Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Need for a Rights-Based Approach to Reproductive Health and Rights

By Ivana Bacik, Spokesperson for the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign

The State has displayed scant regard for the reproductive health rights of women and men facing difficulties with conception – and scant regard for the rights of any children born as a result of assisted human reproduction techniques.

Reproductive rights are recognised as human rights in international law. This was explicitly affirmed in the Programme of Action agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, where a definition of “reproductive health rights” was developed, to include the right to sexual health; the right of access to safe, effective and affordable family planning methods; and the right to appropriate healthcare services to enable safe pregnancy and childbirth. This holistic approach to reproductive health has been confirmed in many other international treaties and covenants.

In Ireland, however, law and policy on reproductive health falls far short of the rights-based approach advocated at international level. In particular, wo­men’s reproductive health is jeopardised by the lack of access to legal abortion in this country. The 1992 X case established that abortion is only legal in Ireland where the woman’s life is at risk due to the continuation of her pregnancy, and in all other circumstances abortion remains a criminal offence. As a result, thousands of women are forced to travel abroad each year in order to avail of terminations of pregnancy in other EU countries.

Abortion is illegal here, even where women are pregnant as a result of rape or incest; face severe health risks from continuing pregnancy; or find that they are carrying a foetus with severe disabilities. Incredibly, it is denied even to those women in the deeply traumatic position of being told that their baby will be stillborn. Such unfortunate wo­men must either carry their pregnancy to term in Ireland, knowing their baby has died; or travel to England for a termination.

By contrast to the extremely restrictive law on abortion, legal regulation of assisted human reproduction is notably lacking. The Government-appointed Commission on Assisted Hu­man Reproduction produced a comprehensive report in 2005, recommending the need for legislation to deal with issues around infertility treatments, donor programmes, surrogacy, legal parentage, and stem-cell research. Despite the sensible approach taken by the Com­mission, and the need for ur­gency due to the existence of unregulated services here, no legislation has been forthcoming. The State has displayed scant regard for the reproductive health rights of women and men facing difficulties with conception – and scant regard for the rights of any children born as a result of assisted human reproduction techniques.

The Government must now begin to take reproductive health more seriously; especially as it is becoming increasingly likely that we will be held accountable internationally for any further inaction. In July 2005, the Committee to monitor compliance with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) expressed its concern about the consequences of the “very restrictive abortion laws” in Ireland, and called for “a national dialogue on women’s right to reproductive health, including on the very restrictive abortion laws”.

In a landmark decision in November 2005, the UN Hu­man Rights Committee, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, gave its decision in a case taken by human rights groups on behalf of a young Peruvian woman who was forced by state officials to carry a fatally impaired foetus to term. The decision established that denying access to legal abortion violates women’s basic human rights – the first time an international human rights body had held a government ac­count­able for failing to ensure access to legal abortion.

There are obvious lessons for Ireland in this decision. Irish law on abortion has already been raised before the European Court of Human Rights in Stras­bourg. In a 1992 case taken by Open Door Counselling and the Dublin Well Woman Centre Ltd., the Court declared that the ban on providing information about abortion clinics in England was an interference with the right to freedom of expression under the Convention.

Since then, information on abortion has become legally available, and the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency in 2001 has brought about greatly increased access to counselling for pregnant women generally.

But other cases taken against Ireland, dealing directly with the ban on abortion, have recently been initiated before the Stras­bourg Court. In D v. Ireland, the applicant argued that her Convention rights were violated because she could not get an abortion under Irish law, al­though she was carrying a foetus with a severe abnormality in­compatible with life. The Court ruled in 2006 that she should have litigated that particular issue before the Irish courts.

In August 2005, a group of three women living in Ireland – all of whom had recent experience of a crisis pregnancy, involving a much broader range of circumstances than those at issue in D’s case – lodged a complaint before the Strasbourg Court, facilitated by the Irish Family Planning Association. They argue that the prohibition on abortion has violated their rights to privacy and to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment, among other things. Their case has not yet been heard.

Around the world, individuals are coming forward in increasing numbers to challenge violations of their human rights before international courts and institutions. Our Government should take notice of this important development, and act without delay to implement a rights-based policy for reproductive health.

Ivana Bacik, Barrister, Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology, Trinity College Dublin and independent candidate for the Seanad election 2007 on the Dublin University panel is Spokesperson for the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign.

This article appeared in the Irish Medical News on February 12th 2007

Monday, June 25, 2007

British News-Let Us Decriminalise Abortion Altogether

Monday 25 June 2007 Ann Furedi from http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/3531/

Let us decriminalise abortion altogether.
It's high time we had a frank inquiry into England's Abortion Act, which remains, on paper, one of the most restrictive in the Western world.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the leading provider of abortion services in the UK, welcomes the new inquiry into the Abortion Act 1967.

It’s about time there was an inquiry into the English Abortion Act of 1967, and at last one is to be carried out: an influential group of British MPs will look into the scientific developments relating to the Act in the first dedicated inquiry into the 40-year-old law to be held in Parliament.

Since 1990, when the abortion law was last amended, governments and their civil servants have done their best to keep abortion out of parliamentary politics. It’s easy to understand why. Abortion is a complex and polarising topic, which confers political advantage on no party. Abortion is something that policymakers, like most people, accept but don’t want to talk about. There have been other pressing political priorities, and the way in which the Abortion Act was drafted has allowed services to develop as society has needed them.

The way that abortion is provided has changed dramatically over the years, while the law has remained the same. In 1990, the last time that the law was subject to substantial parliamentary scrutiny, the National Health Service (NHS) paid for less than half (48 per cent) of abortions to women entitled to NHS care. Today the NHS funds 87 per cent of a much greater number of abortions. Last year, almost 194,000 resident women obtained an abortion in England and Wales, 20,000 more than in 1990.

Today’s social expectations create a climate where liberal access to abortion is a necessary part of healthcare. We expect to be able to plan our families. We regard sex as a celebration of love, comfort and intimacy – and even fun – and not necessarily a means of procreation. We know that contraception methods and their users are not infallible and so if we are to achieve planned parenthood, abortion is a necessary back-up to birth control.

Society regards parenthood as a significant responsibility to be undertaken with forethought and consideration. This view of parenthood does not easily sit alongside the idea that women with unwanted pregnancies should have no choice other than to broach unwanted motherhood. One woman in three will seek a termination of pregnancy before the age of 45. Although abortion is still stigmatised, it is now widely accepted as ‘part of life’.

