Friday, October 31, 2008

Feminism Still Relevant in Modern Ireland, Forum Told

Feminism still relevant in modern Ireland, forum told


A PREDOMINANTLY female crowd of some 80 people gathered in Dublin last night to debate if feminism is still necessary in Ireland. The answer was a resounding yes.

Issues including reproductive rights, equality in the workplace, violence against women, public representation, prostitution and human trafficking were all discussed at the inaugural meeting of the Feminist Open Forum.

“The draconian laws in Ireland on abortion rights are the main reason I’m a feminist,” said Niav Keating of the pro-choice organisation Choice Ireland.

Ms Keating said the laws meant that 4,686 women travelled from Ireland to the UK, 485 travelled to the Netherlands and many others went elsewhere as “abortion tourists” last year.

Journalist and activist Therese Caherty said that despite some progress in recent years the worlds of politics, law and business were still dominated by men.

Ms Caherty said structural differences ensured this divide remained in place, with women continuing to carry out the majority of unpaid work, such as childcare and home-making, and that for this reason she believed feminism remained necessary.

“Children are the main reason why women are being held back,” said Independent Senator Ivana Bacik. “They don’t make it easy for women with young children to go back out into the working world.”

Ms Bacik said women continued to be underrepresented in public life and that the key to achieving equality in the workplace was the recognition of and introduction of full paternity rights.

Gráinne Healy, chairwoman of the European Observatory on Violence Against Women, said feminism was still necessary to address issues of genital mutilation, prostitution and human trafficking.

Ms Healy said a greater number of women in public life might see such human rights violations approached in a more effective manner.

She pointed to evidence from Sweden where in 1999 a majority-female parliament tackled prostitution by legislating to make soliciting sex, rather than working as a prostitute, an offence.

Elisa O’Donovan, of University College Dublin Students and Staff against Sexism, said a snapshot of modern Ireland highlighted that the “supposed liberation of women” over the past 20 years had not been a success.

She said the popularity of Bratz dolls, Kiss magazine and Sex and the City among children, teenagers and adults respectively made her believe the liberation and empowerment of women had not yet taken place.

Irish women still had massive self-esteem and body image issues, and had one of the highest rates of self-harm in Europe.

© 2008 The Irish Times

Northern Ireland Women Keep Abortions Secret

Northern Ireland women keep abortions secret

Bridget has a secret shared by tens of thousands of women in Northern Ireland: She travelled to England for an abortion that would be illegal here.

"I couldn't tell my parents. I couldn't risk telling my co-workers. I told them all I was going to a friend's wedding. I had to act all happy-clappy when I came home." said Bridget, 25, sipping a cup of tea as she recalled her lonely trip four years ago to a Liverpool clinic.

Bridget works in a central Belfast bank. She spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because, if her secret came out, she would expect hostility from her Roman Catholic family and religiously strict workmates, Protestant and Catholic alike.

"I wish I could talk about it to my mother. I'd tell my sister, but she'd only tell Ma." she said with a sad laugh and a shake of her head. "Abortion has to be this dirty wee secret you carry inside you. You get on a plane or a boat, and live a lie."

Northern Ireland's position is peculiar because it is part of a country, the United Kingdom, that was among the world's first to legalize abortion back in 1967. But the law has been blocked here. So, each year, an estimated 1,400 to 2,000 Northern Ireland residents travel across the Irish Sea to terminate their pregnancies.

Advocates of extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland argue that the prohibition here doesn't stop abortions. It just makes young women pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a procedure that, throughout Britain, is free through the United Kingdom's state-funded health service. But the latest attempt to bring Belfast in line with Britain, a cross-party amendment championed by a handful of English legislators in London, has not even been discussed.

Such manoeuvres reflect the unusual reality that, when it comes to abortion, the British Protestant and Irish Catholic politicians of Northern Ireland see eye to eye. Just two of the 108 politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly spoke out in favour of the English legislators' effort.

By contrast the leaders of all four parties in Northern Ireland's power-sharing administration, a dysfunctional coalition divided on many issues, shared platforms to reject the proposed amendment. They backed an anti-abortion petition drive that delivered 120,000 signatures in October to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's London office.

"Northern Ireland clearly has a pro-life majority. It's an issue that uniquely crosses the political divide here. Whether you're Catholic or Protestant doesn't matter when it comes to imposing the death penalty on innocent, unborn children." said Bernie Smyth, leader of Precious Life, a cross-community pressure group that was formed 11 years ago to keep abortion out of Northern Ireland. Smyth recently led an anti-abortion picket outside Parliament in London.

Back in Belfast, Precious Life activists mounted their usual weekday protest outside the office of the UK's Family Planning Association, the major centre for women facing unwanted pregnancies in Northern Ireland. A lone middle-aged woman handed out leaflets depicting a fetus torn to pieces.

