Friday, July 12, 2013

Cork Women's Right to Choose Group on legislation

Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group (CWRCG) begins its campaign to Repeal of the Eighth Amendment today.

Pro-Choice organisations supported attempts to legislate on the X Case because of the symbolic importance of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

As amendment after amendment was rejected, it became clear that the legislation would be very restrictive and represented no advance in women’s rights. Indeed, the section dealing with suicidal women, in particular, seems designed to ensure those who can afford it can travel to England while those too poor or sick to travel risk involuntary admission to a mental hospital.

In particular CWRCG would point to the penalties that can be imposed on any woman having an abortion outside the framework of the new Act:

CWRCG spokesperson Sandra McAvoy explained:

“We know that hundreds, if not thousands, of Irish women are now using the ‘abortion pills’ to self-abort every year. A punitive fine and/or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, as provided for by the new law, will only make these women much less likely to seek medical assistance if they suffer complications. It does not take much imagination to understand that a young girl, afraid to tell anyone she is pregnant may access pills through the internet and be terrified to seek help if she bleeds profusely.

By continuing the criminalisation of women self-aborting in Ireland (while guaranteeing the right to travel for an abortion) far from resulting in the “Protection of Life” this new Act will actually endanger the lives of the increasing number of women who take this pill in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.’ 

Thousands of women every year will continue to make the difficult decision to seek an abortion. Bizarrely, the same legislation that threatens them with prison for having abortions in Ireland protects their rights to travel and to obtain information on having abortions abroad. CWRCG, like the rest of the Pro-Choice movement in Ireland, will continue to offer what support we can to women going through this process. Alongside that we will continue to fight to bring about real change in Ireland that will see the end to the current dark-ages approach to women’s rights. The only way to do that is to repeal the 8th Amendment.

Abortion Rights Campaign on legislation

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) welcomes the Irish government’s initiative in moving the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, while noting that the Bill is over 21 years overdue. Despite a mandate from the European Court of Human Rights, women in Ireland have been forced to wait unnecessarily while legislators drag their feet, ignoring the ABC case decision and the results of two referendum. At last, the pro-choice movement, buoyed by the support from the people of Ireland, could not be ignored.

Despite the move to legislate, ARC asserts that the bill is not fit for purpose, nor does it comply with the ruling that any legal framework for abortion services must include accessibility. Failure to comply with the European Court of Human Rights judgement violates women’s rights. Politicians, who otherwise promote the importance of mental health issues, have absurdly created a traumatising process of assessment for suicidal pregnant women. The steps involved in procuring legal termination to save a woman’s health in this Bill do not constitute accessibility. ARC therefore welcomes the principled stance taken by a number of pro-choice TDs in voting No to the legislation.

This is legislation we can’t live with. Provision must be made to allow terminations for fatal foetal abnormalities. Women and their families, suffering the grief of knowing their much-wanted pregnancies are incompatible with life, should be able to avail of medical care in their own country.

ARC are seriously concerned about the potential outcomes from the criminalising of women and those who assist them. Women who self-administer the abortion pill, dissuaded from seeking necessary medical follow-up lest she be prosecuted, will be denied their basic right to health care. Because of the criminal penalties outlined in the Bill, a doctor may once again refuse to provide a life saving abortion because of potential legal sanctions against them. This Bill lacks the clarity to earn its name.

We now need to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution which equates the right to life of a woman to an embryo or foetus, regardless of the woman’s state of health, regardless of all the other factors which may make it necessary for a woman to seek an abortion. Consistent opinion polls have shown that access to abortion is supported by the majority of the Irish people. It is only a matter of time before free, safe and legal abortion will be available in Ireland.

Galway Pro-Choice on legislation

21 years since the X Case Ruling, the Irish Government has finally introduced legislation to provide for life-saving terminations. However, instead of protecting women, it has made the route to their constitutional right to be so arduous that it effectively encourages them to continue to travel abroad even when legally entitled to a termination in this country.

For the first time in Irish law, this Act defines ‘unborn human life’ which was given an equal right to life to that of the woman, as a fertilised ovum from the moment of implantation. Consequently this bill does not offer the right to choose a termination to women in Ireland who are pregnant with a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality. It makes no provision for abortion in cases of rape or incest, during an inevitable miscarriage while there is still a foetalheartbeat, nor indeed does it serve the needs of women whose health is at risk if a pregnancy is continued.

