Thursday, December 20, 2007

Repeal All Abortion Laws

By Joyce Arthur, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada
October, 2007

Canada is the only democratic country in the world that has no abortion law or restrictions of any kind, and it has proven that such laws are completely unnecessary. An expanded version of this article describing Canada's experience can be found here:

No country needs to regulate abortion via criminal or civil law. All anti-abortion laws and restrictions, throughout the world, should be repealed as unconstitutional violations of women's rights and equality.

Anti-abortion laws kill and injure women, violate their human rights and dignity, impede access to abortion, and obstruct healthcare professionals. All abortion restrictions are unjust, harmful, and useless because they rest on traditional religious and patriarchal foundations. Only when abortion has the same legal status as any other health procedure can it be fully integrated into women's reproductive healthcare.

Laws against abortion do nothing to stop abortion

Every year, about 19 million desperate women seek out illegal abortions, because the countries they live in have banned safe abortion. 68,000 women die every year as a result, and at least five million suffer serious injury or permanent disability.

Countries with strict abortion bans (mostly in the developing world) usually allow an exception to save the woman's life. Ironically, such bans result in many times more maternal deaths than in countries with more liberal abortion laws. The hypocrisy of laws that pretend to save women's lives, but which actually slaughter them by the thousands, demands their immediate repeal.

Anti-abortion laws have nothing to do with good healthcare.

Abortion laws around the world vary wildly. While some countries ban abortion totally, others have few or no laws, and many enforce statutes regulating various aspects of the abortion decision and procedure. Such laws are generally not required for any other medical treatment. Examples include mandatory waiting periods, parental consent laws, obligatory counseling, early gestational limits, and other restrictions. Differing legal frameworks also lead to "abortion tourism," forcing women to travel out-of-country to obtain the care they need, and discriminating against women without the resources to travel.

The sheer diversity of legal situations around the world is proof that abortion laws have nothing to do with quality healthcare, and instead are politically-motivated. Abortion laws are unrelated to women's real medical needs and concerns, and divorced from the best practices of medical professionals. They are simply holdovers from the days of criminal abortion, or recent products of religious ideology.

In practice, many abortion restrictions impede good medical care, such as delaying treatment unnecessarily and providing false information to patients. This increases the medical risks of abortion and causes psychological and physical distress to women. Also, when abortion is illegal or restricted, it blocks or hampers medical research that's needed to improve abortion care and protect women's health.

Abortion laws are frequently hollow anyway, because it's assumed they reduce abortion when they don't. For example, abortions in the third trimester are very rare and done only in dire circumstances, so passing a law that prohibits late abortions except for health reasons is pointless, as well as insulting to women and doctors. The natural limiting factors for third trimester abortions are the very low demand for them, and the miniscule number of doctors willing and trained to do them.

Anti-abortion laws hurt healthcare professionals.

Anti-abortion laws punish healthcare providers and further reduce access to abortion by:

marginalizing abortion care and abortion providers outside the mainstream healthcare system
shifting the focus away from basic healthcare to legal issues
turning abortion into a political target for legislators and extremists
disrespecting professional medical judgments made in the patient's best interests
interfering in the confidential doctor/patient relationship
threatening health workers with prosecution

The imposition of anti-abortion laws says, in effect, that legislators can make better medical decisions than doctors. No other medical procedure carries with it the threat of criminal punishment - abortion is singled out for special treatment. But physicians should never work under the shadow of prosecution simply for providing medical care.

Anti-abortion laws institutionalize the stigma of abortion. Laws imply that abortion must be restricted because it is wrong and bad, and people who need or perform abortions are also wrong and bad. But no law will change the fact that a woman desperately needs an abortion, and a doctor wants to help her. As a result, abortion restrictions foster hypocrisy and disrespect for the law because they often force providers to interpret laws loosely, skirt them, or even disobey them.

Anti-abortion laws violate women's equality.

Women are different than men because of their capacity to bear children. Child-bearing has a much more profound effect on women's lives, than for men. To truly achieve equality with men, women must not be disadvantaged under the law because of pregnancy. There should be no laws regulating pregnancy in any way, because that puts a special obligation on women that is not placed on men. For example, a law that requires women to pay for abortions, but not childbirth costs, is discriminatory.

It's the uniquely important role of courts to uphold peoples' constitutional rights by striking down laws that infringe on those rights. Since any restriction on abortion unacceptably limits women's rights, abortion restrictions can (theoretically) be struck down in a constitutional democracy that protects women's equality. Likewise, abortion rights should never be subject to a vote by the electorate, and anti-choice laws should never be enacted based on public referendums. That's because we cannot trust citizens to fairly protect the constitutional rights of minorities and disadvantaged groups. In the case of abortion, social opinions are often rooted in stereotypical assumptions about women's "proper" role as child-bearers, and in religious beliefs about the value of fetal life, at the expense of pregnant women's lives.

Canada is the only democratic country in the world that has no abortion law or restrictions of any kind, and it has proven that such laws are completely unnecessary. Current abortion care reflects what most Canadians are comfortable with, and women and doctors act in a timely and responsible manner, without regulations. Women's equality is guaranteed under Canada's constitution, and it's considered unlikely that any anti-abortion law would withstand a constitutional challenge in Canada today. The courts there have consistently protected women's right to abortion since 1988, when the old abortion law was struck down by Canada's Supreme Court as violating women's constitutional rights to "life, liberty, and security of the person," and "freedom of conscience."

Even in national constitutions lacking an explicit guarantee of equality for women, there are usually other clauses that will support the repeal of abortion laws. For example, the 14th Amendment in the American constitution says no state can "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." This clause, and similar clauses in other national constitutions, should require the repeal of abortion laws because they unfairly apply only to women.

Anti-abortion laws hurt and devalue women.

Besides violating women's equality rights, anti-abortion laws also hurt women by:

affecting disadvantaged women the most, such as the poor, young, immigrant, and uneducated
turning women into criminals, or state-controlled baby-making machines
fostering prejudice against women who need one
rejecting women's moral reasoning
distrusting women to make their own decisions about their lives
protecting fetuses instead of pregnant women
punishing women for having sex for pleasure
punishing women for "shirking" motherhood

Abortion restrictions are meant to reduce the incidence of abortion, but instead, they put cruel obstacles in front of a woman. The just and sensible way to reduce abortion is to make contraception universally accessible, teach responsible sex education, and give people positive incentives to raise kids, such as financial bonuses and family support programs.

The state has no legitimate interest in protecting the fetus at any stage, except to provide social and medical resources to pregnant women to ensure good outcomes for their pregnancies. And a good outcome can be an abortion. Pregnant women are in the best position to take care of their fetuses, so we should trust women to make decisions on behalf of their fetuses, not the state.

Anti-abortion laws are rooted in patriarchy and religious tradition.

The following patriarchal myths are the root cause of all abortion restrictions, and form the basis of the anti-abortion viewpoint. The main anti-abortion goal is not to "save babies," it's to keep women in their traditional roles.

Motherhood is a woman's highest calling
All women should be (and want to be) mothers.
Women should endure the discomfort and pain of pregnancy and childbirth as their natural duty.
Women should sacrifice themselves to raise kids.
Women who have abortions are "bad" or "victims."
Women who have abortions suffer psychologically (at least they should).
Women are irresponsible or too emotional, and need direction and guidance
To "protect" women, we must restrict abortion.

