Council of Europe calls on Ireland to legislate for abortion
CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent THE IRISH TIMES April 17th 2008
THE COUNCIL of Europe's parliamentary assembly has called on member states including Ireland to legalise abortion, despite opposition from a number of members including Fianna Fáil Senator Terry Leyden.
However, the vote has no binding effect as the council - which is an advisory body to 47 European member states - is not part of the European Union.
The assembly adopted a resolution calling on member states to decriminalise abortion and to guarantee women's rights to access to safe and legal abortion by 102 votes to 69 after a four-hour debate.
The parliamentarians said abortion should be avoided as far as possible and "in no circumstances be regarded as a family planning method". They said a total ban would not result in fewer abortions, leading instead to traumatic clandestine abortions and abortion "tourism".
At present the law permits abortion to save the life of the mother in almost all Council of Europe member states. It is also permitted subject to certain other reasons or within a specified time-frame in most countries, with the exception of Ireland, Andorra, Malta, Monaco and Poland, according to Council of Europe officials.
In the resolution, the parliamentarians said medical and psychological care, as well as suitable financial cover, should be offered to women seeking abortions, and conditions which restricted access to safe abortion should be lifted.
They also called for school pupils to receive "compulsory age-appropriate, gender-sensitive education on sex and relationships" in order to avoid unwanted pregnancies or abortions.
Mr Leyden said he was disappointed at the outcome. "I campaigned vigorously against the report and gathered a certain amount of support in the last few days. It is inappropriate for the Council of Europe to explicitly call on member states to decriminalise abortion as it takes no account of the differing historical, constitutional and policy positions of countries such as Ireland, where we have very strong protection for the unborn child."
Mr Leyden said other members of the Irish delegation, including Senator Cecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fáil) and Pat Breen TD (Fine Gael) voted against the resolution, as did delegates from Malta, Poland and Andorra. Joe Costello TD (Labour) abstained and said any decision on abortion should be left to member states themselves.
Mr Leyden, meanwhile, said it was important to emphasise that the vote had no legal jurisdiction in the Republic.
Pressure growing to make abortion legal here after Europe resolution
By Dearbhail McDonald and Allison Bray THE IRISH INDEPENDENT
Thursday April 17 2008
Political pressure on Ireland to decriminalise abortion is likely to increase after Europe's human rights watchdog passed a resolution yesterday calling for it to be legalised.
Ireland, Malta and Poland were singled out by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for their failure to decriminalise abortion and allow termination of unwanted pregnancies subject to "reasonable" time limits.
The Labour Party's Joe Costello abstained but other Irish delegates voted against the resolution based on a report which they said failed to respect national laws on abortion, and is not binding on Ireland.
However, observers said resolutions passed at the Strasbourg Assembly can lead to international political pressure being applied to the Irish Government on the issue.
Despite Ireland's objections to the decriminalisation of abortion, the controversial resolution was passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
The resolution was based on a report which Irish Senator Terry Leyden claimed was "partisan and one-sided".
"We are disappointed with the result, but in an Irish context it is meaningless," said Pat Breen, the Fine Gael TD who led the Irish delegation.
The parliamentary assembly resolutions can be considered by the European Court of Human Rights whose decisions are binding on member states that have ratified the European Convention of Human Rights.
Pro-choice activist Senator Ivana Bacik said that while the vote is not legally binding, it could have both political and social repercussions.
"It adds to international political pressure but, more importantly, public opinion is changing in favour of decriminalisation," she said.
Anti-abortion campaigners said the resolution is flawed.
Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro-Life Campaign said: "Many of the arguments put forward by council members promoting abortion are jaded and grossly out of touch with the most recent research," she said.
Before last night's vote, senior officials from PACE criticised the Irish Government's refusal to decriminalise abortion, thus "encouraging abortion tourism". It also criticised having a provision in our criminal code which states that women who abort their unborn foetuses can be jailed for life.
· Abortion laws under pressure from Council of Europe - Ann Cahill, Europe Correspondent THE IRISH EXAMINER Thursday April 17th 2008
IRELAND has come under pressure from the Council of Europe to stop criminalising women who have abortions and allow them access to the procedure.
An Irish woman can be jailed for life if she has an abortion in Ireland, but, if she can afford to travel, she can legally get one abroad, the council was told.
A report before the human rights body, of which the Government is a member, was supported by a range of Irish groups that hope it will help change the current law that forbids abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger.
Catherine Forde, a lawyer with the Irish Family Planning Association, told the council: “Women pregnant as a result of rape and incest and women carrying a foetus that cannot live must scurry like criminals to foreign jurisdictions to have an abortion.”
Christine McCafferty, a council member from Britain and one of the report’s authors, said Ireland’s laws meant women had to resort to what she called abortion tourism.
“Irish women have good reproductive health and low maternal mortality rates but this is because their women are dependent on safe abortions they get abroad, including in the UK,” she said.
The parliamentarians from 47 European countries said abortion should be avoided as far as possible and in no circumstances be regarded as a family-planning method.
“But a total ban does not result in fewer abortions, leading instead to traumatic clandestine abortions and abortion tourism.”
They said medical and psychological care, as well as suitable financial cover, should be offered to women seeking abortions, and conditions that restrict access to safe abortion within reasonable time limits should be lifted.
Senator Terry Leydon, Fianna Fáil, a member of the Council of Europe, said the report was flawed in that it assumed not allowing abortion resulted in high levels of maternal deaths and back-street abortion. Its proposals would be against the will of the majority of people in a number of member states, he added.
A letter from the Irish Family Planning Association and other groups to the council said the figure of 7,000 from Ireland having abortions in Britain underestimated the numbers as some may give false addresses in Britain or travel to other countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.