European legal challenge on abortion law in the South of Ireland

I spotted this great article today on the Irish Examiner website, outlining the details of an important hearing that will be taking place on Wednesday in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Three real women, with real lives and experiences of crisis pregnancies who were forced to travel to England for abortions are challenging the archaic Irish ban on abortion as a breach of their human rights. The article contains only a line or two about their circumstances but it doesn’t take much to understand the pain behind each of their stories:

“The three women now challenging that law are claiming that being forced to leave Ireland to terminate their pregnancies caused hardship and unnecessary costs.

One of the three had been diagnosed as at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, with the foetus developing outside the womb. Another had become pregnant while receiving chemotherapy for cancer. The third already had children who had been taken into care because of her inability to cope.”

In making the painful decision to abort, it breaks my heart that they had to go through the added stress of finding a private clinic in England, raising the funds to pay for it, booking and paying for travel and accommodation, going there alone, and returning to a health care system that would not offer them any aftercare.

In addition it raises the issue of time. I’ve noticed that there are many people on both (all?) sides of the abortion debate who agree that where a woman chooses an abortion then the earlier this can be obtained the better. Dragging out the decision over weeks helps no one and so a ban on abortion such as that in Ireland increases the anguish of the woman and pushes the procedure into a later stage of the pregnancy.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the charity which provides abortions and contraception in Britain to women travelling from the Republic of Ireland, commented: “Hundreds of women travel each year to BPAS from the Republic of Ireland in order to access safe, legal abortion care.

“This is provided to women in almost every other country as a matter of necessary and responsible law-making.”

BPAS Medical Director Patricia Lohr said there could never be any “moral justification” for putting barriers between women and medical care: “Women from the Republic of Ireland often arrive for treatment alone, because they can’t afford to bring their partner or mother to accompany them.

“They are understandably very often apprehensive, having had to travel for hours or days to reach an unfamiliar clinic in England.

It’s disturbing that the law in Ireland forces women to pay privately for care abroad. This creates weeks of delay before seeing a doctor while women try to borrow or save up money to pay for travel, accommodation and for their abortion.

She went on: “The ban means that doctors in Ireland are not routinely issued with proper training and guidance to care for patients in the extremely common situation of seeking an abortion.

“Post-abortion aftercare and follow-up is not easily available in Ireland, meaning women may not get help if they need it, or have to pretend they’ve had a miscarriage to get help.

“As doctors, we’re concerned at the needless burden of additional risk caused by treatment delays. You don’t have to be medically qualified to understand that the Irish abortion ban risks women’s physical health, requires abortions to be performed later than necessary, and creates serious emotional upset for women at an already stressful time.”

Read the whole article and let’s remember those women on Wednesday. This kind of courage is what is needed if we are to ever see things change both in the South and here in the North. What they are about to do will be incredibly difficult and I have a lot of respect for them – by speaking out they could be changing things for all of us.


2 Responses to “European legal challenge on abortion law in the South of Ireland”

  1. 1 FF December 7, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    I find this whole issue incredibly emotional. On the one hand, I’m for choice, and yet deep down, I yearn for a time when abortion will not be necessary and for a time when women are completely free and supported to choose to bring up children with local, pragmatic support from ‘family’ of all descriptions… are you pure choice, through and through?

  2. 2 soisaystoher December 7, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Hey FF. I understand your feeling and I have to say I’m not pure anything on this issue. The only thing I can definitively say is that my primary concern is with the fact that the law as it stands here is failing women terribly. I’ve a lot to learn on this one but I will learn it from the people who have lived it and my ethics start there. Based on the complexities that very quickly emerge, I would question whether access to support was the defining feature in women’s choices. What about knowing your baby will die painfully in its first weeks of life? What about your own fragile mental health? What about being 14 and petrified of giving birth? What about being HIV+? The list is endless.

    I personally don’t think your vision of a world where women will never need reproductive choice is consistent with what history tells us. Women have always found ways to terminate pregnancies when they need to. Whether it’s herbs, or (as Hippocrates himself advised women to do) bouncing up and down on your heels, or coat hangers… Our legal system has a responsibility to provide a safe and legal framework within which women can make those difficult choices. Totally respect your feelings on it though and can understand the yearning.

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