The ProLife Alliance recently told the UK Guardian that the increased number of abortions was evidence that Britain now had abortion on demand, ‘which was never the intention of parliament’ (1). And this is a fair point. Britain does now have a situation where the law is interpreted to allow abortion when a pregnancy is unwanted. This may not have been the intention of parliament in 1967, but it is regarded as acceptable today. The public seems comfortable with it. A poll carried out by Ipsos/MORI in 2006 found that almost two thirds of respondents (63 per cent) agreed that, ‘If a woman wants an abortion, she should not have to continue with her pregnancy’.

And government ministers feel comfortable with this. Public health minister Caroline Flint was notably un-defensive in her comments on the release of official statistics showing that in 2006 abortion numbers had increased by four per cent on the previous year. She used the opportunity to stress how government was improving the quality of services by facilitating earlier, easier access for women. While stressing that the NHS needed to work harder to reduce the need for abortion, she highlighted that ‘we have invested £8million to improve early access to [abortion] services and set a maximum waiting time of three weeks’. She also flagged up that the performance of Primary Care Trusts on abortion would continue to be measured as part of their performance ratings. In short: improving abortion services is officially a priority.

However, despite liberal interpretation and permissive practice, the Abortion Act 1967 (as amended by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act 1990) remains, on paper, one of the most restrictive in the developed world. Formally, the decision about whether a woman can end her pregnancy is placed in the hands of her doctors, with two doctors required to certify that certain medical conditions are met. In practice, most doctors accede to a woman’s request for abortion, understanding that forcing a woman into unwilling motherhood is going to be damaging to her mental health; also abortion is less risky than childbirth. But other restrictions imposed by the Act are practical blocks on progress and cannot be circumvented.

The requirement that abortions may only be performed by doctors is ludicrous given the extended role of nurses. It may have seemed a sensible safeguard in the 1960s, when the procedure was regarded as complicated and potentially dangerous, but the modern vacuum aspiration used in early suction abortions could easily be carried out by nurses, as is the case in some US states and in South Africa. And the abortion pill can just as easily be issued by a nurse as by a doctor. Restrictions on where abortions can be performed limit the number of premises able to deliver services and leads to the ludicrous pantomime where a doctor assessing a woman’s suitability for abortion in a family-planning clinic has to make a separate appointment to see her at an approved clinic to give her the drugs (which she has to take on site).

And, of course, women and doctors in Northern Ireland are still excluded from the provisions of the Act.

Now, with the fortieth anniversary of the Abortion Act approaching, it’s about time we looked ahead and framed what a modern abortion law should look like; it’s time we created a law that reflects contemporary knowledge and social values, ending the hypocrisy that pretends abortion is rare and the attempts to ‘ghettoise’ it. We should not have to work around an Act that stigmatises abortion, setting it aside from other procedures and privileging doctors’ opinions about unwanted pregnancy above those of the women who experience them. Women deserve better: a flexible, fit-for-purpose law accepting that restrictions on abortion should be solely to protect health.

The new inquiry – which will be conducted by the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee – is an opportunity to review the evidence around abortion and allow policymakers to separate the facts from the fantasy.

Paradoxically, the issue that has propelled the demand to carry out a review of the Act has been concern about fetal viability and the upper gestational limit. The great advantage of the current abortion legislation is that it draws no distinction between the grounds for abortion in the first or second trimester. Doctors are as free to refer women to end an unwanted pregnancy at 23 weeks’ gestation as they are at six weeks. The inquiry will be a welcome opportunity to show there is no compelling scientific research to suggest we should reduce the upper time limit on abortion, while there is compelling social research that demonstrates why a 24-week limit is necessary.

It is excellent that the scope of the inquiry extends beyond consideration of fetal viability and the upper gestational limit to such issues as: the relative risks of early abortion versus pregnancy and delivery; the need for two doctors to confirm a woman meets the legal requirements; the practicalities and safety of allowing nurses or midwives to carry out abortions; regulations regarding where the ‘abortion pill’ can be used; and evidence of long-term or acute adverse health outcomes from abortion or from the restriction of access to abortion. It’s interesting that the ProLife Alliance has objected already that ‘the thrust of the inquiry appears to be geared towards gathering evidence in relation to measures that would further liberalise our current abortion law’ (2). Another way of looking at it might be that the scope of the inquiry is comprehensive.

Women rely on termination of pregnancy as a back-up to their usual method of birth control. A third of women use an abortion service at some point in their life. They, and their elected representatives, should know that services are delivered to the highest clinical and ethical standards. An evidence-based inquiry is an opportunity to take the discussion forward towards a law that would explicitly allow abortion at the request of a woman because her pregnancy is unwanted; permit suitably qualified healthcare providers other than doctors to carry out abortions; remove ‘class of place’ restrictions; require the NHS to fund services to meet local demand; and remove the geographical anomaly that excludes Northern Ireland from the reach of the Abortion Act.

More simply, Britain could look simply at decriminalising abortion altogether.

Ann Furedi is chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

British News- Abortion Debate? Bring It On

Abortion debate? Bring it on
The law is anachronistic, out of date and in need of a comprehensive review - and those voting to change it need to be fully informed of the issues.
By Ann Furedi June 21, 2007


Since 1990, when the abortion law was last amended, the government and their civil servants have done their best to keep abortion out of parliamentary politics. It's easy to understand why. Abortion is a complex and polarising topic that confers no party political advantage; parliamentarians are, by tradition, allowed a free vote. Abortion is something that policy makers, like most people, accept but don't want to talk about.

This has been frustrating. The law is anachronistic, out of date and in need of a comprehensive review. Clinical practice, our expectations relating to family planning and parenting, the role of medical professionals and social opinion have changed fundamentally since the abortion law was first past in 1967 and even since it was amended in 1990. Science has moved on too. So a review of abortion legislation is long overdue.

Both houses will in all likelihood vote on abortion later this year when amendments to the bill that will replace the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act are debated. This is the legislation that sets a 24-week time limit on most abortions. Those voting need to be fully informed about the issues, and so a balanced, evidence-based inquiry by the science and technology committee could not be more timely.