Laws against abortion also rely on tradition, for example:

Pro-natalism - societies have a preference for birth over abortion
The right to have babies is unquestioned and unrestricted, but abortion is frowned upon.
Children are treated like possessions of parents, instead of individuals with rights.
The Church, God, and Bible are anti-abortion.

This traditional thinking no longer works for our modern society with its focus on human rights. Why should we favour birth over abortion when we live in an overpopulated world; when society will never reach agreement on the moral status of the fetus; when we know that unwilling mothers and unwanted children tend to suffer; and when becoming a parent should be the private decision of the woman and her family? Many people may not be ready or able to provide properly for a child. But children have rights, and they deserve respect, love, and the best chance at a good life. Of course, the right to have a child is fundamental and should not be restricted, but abortion is also a fundamental right on an equal basis.

Churches and religious doctrines should never dictate how we live our lives in a secular society with secular laws. Besides, the Bible is pro-choice. Several passages say it is better to die in the womb than live an unhappy or wicked life.

How to repeal anti-abortion laws.

Here's some suggested solutions to get rid of harmful anti-abortion restrictions:

Guarantee women's equality in countries' constitutions
Collect evidence of laws' harms, find plaintiffs, and challenge laws in court.
Lobby government against abortion restrictions (meet with legislators, submit briefs).
Educate media, government, health professionals, and public about the harm and futility of abortion restrictions.
Challenge the religious basis of anti-abortion laws, and keep church and state separate.
Change the rhetoric: Abortion is not a "necessary evil." Abortion is a moral and positive choice that liberates women, saves lives, and protects families.
Empower women in society by changing public policies
Change patriarchal attitudes about women and motherhood through advocacy and education.
Prioritize childcare and child-rearing as a universal concern, not a "woman's issue."

Some of these proposed solutions are obviously very difficult and would take many years. But one has to start somewhere. Because no country needs laws against abortion. We can trust women to exercise their sensible moral judgment; we can trust doctors to exercise their professional medical judgment, and that's all we need to regulate the process.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Economist - Abortion And The Law, Safe Legal and Falling- Restrictive Laws Do Not Reduce Abortion.

Abortion and the law - Safe, legal and falling - Restrictive laws do not reduce abortion

WHEN Catholic clergy or “pro-life” politicians argue that abortion laws should be tightened, they do so in the belief that this will reduce the number of terminations. Yet the largest global study of abortion ever undertaken casts doubt on that simple proposition. Restricting abortions, the study says, has little effect on the number of pregnancies terminated. Rather, it drives women to seek illegal, often unsafe backstreet abortions leading to an estimated 67,000 deaths a year. A further 5m women require hospital treatment as a result of botched procedures.

In Africa and Asia, where abortion is generally either illegal or restricted, the abortion rate in 2003 (the latest year for which figures are available) was 29 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. This is almost identical to the rate in Europe—28—where legal abortions are widely available. Latin America, which has some of the world's most restrictive abortion laws, is the region with the highest abortion rate (31), while western Europe, which has some of the most liberal laws, has the lowest (12).

The study, carried out by the Guttmacher Institute in New York in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and published in a British medical journal, the Lancet, found that most abortions occur in developing countries—35m a year, compared with just 7m in rich countries. But this was largely a reflection of population size. A woman's likelihood of having an abortion is similar whether she lives in a rich country (26 per 1,000) or a poor or middle-income one (29).

Lest it be thought that these sweeping continental numbers hide as much as they reveal, the same point can be made by looking at those countries which have changed their laws. Between 1995 and 2005, 17 nations liberalised abortion legislation, while three tightened restrictions. The number of induced abortions nevertheless declined from nearly 46m in 1995 to 42m in 2003, resulting in a fall in the worldwide abortion rate from 35 to 29. The most dramatic drop—from 90 to 44—was in former communist Eastern Europe, where abortion is generally legal, safe and cheap. This coincided with a big increase in contraceptive use in the region which still has the world's highest abortion rate, with more terminations than live births.

The risk of dying in a botched abortion is only part of a broader problem of maternal health in poor countries. Of all the inequalities of development, this is arguably the worst. According to a report published this week by Population Action International, a Washington-based lobby group, women in poor countries are 250 times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than women in rich ones. Of the 535,000 women who died in childbirth or from pregnancy-related complications in 2005, 99% were in developing countries, according to another report by a group of UN agencies, including WHO, also out this week. Africa accounted for more than half such deaths.

As the UN report noted, countries with the highest levels of maternal mortality have made the least progress towards reducing it. A woman in Africa has a one in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, compared with one in 3,800 for a woman in the rich world.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Majority of Women Want Abortion Legalised

Majority of women want abortion legalised
Carl O'Brien, Social Affairs Correspondent, The Irish Times. Saturday 29th 2007.

A large majority of women now believe the Government should legislate to provide abortion in Ireland, according to an Irish Times /Behaviour & Attitudes poll on women today.
A total of 54 per cent of women believe the Government should act to permit abortion. While support is highest among young and single women, a majority of most age groups favour allowing abortion.

Support for abortion in the circumstances of the X case where there is a real and substantial risk to the life and health of the mother increases further to 69 per cent.

The poll results also show that large numbers of women (42 per cent) personally know someone who has had an abortion in the past.

The figures are part of the first comprehensive opinion poll on women, aimed at capturing their views on key topics such as finance, sex and relationships. It was conducted last month among a national quota sample of 1,000 women at 100 sampling points around the State.

Today's results show major differences between younger and older women across a range of social and moral issues.

On immigration, a majority (66 per cent) believe there are far too many immigrants. This belief is strongest among older women (73 per cent) and is lowest among younger women (56 per cent).

In contrast, a majority of women say they would not be disappointed if their son or daughter married a foreign national, suggesting opposition to immigration may be based on socio-economic rather than racial grounds.

Age-related differences are also clear in the sexual life of younger and older women. The majority have had an average of one to three sexual partners (65 per cent). Younger women are more likely to have had more sexual partners.

Almost half of women aged 18-34 say they have had between one and three sexual partners, a further 25 per cent say they have had four to six sexual partners, while one in 10 say they have had between seven and 10 sexual partners.

Younger women are also more likely to have had a same-sex experience, although the numbers are small. A total of 5 per cent of women say they have had been involved with someone of the same sex. The rate is highest among 18-34s (8 per cent), falling to half that rate among older age groups.

Sharp age-related differences are clear when women are asked whether couples living together before marriage is a good idea. The vast majority of younger women believe it is a good idea to cohabit before getting married, although it is opposed by most over-65s.

Younger women are also much more likely to believe they will become divorced or separated at some stage in their life.

Crime is by far the issue which concerns women most - 93 per cent say they are either extremely worried, very concerned or somewhat concerned about it. Levels of concern are lowest among young women, but reach 98 per cent among older women.

The vast majority of all women agree that married couples should enter into pre-nuptial agreements

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign Spokesperson Elected To Seanad

The Irish Times

Bacik joins Norris and Ross in Seanad
By Carl O'Brien

Trinity panel: Prof Ivana Bacik was elected to the Seanad yesterday on the eighth count, joining Shane Ross and David Norris in the three-seat Trinity College constituency.

She finished almost 2,500 votes ahead of her nearest competitor, Dr Maurice Guéret, who had run on an independent platform to represent Trinity on scientific and health matters.
Prof Bacik, a Labour Party member who ran in the last European election, was endorsed by outgoing Senator Mary Henry who did not contest this election.