Audrey Simpson, the Belfast centre's director, said the Precious Life activists posed a chronic irritant for her pregnant visitors who, in many cases, were already afraid of being identified as abortion-seekers.

She said the anti-abortion activists ``harass any woman, if they appear young or at a fertile age', even though most women are visiting other offices in the multi-agency building. "They'll try to give you literature and appeal to you, 'Don't murder your baby,' and they might even follow you all the way back to your car, shouting you're going to hell."

Simpson said about 600 pregnant women seek counselling from her office annually, and more than half opt for abortions in England.

Even though the Northern Ireland visitors are British taxpayers, they cannot use the state-funded health insurance and so must pay anything from $1,000 to $3,300. Increasingly, she said, women also were flying to the lower-cost alternative of the Netherlands or buying abortion-inducing pills off the Internet.

She noted that women travelled to her office from the neighbouring Republic of Ireland, where abortion also is illegal, because they were afraid of being seen by friends going into one of Dublin's own crisis-pregnancy counselling centres.

But she described Northern Ireland as much more socially rigid than the predominantly Catholic south.

"In normal societies you would at least have doctors and lawyers willing to advocate for abortion rights. There's healthy debate in the south. Not here. Not one doctor or lawyer will stick their head above the parapet." she said. "Here, the attitude is: Let's just ignore what we're making our young women do. Let's let Westminster (the British Parliament in London) handle this. It's ridiculous."

Bridget, who is engaged to be married, said she has yet to tell her fiance of her abortion, which followed the collapse of her previous relationship while studying at university.

"It's strange. I know he'd understand," she said. "But I'd be placing an unfair burden on him. I don't want him to have to carry that (information) around with him in this place. You have to bite your lip here about so many things. ... If we moved away, maybe to England or America, that's when I'd tell him."

Source: MacroWorld Investor, 30 October 2008

Update on the Abortion Debate in Spain

It has been announced yesterday evening that the Abortion Sub-commission which will analyse the reform of the current legislation on abortion in Spain, will start receiving the 30 experts as from November, 10. Those 30 experts were proposed by the political parties PSOE (socialists), PP (conservatives-right), IU-ERC-ICV (left) and the Grupo Mixto, while CiU (Catalonian right) and PNV (Basque right) have not proposed experts.

This Sub-Commission was set up last October 22nd, and will work in parallel with the Group of Experts at the Ministry of Equality. The Sub-Commission has a six-month period to elaborate its recommendations to be included in a future new legislation on abortion.

Under request of the PSOE group at the Spanish Congress, the Sub-Commission will also receive experts from feminists groups, pro-choice groups and spokepersons from clinics where legal aborts take place (such as the clinics gathered at ACAI, the Spanish association of clinics for abortions).

The list of experts proposed by the PSOE which will be received by the Sub-Commission include the following:

Ms Vicky Claeys (better known as Vicky Claeys), director for the Internantional Federation of Planned Parenthood
Ms Isabel Serrano, president for the Spanish Federation of Family Planning
Mr Santiago Barambio, president for ACAI (asociation of private clinics)
Mr Guillermo Sánchez, president for the Board of the Clínica Dator (private clinic)
Ms Marisa Soleto, president for the Fundación Mujeres (feminist organisation)
Ms Yolanda Besteiro, president for the NGO Federación de Mujeres Progresistas (feminists organisation)
Ms Altamira Gonzalo, president for the NGO Asociación de Mujeres Juristas Themis (a feminist organisation dealing with legal advisory for women)
Ms Elvira Méndez, director for the Association Health and Family
Mr Domingo Álvarez, gynaecologist and founder of the Planning Center La Cagiga at Santander
Mr Francisco Balanguer, professor of Constitutional Right at the University of Granada
Mr Tomás Salvador Vives, former vice-president for the Constitutional Court
Ms Margarita Delgado, a CSIC researcher (a Spanish state think-tank)

Meanwhile, the Popular Party spokesperson Ms Sandra Moneo said that her group will propose 12 individuals, which include the following:

Mr Pedro González-Trevijano, dean for the University Rey Juan Carlos
Ms Carmen Iglesias, member for the Real Academy of History
Mr Benigno Blanco, president for the Spanish Family Forum
Mr Eduardo Hetfelder, president for the Institute of Family Policy

From the side of the group formed by ERC-IU-ICV, the experts proposed include Ms Justa Montero (from the State Coordinating Committee of Feminists Organisations of Spain State), Ms Elisa Sesma (a gynaecologist), Ms Mercedes García (a professor of Penal Right at the Autonomous University of Barcelona), and Ms Silvia Aldavert (coordinator for the Association of Family Planning for Catalonia and Balears).