However, it is particularly welcome that the scope of the inquiry extends beyond consideration of fetal viability and the upper gestational limit to such issues as: the relative risks of early abortion versus pregnancy and delivery; the need for two doctors to confirm a woman meets the legal requirements; the practicalities and safety of allowing nurses or midwives to carry out abortions; regulations regarding where the "abortion pill" can be used; and evidence of long-term or acute adverse health outcomes from abortion or from the restriction of access to abortion.

It's interesting that the Pro Life Alliance have objected already that "the thrust of the inquiry appears to be geared towards gathering evidence in relation to measures that would further liberalise our current abortion law." Another way of looking at it might be that the scope of the inquiry is comprehensive.

BPAS is responsible for more than a quarter of all the abortions provided in England and Wales. We specialise in late abortion and look forward to explaining to the committee why we remain convinced that science has provided no reason to lower the time limit, while the circumstances of our clients provide compelling reasons for it to remain at 24 weeks.

Our experience of almost 12,000 "abortion pill" procedures each year in nurse-led services with minimal doctor involvement, means that we are well-placed to inform the committee as to how services could be developed to suit the needs of women if some of the legal restrictions (imposed when all abortions involved an invasive gynaecological intervention) were removed.

Data on complications and adverse outcomes of abortion is meticulously collected by providers and will confirm the published evidence that abortion at all gestations is extremely safe, but the earlier the procedure, the safer it is.

It is only right that parliament should periodically scrutinise the abortion law and services. Women rely on termination of pregnancy as a back up to their usual method of birth control. A third of women use an abortion service at some point in their life. They, and their elected representatives, should know that services are delivered to the highest clinical and ethical standards. If this inquiry is truly evidence-based we are confident it will confirm this - and it will facilitate an informed discussion on the floor of the house.

73% Favour Abortion For Rape and Abuse Victims

Page 6-News The Irish Examiner Friday June 22nd 2007
By Claire O'Sullivan

The latest poll on Irish attitudes to abortion shows that over-65s and farmers are most likely to disagree with abortion in any circumstances, while the under-35s are driving the changing attitude to terminations.

The poll, which surveyed 1,000 adults, reveals that four out of five agree with abortion in Ireland if the woman's life is endangerwed, while nearly three-quarters agree with abortion in Ireland when the foetus can't survive outside the womb. A further 73% say it should be available to somebody who suffered sexual abuse by a family member.

This survey was conducted weeks after the controversial Miss D case where a 17-year-old girl in the care of the HSE became pregnant and sought an abortion as her child would not be able to survive very long outside the womb. The HSE challenged the girl's right to travel to Britian but the High Court refused ruled there was nothing to stop her travelling.

The TNS MRBI poll showed that 43% support abortion if it's in a woman's 'best interests' but the majority (51%) remain against terminations in this country. The survey reveals that those who support a more liberal abortion policy are 52% male, 48% female, most likely to be aged 25-34, and lower-middle class to working class. They are also most likely to live in Dublin or Munster.

Support for abortion is greatest when the pregnancy endangers the mothers life with 82% supporting this and then when the foetus cannot survive outside the womb with 75% supporting this grounds for abortion in Ireland. Support for Irish abortion is at 73% when the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse.

According to the poll survey, the under 35s are more in agreement with the avialability of termination while men tend to be less in favour of abortion. A Crisis Pregnancy Agency survey on abortion in 2004 showed that amongst under 45s, 51% of respondents were in favour of the right to abortion in any circumstances while 39% said they believed it should be permissable 'under some circumstances'.

A 1986 abortion survey revealed, that amongst people aged 65 and under, 38% said that abortion should not be allowed under any circumstances. This survey also revealed that over 85% were in favour of abortion where the pregnancy endangered the mother's life or if the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape- a trend refelcted in this poll.

TNS MRBI said it was not known how much people were influenced by the Miss D case which received huge media coverage in the months before the poll.

Poll Reveals Increase In Tolerance For Abortion

Front Page Irish Examiner Friday June 22nd 2007
By Claire O'Sullivan

  • Up To 82% Favour Termination In Certain Instances

A nationwide poll may signal a change in attitudes to abortion with more than two-thirds of those questioned supporting the availability of abortion here if the mother's life is at risk or a pregnancy is the result of rape or sexual assault. But, the TNS MRBI survey showed that a little more than half remain against a blanket 'right to choose', with 51% against the availability of abortion here to a woman who decides it is 'in her best interest'.

  • The national survey completed for the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign showed that 82% of Irish people agreed with abortion where a pregnancy seriously endangers a woman's life, while 14% disagree and 2% said it depended on other factors.
  • Three-quarters of those surveyed said abortion should be available if the foetus cannot survive outside the womb, with 20% opposed and 2% saying their answer would depend on the situation.
  • Seventy-three percent said that abortion should be available here where the pregnancy was the result of sexual abuse by a family member, while 22% disagreed and 1% said their answer depended on different factors.
  • A further 69% supported the availability of abortion where the woman's life is at risk from suicide; 25% disagreed and 2% used the 'depends' response.
  • Legal abortion in Ireland where pregnancy was tyhe result of rape was supported by 69% of those surveyed while 24% disagreed with this and 3% used the 'depends' answer.
  • More than half supported abortion when there is evidence that the child will be profoundly deformed with 56% agreeing and 37% disagreeing.
  • Fifty-one percent of respondents disagreed with a woman having the right to abortion if it's 'in her best interests', while 43% agreed with Irish abortion on these grounds.

The telephone survey was carried out between May 29th and June 8th, on a representative sample of 1,000 adults. The Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign, made up of various pro-choice groupings, welcomed the findings but the Pro-Life Campaign said they 'lacked credibility'.

Pro-Life Campaign spokeswoman Dr Audrey Dillon said their own polls showed different results citing a March poll that showed 66% of those who expressed an opinion were opposed to the Dáil legislating for abortion.

'We have called on the Government to face up to majority support for abortion in the case of the dangers to a woman's life, where the foetus cannot survive outside the womb, in the case of rape and incest and in the case of the threat of suicide,' a spokesman for Safe and Legal siad.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign Opinion Poll on Prime Time

The Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign gave exclusive access
to Prime Time (Ireland's current affairs flagship TV programme), to a specially commissioned opinion poll carried out by TNS mrbi and it aired last night.