Orlaith Reidy of Galway Pro-Choice stated:

“Forcing women who are suicidal to face panels of between 3 to 7 medical professionals is such an ordeal in itself that women entitled to a legal abortion here will continue to travel abroad, rendering the legislation ineffective. There is also no provision to ensure those against terminations in all circumstances cannot sit on these decision making panels raising the possibility of a woman not being granted a termination regardless of her case including if there is a genuine risk to her life.”

Savita Halappanavar died in Galway University Hospital after being denied a termination of an inevitable miscarriage. The inquest into her death found that had she been granted it when she made the request, she would most likely still be alive today. T.D’s, including five from Galway voted against this legislation as they believe it is too broad and will equate to ‘abortion on demand’. Yet this legislation is so incredibly narrow it would not have saved Savita’s life.

Dette Mc Loughlin of Galway Pro-Choice said:

“Under the bill ‘illegal’ abortion continues to be a criminal offense, carrying a 14 year prison sentence for the woman, and also for a doctor that performs such a termination, putting undue pressure on medics. This will affect only the most vulnerable women; mostly the thousands who order abortion pills online and take them without medical supervision. This will have potentially devastating consequences as women will be afraid to seek the medical care they require.”

Galway Pro-Choice concludes that we now must move towards repealing the 8th amendment (Article 40.3.3 of the constitution) to deliver what women in Ireland need and deserve, and the majority of people in Ireland support. We, along with other groups in Ireland, are calling for a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment and will be launching our campaign with a public meeting at the end of the month.

Doctors for Choice on legislation

Doctors for Choice welcomes the end of 21 year filibuster however Criminalisation and Chill factor for Doctors remains in Bill.

“The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill is expected to pass later today following an adjournment at 5am. Whilst women and doctors have been waiting over 21 years for legislation on the The X Case judgement, this Bill does little to help women or doctors.

This Bill would most likely not have saved Savita Halappanavar. This Bill will not provide women with choice in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality or a pregnancy resulting from a criminal act- despite the overwhelming majority of the population supporting choice in these limited circumstances. In addition, an obstetrician will certify the mental health risk of women, though they are not trained in this area, and an inquisition-style panel of up to 7 medical practitioners will certify whether a woman can access an abortion.

Critically, the criminalisation of doctors and women with a 14-year prison sentence, for what is a standard healthcare procedure anywhere else in the world, will heighten the ‘chill factor’ in Ireland.

This passing of this Bill is but a pyrrhic victory. It is doubtful if the legislation will meet the ‘accessible and effective’ test of the A, B and C V’s Ireland case at the European Court of Human Rights. The Bill must be improved in the Seanad. We must also campaign for a repeal of the 8th Amendment, which has had such a toxic effect on women’s health.

We are committed to campaigning to make this Bill a better Bill for our patients and to repealing the 8th amendment’.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Pro-Choice TDs to vote against abortion bill

Statement – Abortion Bill – 10 July 2013 - immediate release

Pro-choice TDs say they have been forced to oppose abortion Bill because it criminalizes women and is unnecessarily restrictive

Bill will not prevent another death like Savita Halappanavar
Restrictions will cause doctors to delay terminations – putting women at risk

Pro-choice TDs this evening declared their intention to vote against the Fine Gael – Labour abortion Bill.

Clare Daly said:
“In the absence of a referendum to repeal Art 40.3.3 of the Constitution – for which we call – we were willing to support legislation in line with the X Case Ruling of 1992. This Bill however, will put more obstacles in the way of access to life-saving abortions than are required by the Constitution. This legislation is happening in the wake of the sad death of Savita Halappanavar. Yet the Fine Gael – Labour Bill, by defining and giving legal protection to 'unborn human life' from the moment of implantation until delivery, will not prevent similar deaths. It will make terminations illegal during an inevitable miscarriage while there is still a foetal heartbeat. If a woman gets an infection in such circumstances, doctors will have to delay a termination until her life is at risk. This was what happened to Savita Halappanavar – and the same could happen again under this Bill.”