The Grupo Mixto has proposed the following individuals: Mr José Luis Doval, gynaecologist from the Hospital Nuestra Señora del Cristal Piñor from Ourrense (Galicia, Spain), and the expert on sexual education Ms Mercedes Oliveira.

Victoria (Australia) Decriminalises Abortion

Many thanks to Simone Cusack, LL.M.,for summarising the new law in the Australian state of Victoria for this blog.

Simone Cusack is a former Reproductive Health Fellow at the University of Toronto, She currently works as a Public Interest Lawyer with the Public Interest Law Clearing House in Melbourne, Australia.


On 10 October 2008, the state Parliament of Victoria passed the Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008, marking an historic occasion for Victorian women. The new law, which is the most liberal in Australia, decriminalizes abortion. Prior to the passing of this new law, the Crimes Act 1958
(Vic) made it a criminal offence to bring about, or to attempt to bring about, or to assist a person to bring about, an unlawful termination of pregnancy.

Under the new law, a woman is permitted to have an abortion at any time during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

A woman who is more than 24 weeks pregnant is permitted to have an abortion provided that the medical practitioner:
• “reasonably believes that the abortion is
appropriate in all the circumstances;” and,
• “has consulted at least one other registered
medical practitioner who also reasonably believes that the abortion is appropriate in all the circumstances.”

In considering whether an abortion is
“appropriate in all the circumstances,” regard must be had to “all relevant medical circumstances” and “the woman’s current and future physical, psychological and social circumstances.”

Significantly, the new law addresses the use of drugs to cause abortion by allowing a registered pharmacist or a registered nurse to supply or administer a drug or drugs to cause an abortion.

Registered practitioners who have a conscientious objection to abortion are obligated, under the new law, to inform the woman of the objection, and to refer her to a registered health practitioner who does not share that objection. Notwithstanding any conscientious objection, a registered medical practitioner is required to perform an abortion in an emergency, where it is necessary to preserve a woman’s life.

The bill will come into effect after receiving royal assent.

The bill is available at:
Further information on the bill is available at:

The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report on the decriminalisation of terminations of pregnancy, which preceded the introduction of the new bill, is available at:

News from Ipas-Bolivia

Ipas-Bolivia would like to inform you of an historic event concerning the issue of legal abortion in Bolivia. The Supreme Court of Justice of Bolivia has just issued an order to all lower courts judges obligating them to implement Article 266 of the Penal Code, which allows abortion for the life and health of the women and for cases of rape and incest.

According to Bolivia’s current Penal Code, which was adopted in 1973, abortion is permitted only when a pregnancy endangers a woman’s life or health and when no other measure can remove the potential danger. Article 266 of the Penal Code also permits abortion in cases of rape and incest. In both cases, the law stipulates that a judicial authorization must be obtained before a physician may terminate a pregnancy with the woman’s consent. To date there have only been six legal abortions in the Bolivia.

Bolivia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America and complications from unsafe abortions account for approximately one-third of maternal deaths. The Bolivian government has included postabortion care (PAC) as a basic service within its Universal Health Insurance package; however, although PAC is routinely part of emergency obstetric services, many Bolivian women delay going to the hospital after an unsafe abortion because they fear poor treatment from healthcare professionals.

In January 2008, the CEDAW Committee expressed its concern stating, “The Committee urges the State party to adopt implementing regulations for existing laws on Bolivian women’s right to therapeutic abortion. The Committee also urges the State party to afford women access to high-quality services for the treatment of complications resulting from unsafe abortions with a view to reducing maternal mortality.”

One reason women have been unable to access safe and legal abortion care is because of delays in the judicial authorization process. This includes delays by district attorney offices, by the ways in which rape cases are characterized, and by the sentences or judgments made. Staff may know the existing standards and legal frameworks but do not observe these and public servants often do not oppose violations of human rights but rather tend to negotiate and seek compromises in these cases.

Moreover, should a woman or girl receive permission from a judge to access to a legal abortion, a considerable number of physicians will not provide the service claiming “conscientious objection.” In these cases the State should guarantee immediate access to healthcare providers who will provide the service, however to date no corresponding standards have been implemented.

We hope this situation will be rectified with the Supreme Court of Justice’s recent ruling to all lower courts judges obligating them to implement Article 266 of the Penal Code. The Court undertook this measure as part of a judicial sector commitment made during a March 2008 national symposium on sexual violence.

It is remarkable that the Supreme Court has intervened to mandate that the entire judicial system is responsible for guaranteeing an aspect of women’s human rights. And it is notable that in their letter to the lower courts the Supreme Court specifically cited the state’s responsibility to uphold international human rights treaties ratified by the Bolivian government.

