The first step in the Government’s plans to draft abortion legislation will be taken next week when an Oireachtas committee hears evidence from interested legal and medical personnel, as well as religious representatives and groups advocating anti-abortion and pro-choice positions.
The health committee will sit over three days and hear from more than 40 witnesses in meetings in the chamber of Seanad Éireann which is currently in Christmas recess.
It will hear the views of experts and campaign groups on the decision taken by the Government before Christmas to legislate for the restricted introduction of abortion in Ireland, based on the finding of the Supreme Court in the X case in 1992.
Read full article by Harry McGee here
The Cabinet will announce today that a combination of legislation and regulations will be required to comply with the Supreme Court decision on abortion in the X case.
The decision to follow this route – the fourth option from the expert group on abortion – will result in a legislative framework that will adhere to the key 1992 ruling, a senior source confirmed yesterday.
This is expected to allow the fear of suicide as a ground for abortion but may not provide for rape or sexual abuse, neither of which formed part of the X-case ruling. On foot of the decision, the Government is also expected to repeal provisions in the Offences against the State Act 1861, which criminalises abortion.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and a Minister of State yesterday all but confirmed the Government would follow the legislative route, rather than proposing guidelines, an option favoured by anti-abortion campaign groups. Minister for Health James Reilly will present a memorandum to this morning’s Cabinet meeting, with a decision expected in the afternoon.
A Government backbencher has appealed to fellow male TDs to listen very carefully to their female relatives in the debate on abortion.
Labour Dublin South East TD Kevin Humphreys made the call as he said “we’re here talking today about a women’s issue with very few women in this House. And I think it’s time we allowed women to make decisions about their own health.”
Mr Humphreys said his views on the issue were influenced during the 1983 referendum when he was asked to give a number of women in his housing estate a lift to the polling station. Their husbands wouldn’t drive them to the polling station “because they weren’t happy with the way their wives were voting. That has always had a big effect on me since then”.
Appealing to his male colleagues, he called on them to “look and listen very carefully to your wives, your daughters, your sisters, because the legislation and regulation we put through here will deeply affect them and the next generation”.
Mr Humphreys was speaking during the ongoing Dáil debate on the report of the expert group on the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the A, B and C versus Ireland case. He said it was a case again of “men articulating a position on women and their health I find it very difficult to stomach”.
Full article by MARIE O'HALLORAN here
SECOND OPINION: At last women who give birth in Irish hospitals may have at least one of their human rights respected and vindicated. The Report of the Expert group on the Judgment in A, B and C v Ireland says that legislation to regulate access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland is “constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound”.
The State must “provide effective and accessible procedures to establish a woman’s right to an abortion as well as access to such treatment”.
Maternal mortality rates are often quoted by anti-abortion campaigners to show that new legislation is not needed because Ireland’s maternity services are among the best in the world. These rates are meaningless when used to support an anti-abortion stance.
A 2012 analysis of maternal mortality in European perinatal health surveillance systems, including Ireland, shows that current data are insufficient for comparison between countries, because the tiny numbers and statistical variability from year to year are difficult to interpret.
Read full article by JACKY JONES here
THE ABORTION BILL put forward by Clare Daly was defeated by a remarkable 101 votes to 27 last week, despite the blustering showboating of many TDs following the death of Savita Halappanavar.
We need legislation to allow Irish doctors to make confident decisions on the care of their patients; there’s no getting around that. Our public representatives are aware of that. The question, really, is not if legislation will be enacted, but when. Ireland’s politicians will dither, waffle on about the need for reflection, and hop from foot to foot wringing their hands, their delaying the inevitable conveniently acting as a sort of political appeasement to those who would oppose the legislation.
In short, they’ll sit on the fence up to the point where they can claim they only moved because they were pushed off.
And this is for medically-necessary abortion: termination in cases where pregnancy endangers the mother’s life, including by risk of suicide. Many of those who are advocating abortion legislation stress this. Medically-necessary. Extreme situations. Last resorts. Abortion-on-demand, we are told, is a different kettle of fish entirely.
