Sunday Business Post
Sunday May 18th 2008
o Law change would affect Irish seeking abortions
by Susan Mitchell
Proposals to reform abortion laws in Britain could have major repercussions for the more than 6,000 Irish women who travel to Britain for terminations each year, according to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA).
An alliance of pro-life MPs, traditionalists and Catholic backbenchers want to reduce the time limit at which it is legal to have an abortion from 24 to 22weeks or less. Niall Behan, chief executive of the IFPA, said that any reduction in the time limit would have the greatest impact on women carrying foetuses with severe or fatal abnormalities.
Behan said that most women who decided to terminate their pregnancies did so before 20 weeks gestation, but that severe and fatal foetal abnormalities were often not detected until 18 or 19weeks into a pregnancy.
‘‘In those circumstances, women often have a further scan or a check to look at the options that may be available,’’ Behan said.
‘‘Any reduction in the time limit would only give a woman, or indeed a couple, a one-week window to make a decision. More time is needed under those circumstances and I would have grave fears that decisions would be rushed.”
Behan said that asylum seekers living in Ireland could also be affected, as he had come across a number of cases in which asylum seekers had difficulties securing papers to travel to Britain, meaning that they also presented relatively late for a termination.
Anti-abortion activists argue that Britain has an excessively late cut-off point for abortion. Two-thirds of EU countries have a time limit lower than the British one, with some banning abortion after 12 weeks’ gestation.
Abortion reform forms part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which is due to be discussed in detail by British politicians tomorrow and Tuesday.
Those MPs in favour of restricting abortion are planning to table amendments that would fix the time limit at anything between 13 and 22 weeks. Pro-life MPs will also attempt to introduce ‘‘informed consent’’ legislation, which has been implemented in 26 other countries around the world. This means that women seeking a termination would be advised to reflect on their decision and given information about the potential risks.
Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, has said that he will vote against any proposals to reduce the 24-week limit.
However, Brown has been forced to grant a free vote on many of the measures, after being faced with a rebellion by dozens of MPs and at least three cabinet members. That means they do not have to vote in accordance with party lines.
The bill also includes measures that will allow the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos and the use of embryo screening to produce so-called ‘saviour siblings’.