The Reid professor of law at Trinity, Prof Bacik follows in the footsteps of former president Mary Robinson, who represented the college in the Seanad for almost 20 years. President Mary McAleese was also Reid professor of law at Trinity.

Speaking after her election, Prof Bacik said she was delighted with the result which she said represented support for a "radical social agenda".

"It's a vote for furthering the unfinished business of the liberal agenda, such as legal recognition for gay partners, parental leave for fathers in the workplace, women's reproductive rights, as well as other issues such as criminal justice and prison reform," she said.

Although a member of the Labour Party, she has insisted she will not take the party whip in the Seanad in order to maintain the traditional independence of Trinity senators.

Among the first pieces of legislation she said she hoped to put before the Seanad will be a Climate Change Bill, which seeks to put in place enforceable Government targets for reducing carbon emissions.

It is Prof Bacik's third time contesting the Seanad election. She won 2,794 first preference votes on the first count, behind Shane Ross - who was elected with 5,379 votes - and David Norris - who was elected with 5,240 votes. Ms Bacik received the majority of transfers in the distribution of surplus votes from both candidates.

Transfers from the elimination of David Hutchinson Edgar, who has served on the national council for the Green Party, eventually saw her exceed the quota of 4,230 votes on the eighth count. Dr Maurice Guéret finished on the eighth count with 1,828 votes, followed by Rosaleen McDonagh, who had hoped to become the first Traveller to be elected to the Oireachtas, with 1,168 votes.

Businessman Séan O'Connor, a grandson of former taoiseach Seán Lemass and nephew of the late Charles Haughey, finished with 889 votes. David Hutchinson Edgar, a lecturer who had the formal backing of the Green Party, was eliminated on the seventh count with 573 votes.

From The Irish Independent
By Michael Brennan

In the three-panel Trinity election, Ivana Bacik succeeded in taking the third seat on the Trinity panel, following the re-election of Shane Ross and David Norris. She said she intended to use the Seanad to promote a "radical social agenda", including laws permitting abortion in Ireland.

She said it was "a scandal" Ireland had no legislation allowing abortion. "I think it's a scandal in this country that we haven't had legislation on abortion and I intend to push for that."
She said she would also be using the Seanad to push for reform on criminal justice, prisoners rights, and recognition of gay marriage.

She got 16.5pc of the first preference vote, which put her behind Shane Ross (31pc) and David Norris (30pc). But it was enough, coupled with transfers to get her the third seat ahead of the nearest contender, GP Maurice Gueret (7pc).

From the Irish Eaminer
By Aine Kerr, Political Reporter

Bacik and Mullen poised to battle it out in Seanad

DEVOUT liberal Ivana Bacik and stanch conservative Ronan Mullen were last night poised to go head to head when the Seanad count resumes. Trinity College’ Dublin’s Reid professor of law Ivana Bacik was elected on the eighth count with a comfortable lead of 2,402 votes on her nearest rival Dr Maurice Gueret.

She joins sitting senators David Norris and Shane Ross who were both elected to the three-seat TCD panel on Tuesday. Last night, the newly elected senator who ran unsuccessfully in the Seanad elections in 1997 and 2002 said she looked forward to pursuing a liberal agenda.

Listing campaign issues such as recognising gay partnerships, legalising abortion and introducing improved conditions for fathers at work through paid paternity leave, she said she would use draft private members’ bills to further her causes.

Asked about the possibility of debating issues with Mr Mullen, who was edging towards the second seat on the NUI panel last night, Ms Bacik said they had already debated on several occasions and had not always “seen eye to eye”.

Late evening indications from the NUI count showed sitting senator Joe O’Toole first in the field, followed by Mr Mullen and Feargal Quinn. However, the position of Mr Mullen and Mr Quinn was being strongly challenged by sitting Senator Brendan Ryan and Valerie Bresnihan. By the 15th count, Mr Mullen had amassed 5,622 through significant transfers and was on course to unseat Labour’s sitting senator Mr Ryan.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Letter in the Irish Times

Letters to the Editor Monday July 23rd The Irish Times


Madam, - Patricia Casey (July 17th) writes that she wishes any debate on abortion to be honest and factual, yet her discussion of the study undertaken in New Zealand by Prof David Fergusson fails to address some of its weaknesses. The study considered confounding factors from childhood and adolescence but not factors present at the time of abortion, for example financial insecurity or relationship break-up.

More importantly, in his report Prof Fergusson admits that his study cannot differentiate between the influence of abortion and that of unwanted pregnancy on subsequent mental health.
New Zealand has a liberal abortion regime and a high abortion rate, so it is very likely that most unwanted pregnancies within the study group were terminated. It may not be informative to compare mental illness rates in women who have had abortions with those in women who have never been pregnant or have had wanted pregnancies.

A more informative comparison would be between women with unwanted pregnancies who have abortions and women with unwanted pregnancies who choose to have the baby. What would be really interesting would be to compare rates of mental illness between women who have abortions and those who are forced to continue with an unwanted pregnancy, though thankfully it seems unlikely that such a study would ever be permitted in New Zealand or elsewhere. - Yours, etc,
PAUL BROWNE, Cambridge, England.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Portugal- Epidemic of Conscientious Objection to Performing Abortion

PORTUGAL: Epidemic of Conscientious Objection to Performing Abortion
By Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Jul 20 (IPS) -
Pleading "conscientious objection," a significant proportion of doctors in Portugal are preventing women from making use of the law authorising abortions up to 10 weeks of gestation, which entered into force on Sunday.

Voluntary abortion is also legal up to 16 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape, and up to 24 weeks if the foetus is found to have congenital malformation or an incurable disease.

The new abortion law follows a Feb. 11 referendum in which 59.3 percent of the votes were in favour of decriminalisation of the procedure, and 40.7 percent against. One day after the law came into effect, very few women were availing themselves of their right to terminate pregnancies.

The reasons for this are neither technical nor political. Many public hospitals simply cannot respond to the demand because most of their doctors refuse to perform abortions. The Health Ministry acknowledged this week that doctors' recourse to conscientious objection has left the state with its hands tied, as its only remaining option to provide the abortion services stipulated by the law is to contract doctors from outside its hospital system.

Vasco Freire, the head of Médicos pela Escolha (Doctors for Choice), one of the civil society movements that worked hardest for the referendum "Yes" campaign, told IPS that many of his colleagues refused to perform abortions on moral grounds, "but in many cases, their conscientious objection is limited to state hospitals and does not apply in private medicine."

The same view was expressed by gynaecologist Miguel de Oliveira e Silva, who has written several books about abortion. In many cases, "in the morning, at the National Health Service, they are conscientious objectors, but in the afternoon when they practise privately, they aren't," he said.

The main problem is the mentality of Portuguese doctors, who have a "very conservative code," Oliveira e Silva said. "Neither the referendum nor the law were able to change doctors' attitudes. That's why the Health Ministry recently initiated negotiations to 'privatise abortion,'" he said.

Conscientious objection by doctors is contributing to delays in hospitals all over the country, where women are on waiting lists for mandatory counselling appointments and ultrasound examinations to determine gestational age, before being given a date for the procedure -- which may be another15 days later.

In Madeira, the North Atlantic archipelago which is the most religious and conservative region of Portugal, feelings over the controversy are running high. Madeira's regional secretary for Social Affairs, Francisco Jardim Ramos, said on Sunday that Lisbon "cannot behave like a colonial power and impose on this autonomous region a law that 64 percent of (Madeira's) population rejected in the referendum."