The next step in the process, which is being closely monitored by Ipas-Bolivia, is to ensure that all lower courts receive relevant documentation (e.g., CEDAW statements, the national standards and guidelines for abortion care) to support them in implementing the law. In addition, civil society organizations will ensure that professionals in the legal and health sectors, as well as women throughout the country, are informed of this decision.

Ipas-Bolivia invites organizations to write to the President and Justices of the Bolivian Supreme Court to congratulate them on this ruling and to express support for efforts to ensure that relevant authorities and the general public are adequately informed.

You can send your letters to:

Parque Bolivar
Casillas de Correo 211 y 321
Sucre - Bolivia

Central Telefónica 591 - 4 - 6453200

Please send copies to Ipas-Bolivia at the following e-mail address:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Guardian: Over the Sea and Unheard

Over the sea and unheard

Northern Irish politicians agree on one thing: abortion is evil. The ban sends thousands of women abroad every year

Fionola Meredith, Monday October 20 2008

October 24, 11.55am: So Ulster said no, and Ulster got its way. For all Harriet Harman's spurious-sounding excuses about protecting Britain's liberal abortion laws from the dangerous machinations of the Lords, her reported decision to block the Commons votes that could have over-turned the Northern Ireland abortion ban looks very much like capitulation to the obstreperous Stormont boys' club. Northern Ireland politicians have used all their usual tactics of loud whining, immature grandstanding and – most effective of all – dark threats about imminent constitutional crises to get their own way. With the power-sharing executive at Stormont on the brink, they knew they held the trump card. There's nothing this intensely inward-looking band of brothers likes better than seeing off perceived Westminster interference, keeping the good old Ulster homestead pure and holy. So well done, lads, another grubby victory for your own special brand of moral probity. Meanwhile, desperate, cash-strapped Northern women with unwanted pregnancies will keep on taking their problems across the water, where you don't have to see them.

October 23, 10am: For years, I've avoided driving my young daughter home from school along Belfast's University Avenue. I didn't want her to see the images of aborted foetuses festooning the lamp-posts, placed there by anti-abortion campaigners holding their regular "prayer vigil" outside the city's FPA (formerly known as Family Planning Association) offices. Wisely, the FPA has recently decamped to more secure, upper-floor premises elsewhere in Belfast, where teenage girls no longer have to run the gauntlet of this wild-eyed, sin-haunted crew in order to access free, independent advice on an unwanted pregnancy.

Abortion is effectively illegal in Northern Ireland, and any time there's an attempt made to change that discriminatory state of affairs, the place goes nuclear. So, no surprises that when it emerged that pro-choice Labour MPs were planning to back an amendment to the Embryology Bill that would allow terminations in Northern Ireland, the same old chorus of hysteria about "babykillers" started up again, complete with – worst of all – outpourings of vicious misogyny.

Once again, though, the issue has been kicked into the middle distance: the MPs are reportedly backing down, after being warned that the move could prompt local politicians to walk away from negotiations aimed at shoring up the tottering Stormont executive. Ironically, resistance to abortion rights is the one thing our warring representatives can actually agree on. Locked in a bitter, acrimonious and increasingly destructive struggle over the devolution of policing and justice powers, it's all sunshine and roses between them when it comes to this basic human right – and the message is, you ain't getting it, ladies. Shuffle off to England, get the abortion done secretly, come back and we'll say no more about it.

Thousands of women make this costly, agonisingly difficult journey every year – many in the later stages of pregnancy because of delays caused by financial hardship. Others, perhaps unable to afford the trip, are turning to risky abortion pills bought on the internet. And a recent survey (pdf) of GPs in Northern Ireland found that 11% "have seen the results of amateur abortions". Yet our politicians continue to complacently inform us that there is no demand for abortion in Northern Ireland.

A nasty combination of strident fundamentalism, paternalistic indifference to women's rights and our politicians' bone-headed obsession with constitutional issues to the exclusion of all else mean that the Irish Sea ferries will continue to get good business from desperate Northern Irish women for quite some time to come. Meanwhile, any attempt at more measured, rational debate about the issue gets drowned out by shrieking zealots, determined – in classic Ulster style – to reduce all discourse to one simplistic polar opposition: in this case, baby-killers versus baby-lovers.

The thing is, we got what we wanted – our own little white parliament up on the hill, sworn enemies sharing power, misty-eyed dreams of a bright new future. But we're paying one hell of a price for devolution.

Guardian: Labour Stitch-Up Will Deny Women Fundamental Rights

An apparent dirty deal to keep abortion out of Northern Ireland has also led to the shelving of crucial reforms in Britain.