It is now available to view on the RTE website on the Prime Time page.
Programme date: Thursday June 21st 2007.
Title: Clarity Needed On Abortion Situation

You can view the programme here:

TNS mrbi Opinion Poll
Could you please tell me whether you agree or disagree with a pregnancy being
terminated in Ireland, that is there would be no need to travel outside the country, under
the following circumstances?

When a pregnant woman's life is at risk because of the threat of suicide?

Agree 69% Disagree 25% Depends 2% Don't Know 3% Refused 1%

When the foetus cannot survive outside the womb?

Agree 75% Disagree 20% Depends 2% Don't know 2% Refused 1%

When the pregnancy seriously endangers the woman's life?

Agree 82% Disagree 14% Depends 2% Don't know 1% Refused 1%

When the pregnancy is the result of rape?

Agree 69% Disagree 24% Depends 3% Don't know 3% Refused 1%

When the pregnancy is the result of sexual abuse by a family member?

Agree 73% Disagree 22% Depends 1% Don't Know 2% Refused 1%

When there is evidence that the child will be profoundly deformed (physically and/or mentally)?

Agree 56% Disagree 37% Depends 3% Don't Know 3% Refused 1%

When a woman decides its in her best interests to do so?

Agree 43% Disagree 51% Depends 3% Don't Know 2% Refused 1%

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Safe and Legal in Ireland Media Coverage on Release of UK Abortion Statistics

Groups welcome falling abortion figures
Kitty Holland The Irish Times
Pro-life and pro-choice groups as well as statutory agencies have welcomed the continued decrease in the number of women giving Irish addresses when seeking abortions in Britain.
Figures issued by the British department of health yesterday show the number of women who gave Irish addresses at British abortion clinics fell last year - from 5,585 in 2005 to 5,042 in 2006.
This is the sixth consecutive annual decline since 2001 when the figure was 6,673. It fell to 6,522 in 2002, to 6,320 in 2003 and 6,217 in 2004. Significantly, there has also been a fall in the abortion rate per 1,000 Irish women in the 15 to 44 age group, from 7.5 in 2001 to 5.2 last year.
Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) chairwoman Katharine Bulbulia described the figures as "heartening" while the pro-choice Safe and Legal campaign welcomed them but said they did "not reflect the full picture".
The Pro-Life Campaign welcomed the fall in numbers and indicated that a trend towards abortion "is not inevitable".
However, its spokesman said the figures remained "extremely high" and left "no room for complacency".
The Safe and Legal campaign said the decline in Irish addresses at British clinics was welcome but attributed this in part to Irish women travelling in greater numbers to the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries.
"This is due to the prohibitive sterling-euro differential. Abortions in the UK can cost up to 1,300, with additional costs for travel and accommodation."
Ms Bulbulia said there were no statistics to back up this claim, but added that the CPA was conducting a "scoping study" to examine the issue.
2007 The Irish Times

20 June 2007
Abortion: Fall in Irish addresses
By Evelyn Ring The Irish Examiner

The number of women giving Irish addresses at British abortion clinics has dropped for the sixth year in a row. But the Crisis Pregnancy Agency has been trying to determine whether Irish women are travelling to other countries for terminations. Initial results suggest that a number of women are travelling to the Netherlands. Other jurisdictions have noticed Irish women travelling to clinics since January 2006.

Latest statistics show that women giving Irish addresses at British abortion clinics decreased from 6,673 in 2001 to 5,042 in 2006. Agency chairwoman Katharine Bulbulia said it was heartening that the number of women travelling to Britain was decreasing. And, she said, it was reasonable to say there was a very gradual downward trend in the number of Irish women seeking abortions. There had been a decrease in the number of women travelling to Britain for terminations and other jurisdiction had only noticed the trend of Irish women travelling to their clinics since last year, she pointed out. The Pro Life Campaign said the welcome reduction in the abortion rate indicated that the tide is moving in the right direction and that a growing trend towards abortion was not inevitable. The Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Campaign said available statistics did not reflect the true picture. Irish women are travelling in greater numbers to the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries due to the prohibitive Sterling-Euro differential, the group claimed. Research indicates that work, career, perceived stigma, childcare, finance and feelings or being unable to cope or being too young to have a child are key factors in a woman s decision to have an abortion.

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent The Irish Independent June 20th 2007

The numbers of Irish women having abortions in the UK fell for the sixth year in a row in 2006.
However, this may be partly due to women travelling to other abortion clinics in mainland Europe including the Netherlands, says the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. Figures released yesterday show 5,042 women gave Irish addresses in UK clinics last year, compared to 5585 in 2005.

The numbers having terminations there compared to 6,673 in 2001. But Irish women still account for the majority of the 7,436 non-residents having abortions in the UK. The rate of abortion- which compares the number of terminations per 1000 women aged 15-44 years- is also down and now stands at 5.2 compared to 7.5 in 2001.

The Crisis Pregnancy Agency said it is now conducting a scoping study to look at how Irish women are availing of abortions in other European countries. 'It is heartening that the numbers of women travelling to the UK for abortion procedures is decreasing' said CPA chairperson Katherine Bulbulia. The initial findings from its own survey indicates that a number of women are travelling from here to the Netherlands but clinics in other countries are also reporting the use of their services by Irish women since January 2006. However Ms Bulbulia concluded a definite slide in abortions is

Commenting on the figures, Pro Life Campaign spokesperson Dr Ruth Cullen said: 'While any reduction in the abortion rate is good news, nonetheless, the figures remain extremely high and leave no room for complacency. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency, in particular, has a responsibility to ensure that sufficient resources are put in place to provide real and positive alternatives to abortion'.

The Safe and Legal Abortion Rights Campaign said the Government 'needs to face up to the reality of abortion', and that it understood the need for women to travel abroad to obtain abortions 'given the current, almost blanket, prohibition on abortion in Ireland'.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign Welcomes Drop in UK Figures, Calls For Safe and Legal Abortion in Ireland

for immediate release Tuesday June 19th 2007

Abortion Rights Campaign Welcomes Drop in UK Figures, But That Available Statistics Do Not Reflect True Picture.

The Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign has said today (19.6.07) that the decrease in UK abortion figures for women with an address in the Republic of Ireland is welcome but that the fall is due to women travelling to other European countries. According to the 2006 figures released today by the UK Department of Health, 5,042 women travelled from Ireland to obtain an abortion a decrease of 543 on 2005.