In response, Health Minister António Correia de Campos said that women from Madeira who wanted an abortion could come to the mainland, so long as the autonomous community paid for their travel. Jardim Ramos replied that the central government ought to bear those costs.

On Sunday, several civil society movements opposed to abortion demonstrated in front of hospitals all over the country in "actions symbolising what we defend, and presenting an alternative to a law that is patently bad," said Catarina Almeida, an anti-abortion activist. To comply with the law, the National Health Service estimates it will need to spend some eight million dollars a year, to provide between 17,000 and 18,000 abortions at a unit cost of between 467 and 608 dollars, depending on whether pharmaceutical or surgical methods are used. Cases requiring hospital admissions could cost up to 1,470 dollars.

Portugal's new law on abortion takes it out of the group of the European Union's most conservative countries, comprising Ireland, Malta and Poland. These countries allow termination of pregnancy only in cases where the woman's life is in danger.

Until February, Portugal was the only EU country where women who opted for an abortion could face up to three years in prison, with all the resulting humiliation of public trials and sentencing, and television cameras waiting at the courtroom doors.

In Finland and Luxemburg, abortion may be carried out in cases of rape, or where there are socioeconomic or sociomedical reasons to interrupt the pregnancy.

Twenty out of the 27 members of the bloc have liberal legislation, allowing abortion on demand in "early pregnancy," which is variously defined as between 12 and 24 weeks' gestation.

Spain is a special case in that the law contains a clause to which many women have recourse. Termination of pregnancy is permitted if there is "serious mental or physical risk to the health of the mother," up to 22 weeks' gestation.

Amnesty International- To Stop Violence Against Women Respect For Women's Human Rights Is Essential


To Stop Violence Against Women respect for women's human rights is essential

Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Every year, millions of women are raped by partners, relatives, friends and strangers, by employers and colleagues, soldiers and members of armed groups. Violence in the family is endemic all over the world; the overwhelming majority of victims are women and girls.

In the USA, for example, women account for around 85 per cent of the victims of domestic violence. The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70 per cent of female murder victims are killed by their male partners. Small arms and light weapons are the main tools of almost every conflict and, according to the UN Secretary-General, women and children account for nearly 80 per cent of the casualties.

As a human rights organization, Amnesty International cannot remain silent in the face of this suffering. We campaign against all of forms of violence against girls and women, wherever that violence happens and whoever perpetrates it.

Violence against women violates women's rights to life, physical and mental integrity, to the highest attainable standard of health, to freedom from torture and their sexual and reproductive rights. Upholding human rights, including women's sexual and reproductive rights is essential to preventing and ending gender-based violence. The human rights of girls and women are also at stake whenever gender-based violence against them goes unchallenged and wherever survivors are denied access to the full range of remedies to which they are entitled.

Amnesty International supports women in claiming their rights. The lived experience of girls and women including of those with whom we work directly, shows how central are sexual and reproductive rights to their freedoms including their right to be free from gender-based violence and as a remedy where they have been subjected to such violence:

Forced and child marriage is a violation of girls' and women's sexual and reproductive rights.

Denying women access to reproductive health services is a violation of their reproductive rights.

Denying women access to reproductive health services is a violation of their reproductive rights. Denying them access to lifesaving obstetric care is a violation of their right to life and a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Forced abortions or sterilizations carried out by family planning officials or others acting in an official capacity violate reproductive rights and are grave violations of physical and mental integrity amounting to torture.

Obstructing rape survivors' access to legal abortion services is a violation of their sexual and reproductive rights.

Women must have access to safe and legal abortion services in cases of unwanted pregnancy as a result of rape, sexual assault or incest.

Imprisonment or other criminal sanctions for seeking or having an abortion is a violation of women's reproductive rights.

Women must have access to safe and legal abortion services where continuation of pregnancy poses a risk to their life or grave risk to their health.

Individuals have the right to seek, receive and impart information in relation to sexuality and reproduction without unreasonable restrictions. They have the right to access to information and services regarding sexual and reproductive health, including in relation to prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Women have the right to not be denied maternal health care, which should be accessible, affordable, adequate and of sufficiently high quality, taking into account their cultural needs. They have the right to access health care without discrimination.

Human Rights Watch- Human Rights Law and Access to Abortion


Q&A: Human Rights Law and Access to Abortion

Women’s ability to access safe and legal abortions is restricted in law or in practice in most countries in the world. In fact, even where abortion is permitted by law, women often have severely limited access to safe abortion services because of lack of proper regulation, health services, or political will.
At the same time, only a very small minority of countries prohibit all abortion. In most countries and jurisdictions, abortion is allowed at least to save the pregnant woman’s life, or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Women’s organizations have fought for the right to access safe and legal abortion for decades, and increasingly international human rights law supports their claims.

On this page, we will answer the following essential questions related to human rights and abortion:

Why is abortion a human rights issue?
Right to life
Rights to health and health care
Rights to nondiscrimination and equality
Right to security of person
Right to liberty
Right to privacy
Right to information
Right to be free from cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment
Right to decide the number and spacing of children
Right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress
Right to freedom of thought and religion
What are the health consequences of illegal and unsafe abortion?
Why are illegal abortions generally unsafe?
Does the right to life apply to a fetus?
What is Human Rights Watch’s position on abortion?

What is Human Rights Watch’s position on abortion?

Human Rights Watch believes that decisions about abortion belong to a pregnant woman without interference by the state or others.

The denial of a pregnant woman’s right to make an independent decision regarding abortion violates or poses a threat to a wide range of human rights. Any restriction on abortion that unreasonably interferes with a woman's exercise of her full range of human rights is unacceptable.

Governments should take all necessary steps, both immediate and incremental, to ensure that women have informed and free access to safe and legal abortion services as an element of women’s exercise of their reproductive and other human rights. Government responsibilities relating to women’s access to abortion that are founded on economic, social, and cultural rights must be implemented according to the principle of progressive realization to the maximum of available resources.

Abortion services should be in conformity with international human rights standards, including those on the adequacy of health services.

Governments have an obligation to protect the full range of human rights for all women.

Legislating For Abortion- Letter in the Irish Times

The Irish Times Thursday July 19th 2007

Madam, - Brian Stewart (July 16th) claims that the letter of July 12th from Louise Caffrey of Choice Ireland lacked "honesty and reality in debate". It is welcome that supporters of the pro-life movement have developed a new-found concern for an honest and realistic debate on abortion, since the absence of such qualities never seemed to bother them in the past.
Anti-abortion activists display a high level of selective amnesia. This is the very movement that gave Ireland the so-called "pro-life" amendment of 1983, assuring the Irish people that it would impose a total ban on abortion in Ireland. In fact the amendment created a constitutional basis for legal abortion in certain circumstances, according to the Supreme Court decision in the X case.
The pro-life movement has promoted two further referendums since 1983 to undo the consequences of its own mistake, which of course was never publicly acknowledged. Both of these amendments (in 1992 and 2002) were rejected by the people.
Clearly the majority of the electorate also showed a lack of honesty and a feeble grasp of reality, in failing to follow the enlightened leadership of the pro-life movement. Or could it be that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time? - Yours, etc,
Co Meath.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Mental Health 'Risks' of Abortion

31 October 2006 Abortion Review

The mental health ‘risks’ of abortion

Ellie Lee examines the basis for claims in the Times (London) that ‘abortion exposes women to higher risk of depression’.

‘Abortion exposes women to higher risk of depression’, asserted a headline in the Times (London) on 27 October 2006. The story was provoked by a Letter to the Editor, signed by 15 doctors, which ran under the heading ‘Risks of abortion’.