Polly Toynbee The Guardian, Tuesday October 21 2008

When pro-choice demonstrators gather outside parliament today, they really will have cause to protest. In an extraordinary stitch-up, the government has cheated its way out of the abortion debate that was scheduled to be part of tomorrow's human fertilisation and embryology bill. Campaigners are blistering with fury that procedural sleight of hand will deny the chance to reform the forty-year old abortion act.

The government has agreed to let all abortion amendments slip to the bottom, with no time to debate them. Their stated reason is a fear that if reforming abortion amendments are included when the bill goes to the Lords, the upper house may overturn them and instead of making progressive reforms, revert to a harsher time limit and other restrictions. The Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, a leading reformer, rejects this argument out of hand, with plenty of evidence that the Lords has repeatedly voted pro-abortion and strongly supports the whole bill.

What's behind this? A simple miscalculation about the nature of the Lords? Unlikely since it has in recent years voted eight times in favour of abortion and embryo issues. Harris accuses Labour of political cowardice and fearing to support pro-abortion reforms.

Here's the case for reform: the 1967 abortion law casts women as too morally unreliable to decide if they should become mothers. Two doctors must agree that a pregnancy can be terminated; women must plead psychological cause and attend a registered clinic. All that adds to cruel delays: some women still wait six weeks.

Doctors are not making a medical diagnosis, but giving or withholding their moral blessing. Not surprisingly, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists wants an end to this archaic hypocrisy. In these days of "choice" and "empowerment" for patients, doctors are not priests. How odd that women should be morally incapable of making this most important decision and yet might be compelled against their will to become mothers - presumably morally incompetent ones.

Tomorrow's debate was due to be a tug of war between pro- and anti-abortion amendments. Reformers wanted modest change: one doctor to sign instead of two; nurses able to administer pills for early abortions; and women allowed to take those pills at a GP clinic, to make it quicker and cheaper.

Maybe the government took fright at eye-popping anti-abortion propaganda, with the Daily Mail trumpeting "Girls aged 12 could get abortion drugs", and citing the MP Nadine Dorries' lurid images of 12-year-olds home alone "experiencing pain like they've never thought possible, bleeding like they never imagined and then flushing their own abortions down the toilet".

After failing to cut the abortion limit to 20 weeks, Dorries and others put down amendments demanding a signature from three doctors, including a psychiatrist; compulsory counselling on the merits of adoption; warnings of the "psychological risks" of abortion; and a seven-day "cooling-off period". Worst of all, they want to restrict the definition of a "seriously handicapped" foetus and ban all abortions after 24 weeks, even in the case of anencephaly, where there is no chance of survival.

But there is no reason to think any of these would have passed. The suspicion remains that the reason why the government dished the whole debate is Diane Abbott's crucial amendment to extend abortion to Northern Ireland, resisted ferociously by all Northern Ireland parties and by the government. When this bill was debated in May, ministers browbeat Labour MPs to drop it with extreme warnings that the Northern Ireland peace agreement would collapse. One MP described the pressure of being told that a secret tipping point in the peace process had been reached, and that very week was make or break. The MP broke. There has been no evidence of such a tipping point, but the frighteners behind the speaker's chair were highly effective.

Despite adamant denials, many are convinced that Labour made a dirty deal with the Democratic Unionists to keep abortion out of Northern Ireland in exchange for votes to squeak through Gordon Brown's 42-day detention bill.

Abortion is one issue that binds Sinn Féin, the DUP, SDLP and Ulster Unionists in an eternal blood brotherhood. Feminists in Northern Ireland refer to the power-sharing government as "the taliban". Some 50,000 Northern Irish women have had to come to England for abortions, costing about £2,500 each, while poorer women bear unwanted children or use back-street methods: over 10% of GPs admit to dealing with the aftermath of amateur abortions.

Denying fundamental rights to Northern Irish women fits uncomfortably well with the long dishonourable record of Westminster's regard for human rights in the province. Trade-offs have always meant different rules apply. The Commons could impose an abortion law on Northern Ireland, but once full powers are restored to Stormont, there will be nothing to stop the assembly repealing it. However, the brave and much-persecuted abortion campaigners in Northern Ireland think it unlikely the assembly would revert to the present outright ban on abortion. Attitudes are shifting: a Northern Ireland poll yesterday showed 62% would support abortion in cases of rape and incest.

However, opinion polls are consistently anti-abortion on other grounds in the province, so shouldn't they be allowed self-determination? Is this another kind of imperialism? Not if you believe individual women have an inalienable right over their own bodies. Not if you think the imposition of unwanted motherhood is as monstrous an intrusion on a woman's liberty as imprisonment without trial. This should not be a question of majority decision-making, but of as fundamental a human right as any in the UN charter, to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. No one is making anyone else have an abortion. Northern Ireland's politicians have no right to conspire across party lines against the minority rights of women citizens in need of abortions - 40 a week.