Spokesperson Natalie McDonnell said 'The Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign understands the need for women to travel abroad to obtain abortions given the current, almost blanket, prohibition on abortion in Ireland. We call for abortion to be made safe and legal in Ireland for those who may need it. In our opinion, the Irish Government needs to face up to the reality of abortion and end the hypocrisy of exiling women to Britain, and other European countries in search of abortion procedures.'

The Campaign notes that 'Irish women are travelling in greater numbers to the Netherlands, Belgium and other European countries due to the prohibitive sterling-euro differential. Abortions in the UK can cost up to £1,300, with additional costs for travel and accommodation'.

Under current Irish law, a woman faces life imprisonment for obtaining an abortion in Ireland. Currently three Irish women known as A, B and C, have lodged a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights claiming the abortion laws are a violation of their human rights.

See Tables 12b and 12 c of the UK Abortion Stats 2006 pdf attached


http://www.safeandlegalinireland.ie/ http://safeandlegal.blogspot.com/

for further information contact:
Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign
Telephone: 087 0559913
email: safeandlegalinireland@eircom.net

Friday, June 15, 2007

Abortion Rights UK 'Speak Out' Campaign

In Britain Abortion Rights has launched a new ‘speak out’ campaign website www.prochoicemajority.org.uk to break the silencing taboo about being pro-choice or having had an abortion. Already, hundreds of people have added their message of pro-choice support or abortion story and their photo. Similar projects in the US and elsewhere have had a real impact on the abortion debate. Isn't it time your voice was heard, not just the Cardinals and anti-choice MPs?

Add Your Voice To The Pro-Choice Majority:

Abortion Rights Opinion Poll published on International Women's
Day 2007

Irish Abortion Statistics

Irish Abortion statistics

Between January 1980 and December 2004, at least 117,673 women travelled from Ireland for abortion services in Britain. There are no statistics to account for the number of women who travel to other countries for abortion services.

for a comprehensive table of abortion statistics going back to 1980 see:

Amnesty Says Abortion Stance 'Misrepresented'

Amnesty says abortion stance 'misrepresented'
Mary Fitzgerald The Irish Times

The Irish section of Amnesty International has sought to distance itself from the row sparked by a Vatican cardinal who urged Catholics to stop donating to the human rights group because of its new policy on abortion.

Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, issued the call following a recent decision by Amnesty's executive body to advocate abortion rights for women who have been victims of rape or incest, and women who face serious health risks as a result of their pregnancy.

In a statement the council said there should be "no more Catholic financing of Amnesty International after the organisation's pro-abortion about turn".
The cardinal said the human rights group had betrayed its mission as a result.

Amnesty International denied this and said its policy had been misrepresented. "These [ policy] additions do not promote abortion as a universal right and Amnesty International remains silent on the rights and wrongs of abortion," a statement noted.

"Amnesty International's position is not for abortion as a right but for women's human rights to be free of fear, threat and coercion as they manage all consequences of rape and other grave human rights violations," said Kate Gilmore, Amnesty's executive deputy secretary general.

Representatives from the Irish section of Amnesty International issued a statement pointing out the new policy on abortion is optional and allows individual sections to take into account their national context regarding the issue.
"The Irish section of Amnesty International is not, and will not be working on the issue of access to abortion," it read.

Meanwhile, the chairman of Amnesty's Italian branch fears the Vatican's position on the issue could have serious repercussions for the organisation.
"This could be a danger to donations and we are extremely upset about these statements," Paolo Pobbiati said, adding that Amnesty's joint campaigning with Catholic groups could also be in jeopardy.

© 2007 The Irish Times

British Medical Association Briefing Paper on First Trimester Abortion

First trimester abortion
A briefing paper by the BMA’s medical ethics committee
Annual Representative Meeting 2007

There are motions at the 2007 ARM (to be held June 25th-28th) calling on the BMA to support amendments to the Abortion Act 1967 in relation to first trimester abortions.

The BMA’s medical ethics committee (MEC) has considered this issue and this briefing paper summarises the main proposals for change and the views of the MEC.

The MEC supports the revision of the Abortion Act 1967 so that, in the first trimester:
• women are not required to meet medical criteria for abortion
• the requirement for two doctors is removed
• suitably trained and experienced nurses and midwives may carry out both medical and surgical abortions
• as long as safety is ensured, premises do not need to be approved to carry out first trimester abortions.
The MEC believes:
• that changes in relation to first trimester abortion should not adversely impact upon the availability of later abortions

Existing BMA policy on abortion
Doctors hold a wide and diverse range of views on abortion. Despite these disparate views, the BMA has, since the 1970s, repeatedly endorsed policy statements supporting the current Abortion Act as a "practical and humane piece of legislation" and called for the legislation to be extended to Northern Ireland. The ARM voted overwhelmingly against a reduction in the 24-week time limit in 2005. The ARM does not currently have policy that explicitly refers to first trimester abortions.

The full briefing paper is available at:

RCOG Statement On The BMA Ethics Committee Briefing on First Trimester Abortions

RCOG Statement on the BMA Medical Ethics Committee Briefing on First Trimester Abortions
June 5th

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) welcomes the debate proposed in the briefing paper. In general the view of the RCOG is that the current Abortion law meets the need and does not inhibit access to abortion services in this country. Standards of care, within the Act, are clearly laid out in the RCOG Guideline "The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion".

The RCOG believes that women must be provided with appropriate and adequate information to help in their decision making. This includes advice offered pre- and post abortion so that support is provided throughout and women have recourse to a team of health professionals comprising doctors, nurses and counsellors.

The College understands while some feel that it should no longer be necessary to require two doctors to sign the form, but there are occasions, particularly in late pregnancy, where this requirement reflects the difficulties and responsibilities around helping a woman reach a decision.

There are additional important issues to do with the provision and place of services, including medical (non-surgical) methods. Medical methods of abortion are carried out in only 24% of women seeking an abortion in England, when evidence suggests that where a choice is available, the uptake would be 60-70% of women.

A further approach, supported by the College is the development of a national (NICE) Guideline addressing all of the issues, and based around the RCOG recommendations.

Read the Briefing Paper on the BMA website at www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/Content/Firsttrimesterabortion

Bishops Vow To Fight Any Move To Legalise 'Immoral' Abortion

Bishops vow to fight any move to legalise 'immoral' abortion

By John CooneyThursday June 14 2007 The Irish Independent

THE Irish Catholic Bishops have espoused the 'Green' gospel and warned against any move to legalise abortion.At the end of their three-day June meeting in Maynooth yesterday, the bishops announced that they will address the issue of climate change in a pastoral letter this autumn.

