine programme and colorectal cancer screening

“It is not often that I have cause to commend the health minister but I am happy to do so without reservation on her announcement today. A wrong has been righted and lives will be saved as a result of this initiative,” said health spokesman Dr James Reilly.

“It was always my view that this vital health measure could be introduced affordably through negotiation with the pharmaceutical companies and I am glad to see that this has now come to pass."

Senator Phil Prendergast of the Labour Party praised the savings secured by the Minister.

“She should be applauded for squeezing a better deal from these companies, but the question now arises, that if she was able to play hardball with these multi-national companies in December 2009, why was she not able to do so in October 2008?”

Liz Hoctor, president of the Irish Pharmacy Union, said these were "very positive developments for patients and will lead to the early detection and treatment of colorectal cancer and reduce the risk of cervical cancer among women".

© 2010


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Irish Times: Up to 683 may have had lawful abortions in 2008

by CARL O'BRIEN Chief Reporter

Wed, Jan 06, 2010

UP TO 683 women developed complications during pregnancy in 2008 which may have required a lawful abortion, according to Government estimates.

However, authorities do not have any precise figures to show how many lawful terminations of pregnancies took place in Ireland. The details are contained in State documents lodged with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) last month as part of its defence to a challenge to Ireland’s abortion laws.

In this case – known as A, B and C versus Ireland – three women are challenging the State’s abortion laws on the basis that they were forced to travel abroad to terminate a pregnancy which threatened their health or wellbeing.

The case was heard last month and a ruling is expected towards the end of the year.

After a request from the ECHR for figures on the number of lawful abortions which take place in Ireland, the State said it was not possible to provide these details.

However, it said the Department of Health had undertaken a recent analysis of a number of medical conditions that might require the termination of a pregnancy.

It says the number of these cases – 683 in 2008, 628 in 2007 and 543 in 2006 – as well as Ireland’s low rate of maternal death challenge the assertion made by the women’s lawyers that abortion is not available in life-threatening situations.

Data from the State’s acute hospitals show there were 683 discharges with a diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy in 2008. Such pregnancies – where the foetus develops outside the uterus – can be life-threatening as there is a risk of rupture and haemorrhage.

However, the figures do not differentiate between procedures to terminate an ectopic pregnancy, procedures following a spontaneous miscarriage as a result of an ectopic pregnancy, or “procedures to treat a ruptured ectopic pregnancy”.

As a result, the State says it is not possible to state exactly how many of the procedures were to terminate an ectopic pregnancy.

It emphasises, however, that Ireland has a particularly low level of maternal death which is significantly below the EU average.

This, the State argues, challenges the “unsubstantiated” argument made by legal representatives for the three women that abortion is largely unavailable in Ireland even in life-threatening situations.

It adds: “Such statements fail to take account of the evidence of medical practitioners that in life-threatening situations they ‘will intervene always’.”

Submissions on behalf of the women state that there remains considerable ambiguity over guidelines available to medical professionals over the precise circumstances when it is legal to terminate a pregnancy.

Much of this doubt is down to the Government’s repeated failure to legislate for abortion in the circumstances of the X case, where the life of the mother is at risk.

They also state that abortion was not an option for the three women despite threats to their health and wellbeing.

One of the cases – “Ms B” – involved a woman who became pregnant despite taking the morning-after pill the day after intercourse.

She says she was advised by two different doctors that she ran a significant risk of an ectopic pregnancy, but that terminating her pregnancy in Ireland was not an option.

Another of the women – “Ms C” – was in remission from cancer and became unintentionally pregnant. She was unable to find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued to term and, as a result, felt compelled to travel abroad for an abortion.

© 2010 The Irish Times