If underhand arrangements mean dropping the debate, it'll be yet another dirty Northern Ireland deal. Today at 5.30pm outside the Commons they will be shouting the old cry: "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate."

Irish Times: Northern Pro-Choice Campaign May Take Legal Action

Thursday, October 23, 2008 The Irish Times

Northern pro-choice campaign may take legal action
FRANK MILLAR, London Editor

LEGAL ACTION on grounds of discrimination may be the last hope of pro-choice and equality campaigners after the failure of a parliamentary effort to extend the 1967 British Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

As expected, the Labour government successfully carried a timetabling motion in the House of Commons yesterday which effectively killed off a series of proposed amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

The sponsor of one of those, Labour MP Diane Abbott, described the government’s unwillingness to discuss the extension of the 1967 Act to Northern Ireland as “shabby”. But Ms Abbott was sharply criticised by DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson, who told MPs they should “leave the matter to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives”.

The four main parties in Northern Ireland were united in their opposition to the proposed amendment, which campaigners saw as the likely “last chance” to extend the British legislation to Northern Ireland before any transfer of policing and justice powers to the Stormont Assembly.

Senior Alliance Party sources last night said they thought it was extremely unlikely the party would make abortion an issue in any negotiations that could see it take the policing and justice ministry as part of any resolution of the current DUP/Sinn Féin standoff.

Speaking ahead of yesterday’s Commons vote, SDLP chairman and South Down MP Eddie McGrady stressed the importance of securing the devolution of policing and justice powers.

Forced back to the drawing board by yesterday’s Commons vote, a number of those campaigning for the liberalisation of the law in Northern Ireland confirmed that legal action remained an option – with “discrimination” against citizens in part of the UK, rather than the right to have an abortion, the likely basis for any legal challenge in the British or European courts.

Controversial new legislation allowing scientists to conduct experiments using hybrid human-animal embryos was approved by the House of Commons last night despite a small rebellion by Labour backbenchers.

The staunchly Catholic former minister Ruth Kelly was one of 16 Labour MPs who voted against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.Pro-choice MPs were furious that no time was made available to debate their calls for the law to be liberalised to allow terminations to be conducted with the approval of one doctor rather than two and for abortion to be legalised in Northern Ireland.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Irish Joint Letter Supporting the Extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland


We, the undersigned, are writing to urge you to support the proposed amendment 30 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which would extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. The extension of the 1967 Abortion Act has wider implications beyond Northern Ireland, and would ensure earlier access to abortion for women in the Republic of Ireland.

You may be aware that abortion on the island of Ireland, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is governed by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. We believe that it is now time to end an 1861 Victorian response to the 21st century issue of abortion, and ensure that wider international developments in medicine, science and ethics are reflected in amendments to the 1967 Abortion Act.

We support a guarantee for the full enjoyment of the human rights of women in Northern Ireland in this area of sexual health and reproductive rights. We fully support the policy of the British Medical Association, which in its Annual Representative Meeting in 2003 supports the extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

As NGOs and individuals working in Ireland, we have witnessed the financial, emotional and health consequences for women caused by laws that deny access to abortion services on the island of Ireland. Significantly international evidence shows that countries which criminalise abortion, as Ireland does, only pushes women into accessing unsafe and life threatening illegal abortions.

The law in Ireland (both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic) allows for abortion when the life of the woman is in danger. In practice, however, abortion is unavailable in Ireland in almost all circumstances due to ambiguity about when a physician may legally perform a life-saving operation. The law also fails to make any provision for a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape or incest, experiencing severe fetal abnormality, or at risk of permanent bodily harm such as blindness, diabetes, kidney or heart disease.

Official figures show that over 7,000 women per year travel to England for abortions from the island of Ireland. This figure is based upon the number of women providing Irish addresses (from the Republic and Northern Ireland) and vastly undercounts the actual number of women travelling, some of whom may give false addresses in England or travel to other countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.

On a daily basis our we witness how a woman's age, her emotional state, and her other life circumstances affect her decision whether to carry a pregnancy to term and her ability to do so. Yet the laws restricting abortion disregard all such factors.

Pregnant women with a fetal abnormality face an added burden. These women often have wanted pregnancies and are extremely distressed. A woman, who is treated in an abortion clinic abroad or by an illegal provider, is unable to access vital genetic analysis of fetal remains to determine implications for future pregnancies. We are aware that some women attempt to bring fetal remains back to Ireland for genetic testing or to bury the foetus in a family gravesite in Ireland. Due to a combination of stigma and a lack of information, these women sometimes smuggle the remains home after an abortion abroad.

