ABORTION REMAINS ONE of the most contentious and divisive issues in Irish society and at the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children this week it was no different.
Though three days of hearings on how the government should go about legislating for the X Case were calm, tolerant, informative, interesting and even revelatory in some parts there was no denying that there was some stark differences of opinion.
The committee, which based itself in the Seanad chamber for the three days, heard from medical and legal experts before advocacy groups and the churches came in to have their say on the government’s decision to legislate for the Supreme Court ruling in the X Case 20 years ago.
Read full list here
Had the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar not been brought to light by The Irish Times it is unlikely that we would have had such a swift government response to the report of the expert group on abortion.
More than 20 years on, there is to be legislation to address the ambiguities inherited from the X case judgment of 1992.
It is perhaps worth recalling the background to that case and indeed the role of The Irish Times in bringing it to public knowledge against the wishes of the government and legal authorities of the day.
In the early 1980s Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil vied with each other to assert their abhorrence of abortion. There was, of course, no public demand for its introduction. This was posturing to gain electoral advantage. The result was the passing of the September 1983 referendum, purporting to accord equal rights for the mother and the unborn child. It is doubtful if anybody expected it to have any implications in practice.
England provided the answer to the abortion question in Ireland.
But some constitutional experts had warned that the ambiguities of the 1983 amendment would prove to be a legal time bomb. In early 1992 they were proven right. An outraged suburban family reported to gardaí that their 14-year-old daughter had been violated by a neighbour and was pregnant. They intended to bring her to the UK for an abortion and wanted to know if DNA taken from the foetus could be used here as evidence.
Read full piece by Conor Brady here
TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar says he still has concerns about suicide being included as grounds for abortion and there will need to be a "wall of safeguards".
His comments come in the wake of a poll showing eight out of 10 people support legislation for the X-Case ruling on abortion.
Fine Gael has also suffered a dramatic dive in support on the back of the botched handling of the Savita Halappanavar tragedy.
Mr Varadkar also lashed out at pro-choice "extremists" as he said the majority of people do not want abortion on demand.
The minister repeated his call for the Government to consider holding a referendum on abortion, despite Taoiseach Enda Kenny ruling it out.
Full article by Fionnan Sheahan here
You might be aware that Labour TDs including myself, did not support Clare Daly’s billon the X case last night. As your TD, I want to explain why I voted No.
In order to succeed in getting legislation for the X case, I, as a legislator, have to work with the reality of the political games that are being played in order to get X case legislation passed into law.
Fine Gael, Labour’s coalition partners would not support Clare Daly’s bill. I believe that Labour Ministers suggested to them that they should support it. But they did not wish to do so – they want to wait to debate the Expert Group Report which has been published recently. This is because Fine Gael and Labour agreed on the Expert Group process a year ago.
Fine Gael now want to see that through. It is clear on reading the Expert Group
report that the Expert Group believes legislation for the X case and regulations for doctors, is the way forward on this matter.
Fine Gael are a very conservative political party. They do not really want legislation. Labour will have to force them to support legislation.
Full letter here
THE expert group has confirmed the obvious. Legislation with regulations represents the best way to implement the European Court of Human Rights ABC judgment. It is "constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound". Primary legislation would provide for the drafting of regulations to deal with detailed matters such as changing medical practices. The legislation would also repeal or amend the 1861 Act which criminalises abortion in this country.
The report helpfully sets out a blueprint for Government as to the content of legislation to clarify the X case test. It addresses key issues, including the specific risk of suicide, by saying a psychiatrist could be required to assess this. As Minister for Justice Alan Shatter confirmed yesterday, it would be legally impossible to legislate without including suicide risk. The X case test was confirmed by the people in two referendums in 1992 and 2002. You can't legislate for a bit of that test – it would be like being 'a bit' pregnant.
Despite this, anti-abortion activists have argued against legislating for suicide risk. They say it will lead to 'abortion on demand'. This is legally wrong. The Supreme Court test for 'real and substantial risk to life' arising from risk of suicide is far stricter than the 'mental health' ground for abortion under the British 1967 Act, to which anti-abortion activists refer.
In making this argument, activists display a dismissive attitude to mental health, downplaying the horrific incidence of suicide in Ireland and suggesting suicide risk is not a 'real risk' to life. The argument is profoundly demeaning to women – implying we will be queuing up for abortions by pretending to be suicidal. It also demeans psychiatrists, by suggesting they could be so easily fooled.
In fact, as the report says: "The diagnosis of expressed suicide intent is a routine process for psychiatrists."