Richard BoydBarrett said:
“Defining the 'unborn' in this way – for the first time in Irish law and unique in Europe – also excludes fatal foetal abnormality as grounds for abortion. This will force women whose pregnancies will inevitably end in tragedy to go full term or travel overseas for terminations. Yet none of this is required by the X Ruling or the Constitution. It is a pandering to those who oppose abortion on any grounds – and who are prepared to see women die rather than allow life-saving terminations. It is particularly galling that Labour are promoting this as a Bill that will protect women's lives, when it will do nothing of the kind. It is doubly ironic that they are supporting this reactionary Bill having opposed the Daly Bill on grounds that it was not sufficiently radical.”

Joan Collins said:
“Abortion will remain a criminal offense under this Bill, with the threat of a 14 year sentence for women and their doctors – including women who use abortion pills. Combined with the new requirement on doctors and hospitals to justify their decisions for terminating a pregnancy, this will put pressure on doctors to delay terminations until there can be no dispute that a woman's life is at risk – by which time it may be too late.”

Mick Wallace said:
“For women who are so desperate that they would consider suicide rather than continue an unwanted pregnancy, the Bill will compel them to an examination and assessment by at least three practitioners and possibly six. This includes an obstetrician – who has no training in assessment of suicide risk. The government's own Expert Group Report said a maximum of two doctors was enough. Yet Fine Gael and Labour are putting obstacles in the way of despairing women, forcing overseas those who are able to travel, in order to placate the anti-abortionists in their midst and the anti-abortion minority in Irish society.”

Luke Flanagan said:
“The government says the Bill brings clarity for women and doctors. But that 'clarity' spells out the a woman's life must be at risk before a doctor can intervene to terminate a pregnancy even where the demise of the foetus is inevitable. The perverse requirement in 40.3.3 that a doctor must allow a medical condition that is not in itself life-threatening – such as inevitable miscarriage – become potentially lethal before they can perform a termination, is unnecessarily retained in this Bill.”

Joe Higgins said:
“The Bill makes no provision for abortion to protect a woman's health, or for cases of rape and incest, or where a woman regards it as being in her best interest to end a pregnancy. We will be calling for the repeal of this Act, and for the repeal of Art 40.3.3 of the Constitution to provide for the needs of women in Ireland for abortion services to be available close to their homes.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

ARC proposed amendments to Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill

Proposed Amendments in respect of the General Scheme of the
Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill 2013
July 2013
Submission summary
The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) has conducted extensive analysis of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 and has concluded that without substantial amendment, it is not fit for purpose.
This legislation does not establish safe and accessible abortion in Ireland as mandated by the X Case ruling.
In this paper, ARC suggests a range of amendments to this problematic legislation. Unless significant changes are made, ARC cannot stand behind the so-called ‘Protection of Life During Pregnancy’ Bill.
The Bill is flawed in its criminalisation of abortion seekers and healthcare professionals under Section 22. Other serious issues include the remaining lack of clarity, vague terms and provisions with respect to “conscientious objection,” and its non-medically supported definition of the term “unborn.”
The proposed legislation currently allows for a jail sentence of up to fourteen years for the estimated thousands of women in Ireland who self-administer the abortion pill each year, during the early weeks of pregnancy. These women and the friends, partners, and families who assist them will be subject to penalties for accessing a procedure that the Irish people and government acknowledged as necessary in the 1992 referendum which guaranteed the freedom to travel.
The UN and Council of Europe have warned that criminalisation creates a far more dangerous situation for these women – not only those attempting self-abortion but those who access legal abortion abroad and suffer complications on return to Ireland (as demonstrated during the A B and C case). They are less likely to seek urgent medical assistance as they fear punitive fines or prison time. This is legislation we can’t live with.
We wish to draw attention to the criticism of the European Court of Human Rights of the inclusion of harsh criminal sanctions in its judgement in the A, B and C v Ireland case. It concluded that criminalisation created significant ‘chilling factor’ for both women and their doctors, dissuading healthcare professionals from suggesting a termination when the termination is medically necessary. When Doctors are forced to hesitate and check the law before providing treatment to a patient, it is clear that the law protects neither the patient nor the healthcare providers they interact with. The so-called Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill does not make Ireland a safer place for pregnant women. If anything, this Bill makes it worse.
Not only are the women and families who need access to abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities not included under this Bill – the definition of the unborn given specifically ensures that they can’t and won’t have access to the healthcare they need in Ireland. This is a terrible injustice to the women and families who are a part of the Termination For Medical Reasons (TFMR) group and those many thousands of others who have suffered the indignity of travel to access a necessary abortion. This legislation would most likely not have clarified procedure enough to save Savita Halappanavar’s life and those future women facing similar emergency medical situations. What are the people of Ireland and all over the world to think and feel, knowing that even after the passing of this law, she and others could still be left to die in the Ireland of 2013?
Unless the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is amended to remove the criminalisation and provisions are made to provide real access to abortion in Ireland, we are all no better off than before. This is legislation we simply can’t live with.
Section 2. (1) – Interpretation
ARC believes that the proposed definition of “unborn” (“unborn” as “human life means following implantation until such time as it has completely proceeded in a living state from the body of the woman”) is unnecessarily restrictive and will have the effect of forcing women to carry to full term pregnancies which are non-viable. In the D v Ireland case in the European Court of Human Rights, the State’s own counsel stated that there was a tenable argument that the right to life of the foetus under Article 40.3.3 is not applicable where a foetus had no prospect of surviving to birth and thus would not be considered “unborn” for the purposes of Article 40.3.3. The definition proposed in the current Bill explicitly rules out the prospect of lawful terminations taking place within Ireland under those circumstances, which will force women in those circumstances to continue to pay for costly private treatments in UK hospitals. A failure to provide lawful terminations in those circumstances may give rise to liability under international human rights law; it may qualify as cruel, inhuman 2and degrading treatment and also violate international standards prohibiting violence against women and violate the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights. An alternative definition should be proposed. “Unborn” should be defined to mean a foetus which is capable of independent life.
Recommended amendment:
In page 7, to delete lines 10 to 12 and substitute the following;
unborn”, in relation to a human life, is a reference to such a life during the period of time commencing after implantation in the womb of a woman and ending on the complete emergence of the life from the body of the woman, save where this life will not survive outside of the womb.
Section 3 – Appropriate institutions for the purposes of Act
The Bill fails to ensure that women who find themselves with life-threatening risks in pregnancy will be guaranteed treatment in a speedy timeframe. The lack of emphasis on immediacy of access to treatment results in women still not having the legal certainty of when they may access an abortion. There is nothing within the Bill to ensure that a medical practitioner must act with urgency in either performing the treatment or referring her to a practitioner who will if they have a conscientious objection to performing an abortion.
Minors who are in the care of the state are in a de facto more vulnerable position than adult women, and there is no emphasis on the urgency of their treatment.
Recommended Amendment:
In page 8, after line 5, to insert the following;
-All appropriate institutions shall ensure that the necessary personnel are available for the provision of treatment to women under the provisions of this Act. -Medical practitioners shall act with appropriate urgency in determining whether a woman is entitled to medical treatment under this Act, or if transferring care of a patient due to a conscientious objection.
Sections 7 and 9 – Risk of loss of life from physical illness; Risk of loss of life
from suicide
It is the view of the Abortion Rights Campaign that in order that there is clarity given to medical practitioners as to when they may perform an abortion and to women as to when they may have an abortion, it is essential that the full X criteria as set out in the Supreme Court judgment is reflected in the legislation.
The judgment stipulated that an abortion was lawful if a woman had a “real and substantial” risk to her life, but also that this risk need not be imminent or immediate. It is essential that pregnant women are not left in a position where they are compelled to wait until the risk to their life is immediate or imminent.
Recommended amendment:
In page 9, line 3, after the word ‘loss’ to insert the following words; which need not be imminent or immediate
Section 9 – Risk of Loss of Life from Suicide
The provisions of Section 9 differentiate between risks to physical and mental health and furthermore place obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion on the grounds she is suicidal that makes the legislation practically unworkable.
The X Case judgment is very clear that a woman who has a real and substantial risk to her life is entitled to an abortion where this risk is as a result of being suicidal.
Where the risk is as a result of physical illness, two doctors may make the decision but where there is a risk of suicide, three doctors must make the decision.
Psychiatrists routinely make diagnoses of suicidal intent and there is no requirement for a second psychiatrist when a pregnancy is not involved. ARC further questions the wisdom in requiring an obstetrician in making a diagnosis of suicidal intent.
Recommended Amendment:
The number of doctors assessing whether a woman qualifies for an abortion under this legislation should be the same for risk of life from physical illness. The same number of doctors should be reflected in the appeals process.
Section 22 Destruction of unborn human life
The European Court of Human Rights have clearly stated that the risk of a criminal penalty for a doctor who performs an abortion constitutes a “chilling factor” for medical practitioners. Section 22 reinforces these chilling factors. Further to this, it is also clear that criminalising women who perform abortions on themselves using medication does not reduce the number of women having abortions in this way.
Recommended Amendment:
Section 22: Section Opposed.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Abortion Rights Campaign call for repeal of 8th amendment