Even the term is loaded, isn’t it? Abortion-on-demand. It suggests unreasonable women stamping their feet until they get their own way, abortion as another facet of a culture of insufferable entitlement. Its structure dissuades objection, but all the same it begs the question: what’s so terrible about abortion-on-demand?
The head of a European Parliament committee on women’s rights has said Ireland must clarify its abortion laws.
Abortion was a human rights issue, said Mikael Gustafsson, chairman of the committee, which raised its concerns during a meeting with Minister of State for Health Kathleen Lynch in Dublin this week.
“Ireland really has to have a law which says what is happening on this,” said Mr Gustafsson, a Swedish MEP.
“For me personally abortion is all about women’s choice ... it’s really a matter of human rights,” he said.
Abortion took up half of a three-hour meeting with Ms Lynch on Thursday, Mr Gustafsson said.
Childcare and the lack of women’s representation in the Dáil were other areas of concern to the committee, which was visiting Ireland ahead of the start to its EU presidency in January.
Mr Gustafsson said the 15 per cent representation of women in the Dáil was “really low” and without a proper childcare system women could not become “economically independent and can’t take part in decision-making”.
“Not having paid leave for fathers in Ireland is a political signal ... that this is something that is only a woman’s concern,” he told a meeting with the National Women’s Council, the Rape Crisis Centre, the Migrant Council of Ireland and Safe Ireland, which represents domestic abuse groups.
Full article by Judith Crosbie here
The Irish Catholic Bishops have seen fit to clarify the church’s view on gynecology given Savita Halappanavar’s death from sepsis at 17 weeks in her pregnancy and the concern that evacuating her uterus was delayed because the fetus still had a heart beat. The full statement is here, but this is the excerpt I find most troubling:
- Whereas abortion is the direct and intentional destruction of an unborn baby and is gravely immoral in all circumstances, this is different from medical treatments which do not directly and intentionally seek to end the life of the unborn baby. Current law and medical guidelines in Ireland allow nurses and doctors in Irish hospitals to apply this vital distinction in practice while upholding the equal right to life of both a mother and her unborn baby.
I spent quite sometime trying to understand how one could possibly translate this statement into medical care. I’ve been a doctor for 22 years and an OB/GYN for 17 years and I admit that I am at a bit of a loss. My three interpretations are as follows.
- Terminating a pregnancy is “gravely immoral in all circumstances.” All circumstances includes 17 weeks and ruptured membranes. Unless I misunderstand the meaning of “all,” then Irish Catholic Bishops also view ending a pregnancy at 17 weeks with ruptured membranes and sepsis, either by induction of labor or the surgical dilation and evaluation (D & E), to be “gravely immoral.” They must also view ending a pregnancy for a woman who previously had postpartum cardiomyopathy and a 50% risk of death in her pregnancy as “gravely immoral.” So if you have a medical condition that is rapidly deteriorating because of your pregnancy, too bad for you if you live in Ireland. Because the mother and unborn baby have equal rights to life, Irish law spares women the anguish of choosing their own life. Neither can be first, so both must die.
Full article by Dr Jen Gunter here
The expert group report on abortion arose from a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in 2005 by three women, alleging that restrictions on abortion in Ireland were in breach of their human rights.
One of the women was in acute distress. She lived in poverty and had four children already, all of whom were in care. She was attempting to reunite her family when she became pregnant accidentally. She felt she could not possibly cope with a fifth child, nor with the pregnancy. She could not get an abortion in Ireland, where, irrespective of her circumstances, she risked penal servitude for life. She went to Britain, where she had an abortion.
Another of the three women had been in treatment for cancer for three years and she too became pregnant unintentionally. Medical tests were contraindicated during the early stage of her pregnancy. She was unable to get clear medical advice and feared that her pregnancy would lead to a recurrence of her cancer. She, too, felt obliged to go to Britain for an abortion. The third case was less clear-cut.
The third and first cases were dismissed on technical grounds but on the case concerning the woman with cancer, it was found that the absence of clear guidelines in Ireland for when abortion was permissible was a breach of human rights. It was this ruling which led to the expert group report published yesterday.