But true to their traditional role as moral guardians, the bishops also presented their shopping basket of priority issues for the politicians - both in the Republic and the North.After sending their good wishes to the elected representatives of the 30th Dail and the Northern Assembly, they urged them to work for a society based on the integral promotion of the person and the common good.

Setting out their moral and social concerns, the bishops fired a broadside against any move by the incoming government to legalise abortion in the Republic in light of recent controversial court rulings.

Reaffirming the clear teaching of the Catholic Church that abortion was immoral, the bishops said that "there is no reason that can justify the taking of the life of the unborn".

In a statement which quoted Vatican teaching, the bishops pointed out that the fact that in many countries today abortion is a "service" that is "legal" and "socially acceptable", did not alter the reality that "direct abortion was gravely contrary to the moral law".

They added: "Recent cases that have come before the civil courts again raise the issue of the protection of unborn human life. Associated with these cases have been claims that funding for abortions outside the jurisdiction has been provided by statutory agencies. This is certainly an area that requires clarification."

The bishops also had a swipe at media coverage of abortion."The media, too, have a responsibility to exercise moral judgment in the often invasive way that they pursue vulnerable family members in covering abortion-related stories."The bishops also highlighted the importance of providing adequate support from politicians, including positive incentives, which promote the family based on marriage as the fundamental unit of society. The bishops further expressed their concern about the continuing disparity between the economically advantaged and those who are disadvantaged.- John Cooney

Irish Bishops Comment On Abortion

Christian survey may have had agenda, say bishops
Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent The Irish Times Thursday June 14th.

A survey on Christian knowledge, published last April, has been criticised strongly by two Catholic bishops, who also suggested that those who commissioned it may have had an agenda.
A press conference in Maynooth yesterday was also told it was hoped Bishop Eamonn Casey would be allowed return to public ministry, "quickly, for his sake". Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway said it was for Rome to decide and that Bishop Casey was "doing well" following a hip operation.

The survey criticised was conducted by Lansdowne Market Research for the Iona Institute and the Evangelical Alliance Ireland group. It found that almost one-third (32 per cent) of those surveyed could not say where Jesus was born, while just 15 per cent knew that "transubstantiation" (whereby bread and wine is transformed into the body and blood of Christ) was the term used to describe what takes place at the Eucharist during Mass.
Overall, it found Christian knowledge was highest among those over 65 and lowest in the 15-24 age group.

At the press conference concluding the summer meeting of the Irish Bishop's Conference, Archbishop Dermot Clifford of Cashel said he would like to see "a critical study of the methodology" used in the survey.

He noted it allowed for one answer to each question, so that when it asked where Jesus was born, it accepted "Bethlehem" but not "a stable". Similarly, he said those who answered "consecration" as opposed to "transubstantiation" when asked what occurred at the Eucharist Mass, were also discounted.

Bishop Drennan wondered whether those who commissioned the survey had "an agenda against the Alive O [religious education] programme".
He pointed out that just 10 per cent of those surveyed would have been young enough to avail of the Alive O programme, introduced in 1996. Both bishops praised teachers of religious education as "very competent" and "extremely committed".

The Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise Colm O'Reilly appealed for media sensitivity when dealing with abortion-related stories. "The media too have a responsibility to exercise moral judgment in the often invasive way that they pursue vulnerable family members in covering abortion-related stories," he said.

He reiterated the Church's position on abortion and expressed the hope that politicians would keep it in mind when it came to relevant debate and abortion-related legislation.

Bishop O'Reilly said discussions were ongoing between the Church's pregnancy counselling agency Cura and the State's Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) over the distribution of the latter's Positive Options leaflet. It supplies information on agencies which give details of abortion referral. He also said discussion was ongoing with the four Letterkenny Cura volunteers who precipitated the crisis between Cura and the CPA when they refused to distribute the leaflet. It is understood talks are taking place about a possible meeting with the volunteers on June 27th.
The last meeting with them was in August 2006

Fr Jim Cassin, secretary of the Bishops' Commission on Education, welcomed the evolution of pluralism in the patronage of primary schools, while emphasising that children of other faiths would continue to be welcomed in schools with a Catholic ethos.

Archbishop Clifford said he would like to see more housing provision for young couples and at more reasonable prices. He also felt a good train service would ease family pressures and help family life, allowing for more quality time with children.

© 2007 The Irish Times

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bishops To Outline Moral Priorities For New Coalition

Irish Independent Tuesday 12th June 2007.
By John Cooney Religion Correspondent

The Catholic bishops plan to launch a policy broadside setting out moral and social priorities for the incoming Government's running of the country over the next five years. Gathered in strict privacy, the bishops are drafting a major statement at their June meeting, which began yesterday at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Last night the Irish Independent learned that the bishops will take the exceptional step of holding a press conference to display their 'shopping basket' tomorrow afternoon, just 24 hours before the Dáil elects a new Government.

The bishops will reaffirm their opposition to legalising abortion and to lowering the age of consent to 16 years of age in a promised referendum. The bishops will also stress the urgent need for a Fianna Fail-led Government to9 introduce new managerial models of patronage of primary schools to meet the educational needs of immigrants.

Other concerns of the bishops include defending the position of marriage and the family, as enshrined in the Constitution, against growing pressure to recognise the fundamental rights of single sex couples, and winning public acceptance that 'research on human embryos which involves their destruction can never be justified'.

Echoing the crusading spirit of Bono and Bob Geldof at last week's G8 summit in Germeny, the bishops will stress the importance of Ireland meeting its aid commitments to Third World countries, especially in Africa. Following the recognition by Pope Benedict of their efforts to tackle the scandals surrounding youth sexual abuse by clergy, the bishops are determined to regain their voice as shapers of the social conscience of a largely Catholic legislature and electorate.

Uruguayans Start Online Drive To Legalise Abortion

By Patricia Avila Reuters Monday June 11

Uruguayan writers, musicians and two female government ministers have joined an Internet campaign to legalize abortion after a 20-year-old woman was criminally charged for undergoing the procedure.

Abortion is severely restricted in most Latin American countries. In Uruguay, women are only allowed to abort if they were raped, when their lives are endangered or if they suffer severe economic hardship.