Another issue addressed by the report is that of time limits. Anti-abortion activists have engaged in unsavoury scaremongering, suggesting that legislating for the X case would mean carrying out abortions 'up to term'. The report clearly states that where a woman has a pregnancy that places her life at risk, and her foetus is viable, the pregnancy can be ended without ending the life of the foetus; early delivery of the baby may be possible with subsequent neonatal care.
These and other issues addressed in the report will be debated by the Oireachtas over the next three weeks, and the Government will then announce its decision before the Christmas recess. This clear timeline for action is very welcome.
Over many years, Labour has consistently called for legislation on the X case. The decision to legislate is the only one that Government can now make, in light of the expert group's findings. Public opinion is with us.
The tragic death of Savita Halappanavar has generated national outrage, with thousands of people calling for legislative action on protests around the country. Twenty years after the X case, the Government must legislate to clarify the 'grey area' of abortion law that continues to risk the lives of women. It is just a pity it has taken so long.
It is also a pity that fatal foetal abnormality is not covered in the report. Earlier this year, we heard the testimonies of four women who had to travel to England for terminations after being told their babies would not survive. It is inhumane to require women to travel abroad in such traumatic circumstances. It should be possible within the terms of the Constitution to legislate for abortion where there is no viable foetal life.
Ultimately, it is not possible under the Constitution to legislate properly for the real health needs of Irish women. Women are voting with their feet. Over 4,000 women travelled from here to England last year for abortions, most on grounds other than risk to life.
The flawed wording of the 1983 amendment, which equates the right to life of the 'unborn' with that of the pregnant woman, has created the legal quagmire we are in; and has prevented the introduction of legislation to meet the needs of these women.
That amendment should be deleted ultimately. For now, we must act swiftly and pass the X case legislation necessary to fulfil our international responsibilities, provide legal clarity and prevent further uncertainty for doctors and women. No more inaction. We know that it costs lives.
TV3 PLANS TO broadcast a debate on the issue of abortion tomorrow night.
Among the speakers will be writers for the Irish Times and Irish Independent, as well as a patron of the Iona Institute and a Labour Senator.
Arguing against legislating for the X Case will be:
Arguing in favour of legislating for the X Case will be:
- Breda O’Brien, Patron of the Iona Institute and columnist with the Irish Times
- William Binchy, Regius Professor of Laws at Trinity College & Legal Advisor to the pro-life campaign
The debate will be pre-recorded at 8pm and broadcast at 10pm on TV3.
- Dearbhail McDonald, Legal Affairs Editor at the Irish Independent
- Ivana Bacik, Labour Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Trinity College
The debate comes the same day that the Expert Group report on the A, B and C case is presented to Cabinet. Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, will present the report tomorrow. According to what has been seen in purportedly leaked copies, the report puts forward a number of recommendations, including primary legislation; the issuing of guidelines without primary legislation; legislation alone; or legislation plus regulations.
The government will put an Action Plan to the Council of Europe on the issue on 30 November.
We'll probably be live tweeting it over at @SavitasLaws, see you there?
The Government has been told in the expert group report that the State is under a legal obligation to establish "effective and accessible" procedures so that women who are "legitimately entitled" can have an abortion in Ireland.
The Sunday Independent has seen a full copy of the expert report that was given to the Cabinet late last week and is due to be published on Tuesday.
The report suggests it will be necessary to repeal the 1861 statute governing abortion, which it believes has a "chilling effect" on the treatment of pregnant woman in Irish hospitals.
The top-secret report was commissioned from an expert group following a European Court of Human Rights finding that an Irish citizen's rights were violated because of the absence of procedures to establish if she qualified for a lawful abortion.
The report was compiled before the Savita Halappanavar tragedy -- which is continuing to cause a political and public furore.
The expert group report, compiled by Mr Justice Sean Ryan, is likely to lead to a political firestorm.
Among the findings are:
- The State is obliged to provide procedures to establish a woman's right to an abortion as well as access to such treatments.
- In the case of a risk to the mother it must establish criteria or procedures by which a doctor is to assess that risk; and set up an independent review system where a patient disputes her doctor's refusal to certify that she is entitled to a lawful abortion and where there is a disagreement between doctors as to whether one is necessary.
Though the expert group is circumscribed, by its terms of reference, from making specific recommendations, the full unexpurgated report clearly indicates that legislation is the only appropriate response to the challenges posed by the X and C cases.
The report notes that while the State "is entitled to and indeed obliged to regulate and monitor" the rights of the unborn, it must ensure that "measures that are introduced to give effect to this constitutional right should not act as an obstacle to any woman who is legitimately entitled to seek a termination on lawful grounds".
It then gives the Government a complex list of options for creating a panel to decide such issues.