A challenge to Ireland's ban on abortion brought by three women who had been forced to travel to England to obtain abortion services necessary to protect their health and well-being is now pending before the European Court of Human Rights and known as ABC v Ireland. Likewise, the ban on abortion in Northern Ireland has been the subject of judicial inquiry. See Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland v. Minister for Health 2004.

We believe that abortion is an intimate aspect of private life, intricately linked with a woman's sexual rights, the right to control her own body, and the liberty and security of her person. These values are unacceptably infringed upon by the forced continuation of pregnancy.

The full body of international law and the authoritative interpretations of this law as provided by international and regional bodies compel the conclusion that, in order for women and girls to exercise and enjoy their human rights fully, a number of conditions related to reproductive and sexual health policy and law must be present.

We would urge you to support Amendment 30 to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Dr Mary Muldowney
Alliance for Choice, Republic of Ireland

Helen Keys, Spokesperson
Choice Ireland

Dr Sandra McAvoy
Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group

Dr Mary Favier
Doctors for Choice in Ireland

Alison Begas, Chief Executive,
Dublin Well Woman Centre

Niall Behan, Chief Executive,
Irish Family Planning Association

Proinsias De Rossa MEP, Labour,
Member of European Parliament for Dublin

Senator Ivana Bacik, Independent,
Member of Seanad Eireann,
Reid Professor of Law, Trinity College Dublin

Karen Kiernan, Director,
One Family

Catherine Forde BL, Spokesperson,
Safe and Legal in Ireland Abortion Rights Campaign

Rhonda Donaghy, Trade Union Organiser,

Mags O'Brien, Trade Union Tutor,

Keith O'Brien, Welfare Officer,
University College Cork

Linda Kelly, Equality Officer
Union of Students in Ireland

Anthony Muldoon, Welfare Officer,
Union of Students in Ireland

Dr Geraldine Moane
Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology,
University College Dublin

Margaret Martin, Director
Women's Aid

Monday, October 20, 2008

Irish Times: 62% Support Limited Abortion in the North

62% support limited abortion in the North

Nearly two-thirds of people in the North support abortion in certain circumstances, new research indicated today.

Abortion is illegal in the North unless the mother’s health is at risk, but MPs in Westminster are this week set to consider proposals to bring the law into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, where abortion is permitted.

Legalisation would be supported by 62 per cent of local people, according to the survey by the Family Planning Association (FPA), but only in extreme circumstances such as rape and incest.

All the major political parties in Northern Ireland oppose any change in the laws and are angry at the notion of MPs ruling on what they see as a devolved matter.

However the FPA claim the findings of its research indicate that the politicians are out of step with public feeling in the region.

The group claims it is a myth that people in Northern Ireland do not want to see abortion available under any circumstances.

Only 20 per cent of those questioned said abortion should not be legal in cases of rape or incest.

Dr Audrey Simpson, director of FPA in Northern Ireland said: “It is time that the Northern Ireland Assembly faced up to the realities of the situation that people in Northern Ireland support the right to choose.

“These statistics cannot be ignored and show that MLAs have a responsibility to give women in Northern Ireland the choice to have an abortion."

MPs will vote on Wednesday on an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Irish Times: Move To Extend Abortion to North May Fail

Move to extend abortion to North may fail

FRANK MILLAR, London Editor

MPs CAMPAIGNING for the extension of the British Abortion Act to Northern Ireland fear they may be "talked out" when the issue reaches the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Labour MP Diane Abbott has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill on behalf of women in Northern Ireland she has previously described as "second class citizens" denied the "right to choose" enshrined in the 1967 Abortion Act.

In face of the local political consensus, however - the main Northern Ireland parties are united in opposition - suspicions have grown that a "filibuster" or a government procedural motion will see the equality move fail for want of parliamentary time.

There has also been speculation that, having regard to Catholic opinion there, the Brown government will happily see a range of "pro-choice" amendments fall just weeks ahead of the crucial Glenrothes by-election in Scotland.

When the DUP's nine MPs originally backed prime minister Gordon Brown's now-abandoned plan to let police hold some terror suspects for 42 days both sides denied that any form of "deal" was done. At the same time, however, DUP sources privately indicated their confidence that the government would use the "payroll vote" at Westminster or otherwise deploy its influence to block the move by backbench Labour MPs to extend the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Given his possible dependence on DUP votes in a tight parliament following the next general election, similar confidence was expressed that Conservative leader David Cameron would likewise discourage his backbenchers from defying the Northern Ireland consensus on the issue.

Conservative sources last night dismissed the idea that an abortion vote could provide an early test of the promise contained in the proposed Conservative/Ulster Unionist "merger" to offer Northern Ireland voters a new form of politics. As with Labour, Tory MPs will enjoy a "free vote" on what is regarded as an individual "conscience" issue.