A bill to lift the constraints was introduced in Congress, but President Tabare Vazquez, an oncologist, has said he will veto any such measure. The Senate defeated a similar bill in 2004 after the lower house passed it.

Authorities charged the woman last month after she sought treatment in a public hospital for injuries related to the illegal procedure. She remains free while her case is pending.
Three women involved in performing the abortion have been jailed while they await trial, local media reported.

"We felt that people needed a place to express their indignation over the injustice done to this young woman," said Rafael Sanseviero, a former Communist Party legislator and one of the campaign's leaders.

Under Uruguay's 1938 law, women who abort face up to nine months in prison. People who facilitate or perform the operation face up to two years. If the woman dies because of a botched abortion, the penalty jumps to six years behind bars.

About 3,500 people have signed the petition at www.despenalizar.blogspot.com since June 1, including the interior and social development ministers, both of whom are women. Writer Eduardo Galeano and singer Jaime Roos are among the artists who have signed.

"Those of us signing this have violated the law ... either by having an abortion or financing one, by accompanying a woman to have one, (or) knowing the identity of many women who have had one and keeping quiet. Either we are all criminals or the law is unjust," the Web site says.
An estimated 30,000 abortions are performed in Uruguay each year, according to private groups.

A recent poll showed that 61 percent of Uruguay's 3.3 million residents support its legalization.
About 65 percent of Uruguayans are Christian, the vast majority Roman Catholics, according to the World Christian Database. But 28 percent are considered nonreligious, 6 percent are atheists, and many Catholics are non-practicing.

Latin America is home to about half the world's Catholics, and abortion is only fully legal in Cuba and Guyana.

As Pope Benedict began a trip to Brazil in May, he told Catholic politicians they exclude themselves from the Church if they support laws allowing abortion. The Church teaches that abortion is murder.

In April, Mexico City's lawmakers made abortion legal in the capital during the first 12 weeks of a woman's pregnancy. The country's Supreme Court said it will weigh the constitutionality of the new law.

Monday, June 11, 2007

MPs To Fight For Abortion On Demand

Cross-party group wants to remove delays and need for two doctors to approve terminations Denis Campbell, health correspondent Sunday June 10, 2007The Observer

Pro-abortion MPS are preparing for a bitter political battle in an attempt to bring in termination on demand in the first three months of pregnancy.
The cross-party group of MPs will also press to remove the need for two doctors to approve a termination, and for the procedure to be medically justified.
The move, which will be fiercely resisted by anti-abortion campaigners, will also seek to let nurses and paramedics perform abortions and for the operations to be carried out at GPs' surgeries and family planning clinics. MPs will also try to extend the right to abortion to women in Northern Ireland, who are not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act.

The MPs, led by Labour backbenchers Laura Moffatt and Christine McCafferty but with supporters among the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, have been holding discussions about organising a wholesale revision of the 1967 Act. They are looking at the recently-published Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and a possible Private Members Bill, as vehicles for the changes.

Moffatt, the MP for Crawley and secretary of the All-Party Pro-Choice and Sexual Health Group, said: 'People think that we have abortion on demand in this country. It isn't. You have to have two doctors' signatures to support your view that you want a termination. A lot of MPs think that women should be trusted to make that decision. In general the pro-choice lobby is in favour of removing the two-doctors requirement. If a woman has made up her mind that she wants an abortion, why delay?'

About 205,000 women and girls in Britain have an abortion every year. Eighty-nine per cent are carried out in the first three months. Abortion on demand would help ensure that most women have a termination within 10 weeks, compared to 67 per cent now, reducing the risks, said Moffatt.

The medical ethics committee of the British Medical Association, which represents most of Britain's 150,000 doctors, last week said that clinical advances in inducing abortion meant that the requirements in the 1967 Act 'are no longer necessary to ensure the safe administration of abortion in the first trimester'. Instead, it said, women should be able to have a termination during the first three months purely on the basis of informed consent - after a doctor has talked them through the risks and benefits. That would remove what the committee called unnecessary 'legislative and administrative burdens created by the Act that, in reality, do not stop women seeking abortion, but potentially expose women to delays and more costly and higher risk procedures'.

Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat MP and member of the BMA committee, said women should not face any greater hurdles to obtaining an abortion than for any other routine surgical procedure, such as having their appendix out.

Three Ten-Minute Rule Bills seeking to restrict access to abortion have been introduced by Conservative MPs since October, for example by reducing the time-limit from 24 to 20 weeks. But they have been defeated by majorities of 72, 75 and 99, underlining that pro-life numbers in the Commons are relatively small and that there is a comfortable majority of pro-choice-minded MPs on all sides.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Politicians Should Keep Out Of The Consulting Room

The third Bill in eight months from a Conservative backbench MP proposing further limits to the 1967 Abortion Act is to be introduced in the Commons on 5 June. BPAS’ Chief Executive responds.

As Lady Ann Winterton MP prepareds to present her ten-minute rule ‘Termination of Pregnancy (Counselling and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill’, Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of BPAS, said:
‘This is an unnecessary and disingenuous Bill. All women seeking abortion are already offered counselling and receive information about the effects of treatment, as specified by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

‘This Bill could even be harmful by introducing an unnecessary treatment delay before abortion, causing all women undue stress and potentially requiring some to need more complex treatment.

‘Women don’t need Parliament to tell them to think carefully about abortion. We see 55,000 women each year who wrestle with this choice, often presenting some weeks into pregnancy after needing time to consider their options and to discuss them with their families. Ann Winterton has been voicing her personal objections to abortion for decades now, but politicians should keep out of the consulting room.’

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG)’s notes for patients about abortion state:
‘How you react [emotionally] will depend on the circumstances of your abortion, the reasons for having it and on how comfortable you feel about your decision. You may feel relieved or sad, or a mixture of both. Some studies suggest that women who have had an abortion may be more likely to have psychiatric illness or to self-harm than other women who give birth or are of a similar age. However, there is no evidence that these problems are actually caused by the abortion; they are often a continuation of problems a woman has experienced before.’

The RCOG’s professional guidance on psychological sequelae states of induced abortion states:
‘some studies suggest that rates of psychiatric illness or self-harm are higher among women who have had an abortion compared with women who give birth and to non-pregnant women of similar age. It must be borne in mind that these findings do not imply a causal association and may reflect continuation of pre-existing conditions.’