The Times letter asserts that recently published research provides definitive evidence that abortion and the development of psychiatric conditions are causally linked. Those who signed the letter claim, on this basis, that the practice of abortion providers should be altered.
The media coverage of the abortion issue resulting from this letter tells us little about what we might learn from academics’ attempts to consider the relationship between reproductive events and women’s state of mind, and how this might inform abortion practice. It tells us much, however, about the current state of the abortion debate and those opposed to abortion who participate in it.

The research to which the letter refers was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry in January 2006 and is titled ‘Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health’. It concludes that: ‘The findings suggest that abortion in young women may be associated with increased risks of mental health problems’. For those who take research seriously, this single line suggests very different conclusions to those presented in the Times.

The study was of young women – it considered the experience of women aged 15-25 who experienced a pregnancy. The researchers make no claims about women in general; indeed, their interest appears to be in the experience of adolescents and young adults. (It should also be noted that these young women grew up in a particular area of New Zealand, which may be significant for the relevance of the results for other societies).

The most important word in the study’s conclusion, however, is may. Where the signatories to the Times letter make strong assertions and argue for policy changes, the journal article is full of riders.
These are:
Confounding factors that this study may not have accounted for. The authors note that their findings may not have taken into account factors other than abortion that might account for the observed association between abortion and particular states of mind.

Under-reporting of abortion in the sample. This is a well-known problem with research about abortion. For this study, the authors note there was a statistically significant difference between the rate of abortion in the sample and that in the general population.

Contextual factors associated with abortion-seeking to which the study could not be sensitive.

The authors note: ‘It is clear the decision to seek (or not seek) an abortion following pregnancy is likely to involve a complex process’ and that as a result, ‘it could be proposed that our results reflect the effects of unwanted pregnancy on mental health rather than the effects of abortion per se on mental health’.

This last point, about the effects of unwanted pregnancy, is especially important. The comparator groups to participants in this study who had an abortion were those who stated they had not experienced a pregnancy, and those who continued a pregnancy to term. It was against this background that an association between abortion and poorer mental health emerged.

Yet this study was conducted in a context where abortion is legal, and relatively freely available. It should therefore be taken into account that it may be that the only group of women among these three groups compared who experienced a pregnancy that was truly and consistently unwanted were those who went on to terminate the pregnancy.

This point can be developed further. Since this study was conducted in a context where abortion is legal, and relatively freely available, it is likely that the pregnancies of those who continued to term and gave birth were in the majority self-defined as wanted. The importance of this point is that it raises questions about what experiences are being compared.

The most valid comparator group to women who have an abortion is women with an unwanted pregnancy who are denied abortion and then give birth. Where these groups are compared it can at least be assumed that the context of pregnancy in similar, and what is being compared is the effects of the resolution of the pregnancy (birth or abortion). Yet this study – for obvious reasons given the abortion law in New Zealand - did not include such a group of women.

Other research, however, has - most notably, that by Henry David, perhaps the most prolific researcher and writer on this subject. It shows that denied abortion and unwanted childbirth has stronger association with poor mental health than abortion.

On this basis, the authors of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry article are correct to be tentative in their conclusions. They are correct to make their strongest conclusion that ‘the issue of whether or not abortion has harmful effects on mental health remains to be fully resolved’, and call for more research into the area.

In taking this approach, they also reflect what seems to be something of a consensus about this area of abortion research. Academic research about the psychological effects of abortion is widely recognised to be a complicated enterprise. As Henry David has noted, designing research that can make definitive statements about the psychological effects of abortion (and other reproductive events) is complex.

It is harder to make definitive statements than it is for physical health (where clear statements regarding the relative safety of abortion can be made).

It is for this reason that, very wisely, the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) takes stock, periodically, of the range of published studies on this issue, when drawing up its Evidence-based Guideline for abortion providers.

In its leaflet for women considering abortion and their families, the RCOG states, on the basis of this evidence: ‘How you react 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’.

The RCOG also notes: ‘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’.

This reads like a balanced approach that takes careful account of available evidence. It tells women and their loved ones what published, peer-reviewed evidence suggests overall. This contrasts greatly with the line those associated with the Times letter now want medical authorities to take.

On the basis of one study from New Zealand of women aged under 25 which actually makes only tentative claims, the letter’s signatories claim: ‘doctors have a duty to advise about the long-term psychological consequences of abortion’.

How could this conclusion be drawn? The emphasis on the ‘risks of abortion’ and their alleged implications for abortion practice clearly arises not from balanced consideration and debate about well-designed academic research. Rather its roots lie in the sociology of abortion. In the current context it is hard for those who are hostile to abortion to find support for arguments framed in moral terms. We live in an age where, for a range of reasons, few agree that abortion is simply ‘wrong’, so few agree with those who moralise against abortion. In turn, the language of risk more and more provides a medicalised vocabulary in which anti-abortion argument is made.

Those of us with training in social science can work to draw to public attention this ‘medicalisation’ of anti-abortion argument, and seek to provoke discussion of its consequences. It is to be hoped that those with scientific and medical expertise will respond by upholding the highest possible standards in relation to evidence-based abortion care.

Dr Ellie Lee is a lecturer in social policy at Kent University, and co-ordinator of Pro-Choice Forum. She is also author of Abortion, Motherhood and Mental Health: Medicalizing Reproduction in the US and Britain, published by AldineTransaction. Buy this book from Amazon.
Doctors’ letter sparks debate over abortion and mental health, Abortion Review, 30 October 2006
The Care of Women Requesting Induced Abortion, Evidence-based Clinical Guideline Number 7, RCOG September 2004
Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health. Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Ridder EM. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2006 Jan;47(1):16-24.

Letters Debate on Legalising Abortion in Ireland- The Irish Times

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Irish Times Letter To The Editor
Madam, - Dr Berry Kiely (Head 2 Head, July 9th) cites a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry which showed that women who had an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems.Among the limitations of this study is the fact that the research did not allow for existing psychiatric illness.Moreover, the research was conducted in New Zealand where, in order to obtain an abortion, it must be established that the pregnancy would seriously harm the life or the physical or mental health of the woman or baby, or is the result of incest or rape; or that the woman is severely mentally handicapped. An abortion will also be considered on the basis of age.

Given the implications of these criteria, it is hardly surprising that the study should find some association between women with mental health problems and abortion. These research findings are also inconsistent with the current consensus on the psychological effects of abortion which is, as the American Psychological Association statement outlined in 2005, that there is no causal link between clinically relevant distress in women and abortion. What is extremely traumatic for women in Ireland is facing a crisis pregnancy.

Moreover, as the abortion rates for Ireland show, forcing women abroad does not lower the rate of abortion; it merely compounds the distress women face in crisis pregnancy. If we want to lower the rate of abortion and avoid compounding the distress of a crisis pregnancy, the only conclusion is that abortion must be available in Ireland for those who choose it. Legalisation must be accompanied by other policies: the introduction of adequate sex education programmes; an end to the stigma surrounding sex and abortion; free and accessible contraception; and the introduction of real supports for women who choose to go through with their pregnancies.
Most importantly, real and honest debate must take place on this issue - debate that is based on fact.
- Yours, etc,LOUISE CAFFREY,Choice Ireland,Orwell Gardens,Dublin 6.