Full article by Vincent Browne here
TIMELINE: This is the story of one woman’s death in an Irish hospital, based on the account given by her husband and friends
Savita Halappanavar was admitted to Galway University Hospital with back pain. She was 17 weeks pregnant. Seven days later she was dead. The hospital has said it cannot comment on individual cases and in relation to Ms Halappanavar, it must await the outcome of official investigations.
It’s a Saturday night, and Savita Halappanavar (31) and her husband Praveen (34) are holding a small get-together at their home in the Roscam area of Galway. It’s both a farewell dinner for her parents who are returning to India soon and an opportunity to announce to friends they are expecting a baby. Savita is 17 weeks pregnant. “Savita was very excited, very happy,” recalls Praveen. “All our close friends came to congratulate us.”
In her smart, belted camel coat and dark, swept-back hair, the elegant Tania Kaur cut an unlikely figure as a demonstrator. An Irish citizen of Indian origin, the 55-year-old financial services executive stood outside Leinster House at 5.50pm, clutching her speech, looking around at the remnants of earlier demonstrations about disability rights and oil rigs in Dalkey, and wondered if anyone else was going to turn up.
Within minutes, crowds began to assemble, surging on to Kildare Street, unfurling banners and placards in the winter darkness, candles wrapped in foil or carried in glasses casting their gentle light on the pictures of a smiling Savita Halappanavar.
The mood was angry, the speeches terse. “Her blood is on your hands,” read the placard carried by a little girl in a woolly hat.
Dutch-born Odile Hendriks, now an Irish citizen, held a poster featuring an artfully drawn monkey with the message “Primate has more wisdom?”
“Will our kids have to fight this bigoted s**t too?” asked another placard. A Cork woman said her outrage was being exacerbated by a sense that Savita’s husband was being “cruelly treated . . . He is now being used as an excuse by all sorts of people for not doing the ‘right thing’. But so often you see people who have been abused in some way being forced to go to law as he has .”
Dr Sinéad Kennedy spoke of the vigils held in Savita’s memory in New York and now taking place across Europe, after which Justine Murphy sang a moving version of the Irish lament, Siúil A Rúin.
Then Savita’s countrywoman, Tania Kaur, took the microphone. She was representing no religion, faith or political organisation; she was not a theologian, a physician, a lawyer or a politician, she said. “I don’t think I’m a militant in any way.”
She was just a woman “moved by the need to protest against a system that had failed to protect” her countrywoman, a system which in the past had “failed many women who have suffered at the hands of the cowardly and lethargic legislators”. The crowd cheered.
A woman named only as Suzanne spoke of finding herself pregnant at a time when she felt unable to give a child “the best life possible”.
Lacking the money to travel for an abortion, she ordered pills off the internet. “It sounds quite dangerous – taking Viagra is actually more dangerous . . . But I could face life in prison for making the best decision that was possible for me . . . I have no regrets . . . It is for politicians North and South to decide whether they trust women or whether they keep control over our bodies as they have done since the beginning.”
James Burke, standing up with his wife, Amanda Mellet, told the crowd that it was exactly a year since they had discovered the baby they were expecting had Edward’s Syndrome and only then realised they would have to travel to England for a termination.
To loud applause, he asked the politicians to “stop waffling and think what such a diagnosis would mean to them or their families”.
After barnstorming addresses by Mary Lou McDonald and Claire Daly, Sinéad Redmond, eight months’ pregnant, was the last to speak.
“How are pregnant women feeling? Scared. Untrusted. In danger. Civil and criminal law has no place in my medical care,” she said to loud applause. “It had no place in Savita’s medical care either – but it was [there]. A woman died a preventable death in an Irish hospital in 2012.”
While praising those who had turned out, Dr Kennedy said they needed to gather in their tens of thousands next Wednesday, when the Dáil would vote on Claire Daly’s retabled legislation.
There would be a live link-up to the Dáil chamber, “to hear exactly what they’re saying inside”, she said.
“One chance” is what the Government would get, “and after that, if they don’t act, I think we’re going to bring this Government down.”