Doctors agree that where safe, legal abortion is not available, women’s lives are at risk. Worldwide 68,000 women die each year after unsafe abortion, according to the World Health Organisation. Many thousands of others are left with severe long-term health problems as a consequence. Having an abortion poses fewer medical risks than going through pregnancy and birth for most women.

Also read:
BPAS press statement, 4 June 2007.
The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion, Evidence-based Clinical Guideline Number 7, RCOG September 2004.
Both sides in abortion row get ready for parliamentary battle, Guardian, 4 June 2007

Abortion- What Do Catholics Really Think?

Jon O’Brien, President of Catholics for a Free Choice, explains why the notion that all Catholics are opposed to abortion is just plain wrong.

As an Irish Catholic I know it would make Henry VIII lose his cool, if not his head. After successfully carrying out the Reformation and foiling Guy Fawkes, the British establishment now faces the possibility that Roman Catholicism will become the dominant religion in Britain.
Media reports earlier this year breathlessly told us that a great exodus of immigrants from Eastern Europe means that the number of Catholics in the UK has risen to new and unseen heights.

Figures for 2005 show that there were 4.2 million Catholics in England and Wales but anecdotal reports suggest far more as both legal and illegal immigrants seek work and opportunities that their native economies do not offer. At present, both Catholic and Anglican churches report about one million regular churchgoers. With the new arrivals, Catholicism may become the leading religion.

The media relied on reports from priests and Catholic diocese workers so it is difficult to put real figures on any of this. Naturally, the irregular status of some immigrants means they prefer to keep a low profile. However, if it is the case that the Catholic voting population is set to surge, one wonders what will be the impact on public policy issues that relate to sexual and reproductive health. This is a fair question, as the Catholic hierarchy has been such a conservative critic of progressive policy on issues like contraception and abortion.

Official statistics tell us that 300,000 Poles have arrived in the UK since 2004. According to Polish authorities, the real number could be in the region of 600,000. For anybody who has been watching the bizarre actions of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Law and Justice Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the idea of such an uber-traditionalist voting bloc is a scary one, especially for those concerned with preserving personal liberties and the separation of church and state. Gay rights, contraception, sex education and abortion are all on the brothers’ rather extensive hit list in their regressive campaign to restore Poland to a more ‘traditional’ era.

However such fears about Catholic views are based on many presumptions, most of which are just plain wrong:
Catholics have to do what the pope tells them. It is a popular misconception that whatever the pope says on a serious topic is infallible and must be followed - it is not. Infallible statements are only made in very limited and narrow circumstances. For example on the abortion issue and, contrary to what many believe, the teaching on abortion, is not infallible and no serious theologian claims it is.

Catholics do what the pope tells them. Dissent from church teaching is permissible and there is a long tradition of disagreement with official teachings, interpretation of teachings and the way those teachings are expressed. The sensus fidelium, or sense of the faithful, is also a valid source of truth in the church, and rightly guides the beliefs and actions of Catholics. So while most such discussions are among theologians, ordinary Catholics the world over show by their actions that they have soundly rejected the church’s ban on contraception, and on the topic of abortion, in some countries and on some questions, only a minority of Catholics agree with church leaders. Catholics have abortions and use contraception - when they have access to it - at much the same rate as those of other religious traditions.

Catholics are supposed to tell others what to do. Wrong again. Despite the efforts of the hierarchy to conform public policies to its teachings, Catholic tradition clearly demands that Catholics respect the views of other faith groups and the church accepts the principle of church-state separation. Catholics ‘should recognise the legitimacy of differing points of view about the organisation of worldly affairs and show respect for their fellow citizens’, advises one pastoral letter, and Vatican II clearly recognises that the political community and the church are independent of each other. However it is true that some church officials have sought to use their power to influence public policy against reproductive health services.

What do Catholics actually believe? Noted sociologist and Catholic priest Andrew Greeley has released many surveys of Catholic opinion showing how Catholics disagree with many core church teachings. Among Catholics, only 19% in America, 18% in Poland and 17% in Italy believe that premarital sex is always wrong. On abortion, only 37% in the USA, 31% in Poland and 12% in Italy believe it is always wrong. Only 22% of Poles have a great deal of confidence in church leadership, and a 2002 survey showed that 56% of Catholics in Poland said that the church’s involvement in politics was too great.

Even devout Catholics believe ‘the church has no right to try to control their private lives.’ As Greeley concluded in a 2001 report on Ireland, ‘If sex and authority are what Catholicism is about - and many will contend that they are - then the Irish are no longer Catholic. But neither is anyone else.’ (America, 12 March 2001)

Polling in the UK shows a small majority of Catholics support abortion if the fetus has a serious defect and a third do if the family has a low income. It is feasible that an immigrant population used to abortion being a major method of family planning and perhaps more attuned to the harsh realities of a tough economy could increase support for abortion rights among Catholics in the UK.

However, when the Catholic hierarchy and its supporters on the right seeks to legislate its religious beliefs into civil law, it tends to no longer have the power it once did.Witness changes in favour of gay rights and abortion rights in Spain and Portugal in recent times, despite fierce lobbying by the hierarchy. And the hierarchy is all too aware of this relative weakness. Only a handful of hard-line bishops in the USA supported a move to deny the sacrament of communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians in the 2006 elections, leading to the whole issue becoming a complete failure. Regardless of what the bishops say, Catholics are using their consciences when it comes to moral decision-making - just as the hierarchy insists we do.

Indeed, the recent surge in mass attendance in Britain may not sustain itself and may be a temporary search for a sense of community and social services that are available to newly arrived immigrants. In Poland, where 90% are Catholic, fewer than half attend mass at least once a week. There is also the probability that many of the immigrants coming to Britain may be the younger, city dwelling, more educated set, and not the same people who support the current Polish government or its conservative Catholic ways.

If the people over at the Universe, the UK’s conservative Catholic newspaper, think that these new immigrants will lead the charge to a fundamentalist Catholic Britain, they may be in for a big disappointment. However, those who support reproductive rights should not take the liberal society they currently enjoy for granted. There is no doubt that the much deflated anti-choice movement in Britain will be working hard to recruit new members and activists, and will likely be propagandising at a Catholic church near you.

Jon O’Brien is the president of Catholics for a Free Choice.