Madam, - The ultimate oxymoron? "Life-saving abortions" (Ivana Bacik, Head 2 Head, July 9th).
- Yours, etc, Mrs MARY STEWART, Ardeskin, Donegal Town.

Madam, - Louise Caffrey of Choice Ireland (July 12th) maintains that the "current consensus on the psychological effects of abortion", set out in a 2005 statement by the American Psychological Association, is that there is "no causal link between clinically relevant distress in women and abortion".

The contrary New Zealand research cited by her and by Dr Berry Kiely - conducted by a researcher who was admittedly pro-choice - pointed out that the American Psychological Association statement "was based on a relatively small number of studies which had one or more of the following limitations: (a) absence of comprehensive assessment of mental disorders; (b) lack of comparison groups; and (c) limited statistical controls. Furthermore, the statement appears to disregard the findings of a number of studies that had claimed to show negative effects for abortion (Cougle et al., 2003; Gissler et al., 1996; Reardon & Cougle, 2002)."
- Yours, etc,
KIERON WOOD, Grange Wood, Dublin 16.


Madam, - If Mary Stewart (July 12th) is interested in "ultimate oxymorons" she should look no further than the so-called "Pro-Life" lobby. Pro-life, perhaps, in that this lobby would rather see a young girl kill herself than be given the choice of ending an unwanted pregnancy? Pro-life in that it would rather see a young girl give birth to a dead baby than be given the choice of having it removed from her womb? Or Pro-life in that it actively seeks to remove one of the fundamental bases of humanity and human living - free moral choice - from the hands of those directly affected, thus forcing the already weak and vulnerable into positions of appalling hardship and helplessness?

In valuing unthinking, unfeeling, undeveloped and non-sentient life above the lives of the women of Ireland today - lives replete with memories, emotions, thoughts, feelings, hopes and pasts - the "Pro-Life" lobby affords mere potential life a greater significance than these lives-as-lived. In so doing it demonstrates its contempt for the freedom, welfare and well-being of Irish women. This is the true oxymoron - when "pro-life" becomes synonymous with "anti-living". - Yours, etc,
OWEN CORRIGAN, Blessington Street, Dublin 7.

Madam, - Louise Caffrey of Choice Ireland (July 12th) calls for real and honest debate on abortion. In so doing, however, she has concluded that, if we want to lower the rate of abortion, we must introduce abortion for "those who choose it".
Two points arise from this claim.
Firstly, could Ms Caffrey mention one jurisdiction in which the legal introduction of abortion led to a reduction of the numbers of abortions carried out? Secondly, she is clearly an advocate of abortion on demand.

Her call for honesty and reality in debate would be more acceptable if her own contribution had more of those qualities about it.
- Yours, etc,
BRIAN STEWART, Forest Hills, Knocknacarra, Galway.


Madam, - Louise Caffrey of Choice Ireland (July 12th) writes that Prof David Fergusson, in his longitudinal study of New Zealand women which showed that abortion increased the risk of subsequent psychiatric disorder, did not control for prior mental health problems. This is completely incorrect since, by his own admission as a pro-choice advocate, he set out to confirm that psychiatric disorders post abortion were linked to the person's prior psychiatric history and not to the abortion.

To his own surprise, he found that even after controlling for prior mental health and childhood adversity confounders, the link between abortion and mental health problems remained. He then carried out a further predictive analysis and, again controlling for confounders, found that abortion caused the mental health problems.

Ms Caffrey states that in 2005 the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a consensus statement concerning the absence of a causal link between "clinically relevant distress and abortion in women". However, that body was singled out for particular criticism in the Fergusson paper and one month after its publication the APA removed all comments from its website concerning the psychological safety or otherwise of abortion. It also voted to establish a working group to examine this issue and is to report in 2008.

Finally, Ms Caffrey states that abortion in New Zealand is available where the mental health of the woman is at risk. However, the act does not contain any definition of mental health, nor is a psychiatrist required to vouch for its presence or risk, an issue that is currently before the courts. There is therefore a real possibility that distress is erroneously conflated with mental illness. In this regard it resembles the British abortion act. Moreover, the abortion rate in New Zealand (20 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44) is even higher than the rate in England and Wales ( 18.3 per 1,000), where abortion on demand operates de facto. All this suggests that the law in New Zealand is very liberal law indeed.

I agree with Ms Caffrey that any debate about abortion should be honest and factual. It is not advanced by incorrectly reporting scientific data or by ignoring the increasing body of international evidence concerning the adverse consequences of abortion.
- Yours, etc,
Professor of Psychiatry, UCD,
Consultant Psychiatrist,
Mater Misericordiae University Hospital,
Dublin 7.

Madam, - Louise Caffrey of Choice Ireland (July 12th) suggests a real and honest debate on the abortion topic should be based on fact. It is a matter of fact that all human life begins at the moment of conception. Human life should ideally end on this earth with natural death.
I think it is imperative that as a sovereign society we strive to maintain a basic respect for the preciousness of all human life.

When individuals advocate for legal abortion rights they qualify their respect for human life. They may respect some human life but not all of it. Individuals who advocate legal abortion rights cannot argue logically, or indeed morally, that they respect all human life.
- Yours, etc,
Marlborough Road,
Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Anti-Choice article by Breda O'Brien in the Irish Times

There must be better way than by taking life Irish Times Saturday July 14th 2007

When the Crisis Pregnancy Agency (CPA) issued its annual report this week, it was interesting to revisit its mandate as established in 2001, writes Breda O'Brien .
Firstly, it is supposed to provide for a reduction in the number of crisis pregnancies by the provision of education, advice and contraceptive services. Secondly, it is to bring about a reduction in the number of women with crisis pregnancies who opt for abortion by offering services and supports which make other options more attractive. Finally, it is to provide support for women after crisis pregnancy.

There are some worthwhile aspects to what the CPA is doing. One of the genuinely positive initiatives has been the provision of a DVD for parents on how to talk to children about sex. The advice is commonsense and down-to-earth: stop thinking about it as "the talk" and see it as an ongoing process: it is not just about physical facts, but an attitude to relationships: most teenagers want their information to come from parents, and the process is not complete until you have shared your values with your child.

Certainly, the numbers of teenage births have fallen, as have the numbers of women giving Irish addresses to abortion clinics in Britain. There has been a small rise in the numbers seeking abortion in places such as the Netherlands.

The reasons for the decline in the abortion rate (the number of abortions per thousand women in the population) from 7.5 in 2001 to 5.2 in 2006 are probably complex. Whatever the reasons, it is welcome. One reason may be that lone parenthood is no longer as stigmatised as it once was. Also, images of unborn children have not just been seen in specialist books using so-called 4D imaging scans, but even in television advertisements for cars and insurance. It is difficult to deny the humanity of a thumb-sucking foetus.

While the CPA may have played some role in the reduction of numbers seeking abortion, it is difficult to see how it is doing so by making "other options more attractive". Every new counselling service being set up offers details about abortion clinics, although not referrals. 57 per cent of funding for crisis pregnancy counselling goes to organisations that provide abortion clinic details, and the CPA is in ongoing dispute with the Irish bishops over Cura's decision not to provide the Positive Options leaflet.

The leaflet treats abortion as a positive option, which is most definitely not in the spirit of the second part of CPA's mandate. The agency claims that "positive options" refers not to the choices women make regarding the outcome of their pregnancies, but to accessing counselling, which it says is always a positive option.