"The diagnosis of the medical specialists as to whether the woman satisfies the test in the X Case should be made expeditiously/or within a defined time limit and should be formally notified to the woman," it says.
The report also recommends that the Government must make provision for emergencies and disputes and measures to protect medical personnel involved.
"If a doctor carries out a termination in circumstances where the risk to life of the woman is imminent and inevitable rather than real and substantial, he/she should not have any liability because of the failure to follow prescribed procedures."
The Government has also been told to select locations where abortions may take place and taking into account "standards, geographical access and the need to have due regard to the right to the life of the unborn". Such centres should be certified by the Health Minister.
The report also confirms that, when it comes to concerns about suicide, in the wake of the X Case, "termination of pregnancy should be considered a medical treatment regardless of whether the risk to the woman arises on physical or mental health grounds.
"Ultimately, the most politically contentious aspect of the report is likely to be its analysis of whether non-statutory guidelines on the rights of a woman to an abortion in Irish hospitals, or a legislative response, will meet the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights," it says.
It warns that while consideration was given to the possibility of implementing the judgement without recourse to legislation, it is unlikely that "guidelines in isolation" or "some non-statutory protocols" would "fulfil all the requirements set by the European Court of Human Rights judgement."
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.”
Over 2,000 attend another vigil and protest at the Dail. We will not be ignored. Never again! The next protest is on Wed 28th at 7pm - details HERE.
Tweets during Sinead Redmond's emotional speech
Sinead Redmond, Pro-Choice activist and heavily pregnant talks about the 8th amendment as a '152' year old relic. #Savita
New campaign @SavitasLaws http://www.savitaslaws.com/ and Facebook #Savita #rtept #legislatenow
Redmond talks about website 'Savita's Laws' established this week. #Savita
Pregnant speaker says civil and political opinion should have no role in her care #savita #dail
That last line came from a speaker who is 8 months pregnant. "My life and health are worth protecting." #Savita #LegislateForX
Very moving speech by Sinead Redmond & what I feel as we in the fucking dark ages #savita
Great emotional address from @sineadredmond calling for immediate legislation & removal of 1861 act #Savita #SavitasLaws #NeverAgain
"This is not a time to be calm. This is a time to be angry. A woman died a preventable death in an Irish hospital in 2012" #Savita
"I cannot sleep with rage, with fear"- 8 month pregnant Sinead Redmond #Savita
Sinead Redmond, of Unlike Youth Defence, says "we need movement and we need it now. Never again." #savita
Sinead Redmond cries "SHAME ON THEM!" on the steps outside Leinster House. Crowd erupts with shouts of 'shame' #Savita
"Civil and criminal law has no place in my pregnancy, in my medical treatment"- Sinead Redmond's voice breaks with emotion #Savita
Video of Clare Daly at the protest tonight
Photos from the march tonight
SAVITA Halappanavar was just 11-years-old when the X case judgment was handed down. Today, she’s a martyr to the political cowardice that, for two decades, refused to implement that ruling.
One such woman, Gráinne Bray, on RTE’s The Frontline on Monday, spoke in harrowing detail of how doctors refused to intervene in her pregnancy for fear of harming her seven-week-old twin foetuses.
"From the day I did my pregnancy test I was in acute pain, but I was turned away from A&E several times because I wasn’t bleeding and I wasn’t miscarrying. They couldn’t help me.
"One night I collapsed at home and was rushed to hospital, but they still couldn’t intervene because the foetal heartbeats were still there. That went on for another week. I was in acute pain, had an elevated white cell count, fever, drenched in sweat — they could not intervene.
"Eventually, we lost the babies and I was brought down to theatre … when they opened me up, the surgeon said he couldn’t see any internal organs I was so full of pus … the consultant told my husband that if the foetuses hadn’t died when they did, I would have been dead within a week," she said.
Mrs Bray isn’t alone. According to Dr Mark Murphy, who has published research in this area, there have been many cases when mothers, with a real and substantial risk to their lives, were forced to travel abroad for a termination of their pregnancy.
Dr Murphy, in his research, found that 9% of GPs had managed a pregnant patient with a life-threatening medical condition, but recorded only one instance of an Irish doctor performing a termination in an Irish hospital — in a case of severe preeclampsia.
"All the other cases travelled abroad for a termination despite the fact their GP felt they had a real and substantial risk to their life," he said.
These threats to life included pregnant women with cancer who required an abortion to avail of treatment like chemotherapy; women with severe cardiovascular disease requiring termination to prevent maternal ill health and those at severe psychiatric risk, like rape victims.
So, desperately ill women in these appalling situations are handed their medical files and told, "you may want to travel" — the euphemism used when women are exported, with no consideration given to the potential impact on their psychological health, to access abortion services abroad.