Protect women and their families – Repeal the 8th amendment

The Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) is gravely disappointed by the decision of the Health Committee to reject the amendment which would allow abortions to be offered to women suffering inevitable miscarriages and those diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities.

While ARC objects to the definition of a new and not scientifically recognised category of “unborn,” it calls on the committee to make clear distinctions between viable and non-viable pregnancies.

This decision is completely at odds with the argument the Irish government put forward in the D versus Ireland European Court of Human Rights case of 2005, when they said that it would be a possibility for Irish women to seek abortions in Ireland in cases where the foetus has no hope of survival. It now seems as though that is not the case and that these women in heartbreaking situations are being denied access to the healthcare they need in this country. Furthermore under this legislation in its current format, Savita Halappanavar would almost certainly still have been denied the abortion she requested in an Irish hospital.

83% of the Irish people support access to abortion in these situations for all women living in Ireland, not just those with the means and the necessary papers to travel. The vast majority of us recognise this situation is horribly cruel and want to see it changed. ARC expects to see the wishes of this majority democratically recognised with a referendum to remove the eighth amendment so these women and families can be respected and cared for here in Ireland.

In a country that only lifted the marriage bar in the 70s, legalised contraception in the 80s, and closed the doors of the last Magdalene Laundry in the 90s, ARC does welcome the fact that the Bill has made it to committee stage. We recognise that this is the result of individuals and legislators standing up to the combined weight of a threatening anti-choice campaign, a blinkered Catholic Church, and undisclosed groups who have influenced the conversation with a steady stream of financing.


Action on X call for the decriminalisation of abortion in ireland

Remove criminal sanctions from abortion bill.

As TDs debate the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill, Irish women – supported by 22 women’s organisations from across the European Union, including the National Women’s Council of Ireland – today presented a call to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health for the decriminalisation of abortion in Ireland.

Sinead Kennedy of Action on X said:

“The governments Bill would replace one law which makes abortion a criminal offence for another that does the same – with a 14-year sentence or a fine for women or their doctors. This is unacceptable and must be removed from the Bill.
The criminal sanctions in the Bill will retain the ‘chilling effect’ on doctors and women that was highlighted by the European Court of Human Rights in the ABC Ruling. This chilling effect is reinforced by the onerous reporting requirements on doctors and the powers to suspend a hospital if the Minister thinks it is stepping outside the rules.
Combined with the continued lack of clarity on when doctors can terminate a pregnancy to remove a risk to the life of a woman or girl, the threat of criminal conviction will make doctors more likely to delay a necessary termination and increase the risks to women and girls.”

Ailbhe Smyth of Action on X said:

“Women who buy abortion pills, and anybody helping them, will also be criminalised by this Bill. This will not stop women procuring the pills but it will make them less likely to seek the aftercare they may need. In any countries where abortion is criminalised, the outcome is not fewer abortions but higher rates of injury to women.
The hypocrisy of the government is shown by the threat of a criminal conviction for abortion in Section 22 of the Bill, but the explicit permission for women to go abroad for abortions in Section 17. It’s all right as long as it’s done abroad, out of sight, at financial and emotional cost to women. Abortion will continue to exist in Ireland, but will be forced overseas and continue to be stigmatised through being criminalised by this Bill.
Along with women’s organisations from across Europe, we call on the government to remove the criminal sanctions on abortion contained in the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.”

Protest at the Dáil at 6 pm next Wednesday 10th.