That would be like a counselling service for people who feel suicidal stating that the fact people had accessed the service was in itself a positive option, regardless of outcome. The outcome matters, and it matters most to the people in the situation. Furthermore, I doubt very much that women and their partners in crisis believe that the CPA slogan "no judge, no jury, just information" refers to the choice of accessing counselling options.

You don't find advertising with slogans such as "There is always a better way than abortion" being funded by the CPA. At best, they are studiously neutral about the difference between parenting, adoption and abortion. They do spend 6 per cent of their funding on supported accommodation, and they conducted a literature review on work-life balance which concluded that supportive workplaces, childcare and flexible working practices encourage women to think they can combine work and motherhood.

There is lots of research available about the negative outcomes for women who chose abortion. The CPA could require all counselling organisations receiving funding to distribute leaflets informing women that research suggests that choosing abortion results in higher rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviours. In the CPA's current incarnation, that is extremely unlikely.

While deeply sympathetic to women who choose abortion because they can see no other way out, I have little sympathy for those who attempt to frame abortion as a human right. Ironically, given that the impetus to legalise abortion came from feminism, there is a strand within feminism that may be sowing the seeds for a completely different viewpoint on abortion.

One school of feminist thought on ethics and social policy proposes that the rhetoric of rights and justice is inadequate if it does not also take into account an ethic of care. Eva Feder Kittay is one of the most influential writers in this area. She says: "A care-based ethic speaks of moral relations not only between equals, but among those who are unequal in age, capacities, and/or powers. Within a care ethics, relations of responsibilities and relationships of trust to those who require our care or assistance are stressed." She also states that while western culture exalts independence, that dependence is the natural state for every human being at some stage of existence, whether it be childhood, illness, impairment and frail old age.

While Kittay remains pro-choice, her work and that of other feminist thinkers shows a way of reframing feminist thinking on abortion.

Currently, the emphasis on the autonomy of the woman, and her ability to make a choice regarding her own body, ignores the idea of a care ethic based on relationship and responsibility. It follows from Kittay's ideas, that in order to be genuinely inclusive, the rhetoric of compassion and empathy must include all the parties in abortion. Currently, the inability of the foetus to live independently of the woman is seen as the ultimate handicap, one that denies them an automatic right to life.

Looking at the world through the lens of a feminist care ethic, which emphasises bonds, responsibilities and intergenerational care-giving, does not range the rights of the woman against the rights of her child, but puts them on the same side.

Society in turn then has an obligation to provide care for the woman that would genuinely support her in giving life rather than taking it. For most human beings, this approach is somehow more whole, as there must always be a better way to solve our human dilemmas than ending the life of another human, no matter how small he or she may be.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Abortion and Manhood

From the RH Reality Check blog

Abortion and Manhood
Arthur Shostak on July 12, 2007 - 8:40am
Published under:

Three challenges are at the heart of the men and abortion matter. First, what does it mean to be a man? Second, what does it mean to be a sexually active man? And third, what does it mean to accompany your sex partner or any female who asks to an abortion clinic?

Unless and until we make overdue progress in refining what it means to be a man, we may always rue the situation where men and abortion is concerned. We need clarity: to be a man is to have the well-being of all women as a central concern, and to understand that where their bodies and mental health are in jeopardy the woman's final decision is just that—final.

Second, unless and until we make overdue progress in refining what it means to be a sexually active man, we will have far more abortions that is healthy for men, women, and other living objects. We need clarity: to be a sexually active male is to take full responsibility to being a knowledgeable and sensitive contraceptor. This is not a role only for females, but is a shared responsibility that males must undertake with far more intelligence and artistry that at present.

Schools and various formal religions, along with the mass media, must do their part in raising the level of male awareness of contraception options, and their various strengths and limitations.

Finally, unless and until we make overdue progress in reforming the Abortion Clinic scene, we will not achieve a desirable state of affairs—one that honors us all. A male in a clinic waiting room should have rights and responsibilities. His rights include access to solo and/or couples counseling, access to contraception education, access to knowledge about the procedure, access to his mate in the procedure room (if she so requests), and access to his mate in the Recovery Room (if she so requests).

His responsibilities include learning how to be a better contraceptor, learning how to prepare for any emotional turmoil immediately after the procedure, and learning how he might help pro-choice organizations keep access to abortion legal.

This agenda is a complex and arduous one. Fortunately, it has momentum, as many fine clinics across the nation are far ahead in the matter, and many clinic leaders are advocates of the reforms cited above. What is lacking is a men's movement to promote the changes, and a mass media campaign—consistent and sensitive—to help call public attention to the challenge.

Thanks now in some small, but possibly significant part to the Men and Abortion website that Claire Keyes and I have launched, thousands of men and women world-wide are beginning to get the message—and I am more hopeful now that at any time since the mid-1980s when I helped write the first book on the subject: Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses, and Love. I sense a turning in favor of reform, and it cannot come soon enough.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Irish Times Letter To The Editor


Madam, - Dr Berry Kiely (Head 2 Head, July 9th) cites a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry which showed that women who had an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems.Among the limitations of this study is the fact that the research did not allow for existing psychiatric illness.

Moreover, the research was conducted in New Zealand where, in order to obtain an abortion, it must be established that the pregnancy would seriously harm the life or the physical or mental health of the woman or baby, or is the result of incest or rape; or that the woman is severely mentally handicapped. An abortion will also be considered on the basis of age. Given the implications of these criteria, it is hardly surprising that the study should find some association between women with mental health problems and abortion.

These research findings are also inconsistent with the current consensus on the psychological effects of abortion which is, as the American Psychological Association statement outlined in 2005, that there is no causal link between clinically relevant distress in women and abortion.
What is extremely traumatic for women in Ireland is facing a crisis pregnancy. Moreover, as the abortion rates for Ireland show, forcing women abroad does not lower the rate of abortion; it merely compounds the distress women face in crisis pregnancy. If we want to lower the rate of abortion and avoid compounding the distress of a crisis pregnancy, the only conclusion is that abortion must be available in Ireland for those who choose it.

Legalisation must be accompanied by other policies: the introduction of adequate sex education programmes; an end to the stigma surrounding sex and abortion; free and accessible contraception; and the introduction of real supports for women who choose to go through with their pregnancies.

Most importantly, real and honest debate must take place on this issue - debate that is based on fact.

- Yours, etc,
Choice Ireland,
Orwell Gardens,
Dublin 6.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Irish Times Head2Head Column Monday July 9th 2007


YES: Fear and hypocrisy must give way to compassion and empathy: the argument for legalising abortion in Ireland is long overdue, argues Ivana Bacik

The issue may have temporarily disappeared from the political agenda, but it remains of immense significance every day to many people in Ireland. We know that more than 5,000 women a year make the journey to England for abortion; about 100,000 Irish women have had abortions in the last 30 years.

Yet in a country obsessed with legal debates about abortion, in which five referendums have been held on the subject in 20 years, the real experiences of women with crisis pregnancies have never been expressed publicly. This culture of silence is not surprising. Fear and hypocrisy have long dominated discussions about abortion, with fearful legislators preferring to leave hard decisions on hard cases to the courts. The result is a situation rooted in hypocrisy.

Everybody knows that planeloads of women travel to England for terminations every year, but everybody pretends that abortion does not exist in Ireland. In fact, Irish abortion rates are comparable to those in any European country. Yet our abortion law is the most restrictive in Europe. Abortion remains a criminal offence under Victorian legislation, dating from 1861, with maximum penalties of life imprisonment for women who have abortions and for those who assist them.

In 1983, a constitutional amendment made the right to life of the unborn equal to that of the pregnant woman. Since then, a series of cases has been taken against women's clinics and students; a series of referendums has been held; litigation has occurred before the European courts.

In the 1992 X case, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is legal where a pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to a woman's life, a judgment followed in the 1997 C case, which also concerned a young girl who had been raped and was pregnant and suicidal as a result.
The X case remains law despite a failed attempt by the government to reverse it through referendum in 2002.

During the campaign around that referendum, a woman named Deirdre de Barra wrote to this newspaper explaining that she had been pregnant with a baby diagnosed with a severe abnormality, incompatible with life. She spoke of her anger at an uncaring law that had forced her to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy, and had not allowed her to access the medical treatment required in this country.

Despite an acknowledgment by the masters of the maternity hospitals at the time that abortion should be legal in such cases, the law remains unchanged. In May of this year, a similar case came before the High Court, as a result of which a young woman, known as Miss D, was permitted to travel to England for a termination. Again, she was denied the treatment she needed in Ireland.

Her case brought into sharp focus once more the lack of compassion in our law towards women with a crisis pregnancy, even those women who will have to give birth to a dead baby if they continue their pregnancy to term. It is now clear that the law is out of touch with changing attitudes. In June, the campaign group Safe and Legal in Ireland published the findings of an opinion poll conducted by TNS/mrbi.

When asked in which circumstances abortion should be legally available in Ireland, the vast majority of those questioned (82 per cent) agreed that it should be available when the pregnancy seriously endangers the woman's life. Three-quarters agreed it should be legal when the foetus cannot survive outside the womb (as in Miss D's case); and 69 per cent where pregnancy results from rape, or where the pregnant woman's life is at risk due to a threat of suicide.

This opinion poll, together with others conducted in recent years, show that the values of compassion and empathy have taken over from the culture of fear and hypocrisy.
Legal change is now necessary to reflect this. As a first step, legislation should be enacted under the X case to specify the conditions under which life-saving abortions may be carried out here.
Clearly, that alone would not resolve the real issue. Legislating for X would not address the needs of women like Miss D, or the needs of the many thousands of others who make the journey abroad each year in crisis.

As we enter the term of a new Dáil, we should insist that our elected representatives take responsibility for legislating in a fair and reasonable way for the rights of our citizens.
We must look to European standards in reproductive healthcare, and investigate ways of changing the law in a compassionate and sensible way, so that the real needs of women in crisis pregnancy are addressed.

Ivana Bacik is Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology, Trinity College Dublin and spokesperson for the Safe and Legal (in Ireland) Abortion Rights Campaign.


No: A decent society must recognise the humanity of the unborn, argues Berry Kiely .

The campaign for legal abortion achieved its aim in Britain with the introduction of the Abortion Act there 40 years ago. Many medical and technological changes have since occurred, giving us a valuable opportunity to assess the social and human costs of abortion. In 1967 one could have pleaded blindness to the humanity of the unborn; in 2007 this is no longer possible.

The fundamental basis of our society and its laws are rooted in the principle that every human life has intrinsic value irrespective of age, sex, health, race, creed or any other factor that differentiates one from another. Proponents of abortion want the unborn child to be an exception to this rule. To do this they resort to the tactic of denying the humanity of the unborn. But recent technological advances make it increasingly difficult to defend that stance.

Former head of obstetrics and gynaecology at King's College School of Medicine, London, Prof Stuart Campbell, commented recently: "There is something deeply moving about the image of a baby cocooned inside the womb. At 11 weeks we can see them yawn, and even take steps. Understandably, these incredible images have influenced the debate on abortion. I pioneered the 4-D scanning technique in the UK and it has certainly caused me to question my own opinions."

Not only 4-D ultrasound images but also the debate around partial-birth abortion and the survival of many premature infants are eroding the pro-choice rhetoric. The number of abortions in the US is in steady decline. In the UK it is increasingly difficult to find doctors willing to carry out abortions, as it runs contrary to their desire to save life. The findings of the latest pro-choice polls here, indicating support for abortion in certain circumstances, are not surprising. The poll questions make no distinction between ethical interventions in pregnancy to save the life of the mother and induced abortion where the life of the unborn child is directly targeted. To clarify the difference: in ethical interventions one hopes the child will survive; in abortion one wants the child to die.

When people are asked the straight question of whether they wish to see abortion legal in Ireland, the answer is at variance with the recent pro-choice survey. In a Millward Brown/IMS poll, commissioned by the Pro-Life Campaign in March this year, 66 per cent of those who expressed an opinion were opposed to the Dáil legislating for abortion. Little by little, the rhetoric that proposes abortion as a positive option for women is being challenged. Speaking recently from personal experience, Dr Alveda King, niece of assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King jnr, said: "We mothers suffer tremendously, and our families suffer." Her sentiments are echoed by other women who have had abortions. Groups such as Silent No More and books such as Giving Sorrow Words by Melinda Tankard Reist are shedding light on the experiences of women who regret their abortions.

Most early studies of the effects of abortion on women were limited to the immediate post-abortion period. Now long-term studies are giving a clearer picture. One such study was published in 2006 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

This was a 25-year longitudinal study which showed that women having an abortion had elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance-use disorders. This association persisted after adjustment for confounding factors. The main author of this study, Prof David Fergusson, admitted: "I'm pro-choice but I've produced results which, if anything, favour a pro-life viewpoint".

An earlier study in Finland examined data from 1987-2000 and highlighted the fact that the suicide rate was almost seven times higher in women who had abortions compared with those who gave birth. This is particularly relevant to the Irish situation given the calls for abortion to be legalised on grounds of threatened suicide.

There is a fundamental distinction between necessary medical treatments in pregnancy to save the life of the mother and induced abortion where the intended target is the life of the unborn child. If there was any truth in the assertion that induced abortion was medically necessary, our maternal mortality figures would be higher than those of countries with abortion: in fact our maternal mortality is considerably lower than in the UK.

Recently, we have seen where the abortion of a child with a lethal abnormality was considered by some as a positive option. This attitude is hard to reconcile with our normal approach to disability and terminal conditions. If society decides to end the lives of children based on their disability, it undermines their right to equal respect. A truly life-affirming society should give all positive supports to mothers and families of disabled children, not just during pregnancy, but throughout their children's lives.

Dr Berry Kiely is a spokeswoman for the Pro-Life Campaign

Friday, July 06, 2007

Amnesty International and Abortion and Human Rights


A debate on access to abortion services for women who have experienced rape and for those whose pregnancy poses a risk to their life or grave risk to their health has been ongoing in Amnesty International (AI) for several years.

The main reason why the issue has been so intensely debated over recent years has been the numbers of women and girls who are being raped as a deliberate weapon of war during campaigns of 'ethnic cleansing'. This happened in Rwanda and Bosnia on a massive scale, and is currently happening in Darfur.

The Irish section will not be working on the issue of abortion, however the AI adopted policy brings AI's work in line with current international human rights law.

The policy that has been adopted argues that states should:
  • Ensure the provision of full information on sexual and reproductive health to women and men
  • Provide legal, safe and accessible abortion in cases of rape, sexual assault, incest and risk to a woman's life, or grave risk to her health
  • Repeal laws that permit the imprisonment or imposition of other criminal sanctions on women who have had or sought to have an abortion and repeal laws that seek to criminalise medical practitioners who provide information or abortion services and operate within reasonable medical limitations
  • Provide access to quality medical services for the management of complications arising from abortion

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

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.