DUP junior minister Jeffrey Donaldson last week suggested that any attempt to liberalise the law in Northern Ireland would trigger "a constitutional crisis" and could "put an end" to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Few senior figures at Westminster appear to actually believe this, although the government plainly does not want any form of confrontation given the current stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Féin over the devolution of policing and justice powers.

The British government has acted twice in the past year in defiance of political opinion in the North - in lowering and equalising the age of sexual consent, and in outlawing discrimination on sexual orientation grounds in the provision of goods and services.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland, hundreds of pro-life campaigners attended a rally at Stormont on Saturday demanding that there be no change to abortion law in Northern Ireland, writes Gerry Moriarty.

The Rally for Life was supported by anti-abortion campaigners, politicians and church leaders. SDLP Assembly member Pat Ramsey said the rally was "a march for civil rights - to defend the most fundamental civil right of all - the right to life".

Observer Editorial: Legalise Abortion in Northern Ireland

Legalise abortion in Northern Ireland
Editorial The Observer, Sunday October 19 2008

Northern Ireland's powerful anti-abortion lobby held a rally at Stormont yesterday as part of its campaign to pile pressure on both the Assembly and Downing Street to ensure that the Province is treated differently from the rest of the UK. They want to maintain an unjust and absurd status quo: that Northern Ireland continues to be the only part of the UK where the 1967 abortion act does not apply.

The 'pro-life' alliance is backed by a coalition of Democratic Unionists, Protestant evangelicals and the Catholic Church, but with the exception of the Progressive Unionists and the Alliance party's Anna Lo, the other main Assembly parties are also opposed to extending the 1967 act to Northern Ireland.

Yet women, many of them desperately poor, some the victims of rape and abuse, will still take the boat and plane to Britain to terminate their pregnancies, often at great financial as well as personal and emotional cost.

A smaller minority will actually be offered terminations within Northern Ireland hospitals; that is those women whose lives would be in immediate mortal danger if their pregnancy went ahead. This leaves frontline medical staff, notably the midwives, in a precarious legal position. The Royal College of Midwives has warned that its members in Northern Ireland could face prosecution under 19th-century laws that still apply there unless either the 1967 act is extended or local health minister Michael McGimpsey lays down clear guidelines to protect health workers.

A group of Labour MPs is trying to end this anomaly and give Northern Ireland women the same freedom to choose as their counterparts in Britain. However, in this newspaper today a small, courageous band of pro-choice public figures in Northern Ireland claim that Downing Street is prepared to yield to the anti-abortion lobby, and use parliamentary chicanery to push any motion aimed at extending the '67 act so far down the agenda that it will disappear.

MPs on all sides of the House of Commons should ensure the government does not surrender to the forces of reaction in Northern Ireland. They should side with the women of the Province, who for almost 40 years have been denied a choice that every other woman in the UK has been able to exercise. On this issue Labour MPs in particular should rebel against their government in defence of that freedom.

October 17th- Letter to The Times: Time to Modernise Abortion Legislation

Time to modernise abortion legislation

Academic medical lawyers and ethicists petition for the modernisation of the Abortion Act 1967

Sir, Recent years have witnessed a welcome shift in medical practice. Paternalism, the “doctor knows best” attitude, has been largely superseded by respect for patient autonomy. This shift is mirrored in the ethical codes and legal principles governing medical practice, which generally endorse the idea that individuals are entitled to make their own healthcare decisions, even when such choices appear irrational or wrong to others. Furthermore, our courts have held that individual women’s rights to make their own decisions are not suspended during pregnancy.

Given this, subjecting pregnant women who wish to terminate a pregnancy to the current qualifying conditions of the Abortion Act 1967, whereby an abortion is only permissible if two doctors agree to it, is an anomaly. And while achieving fewer and earlier abortions is a goal shared by all, there is no evidence that this is best achieved by placing obstacles in the path of a woman wishing to end her pregnancy.

As academic medical lawyers and ethicists, we believe that the current restrictions on women’s reproductive autonomy during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy are not justified. Likewise, where other provisions of the Abortion Act (such as those limiting where, and by whom, abortions may be performed) are not dictated by the requirements of patient safety and good medical practice, they should be similarly reformed. We therefore ask Parliament to take the opportunity now before it to modernise the Abortion Act 1967.

Sally Sheldon
Professor Law, Kent University

Ruth Chadwick
Distinguished Research Professor, Cardiff University

M. D. A. Freeman
Professor of English Law, UCL

Jonathan Glover
Professor of Ethics, King’s College London

John Harris
Lord Alliance Professor of Bioethics University of Manchester

Sheila A. M. Mclean
Professor of Law and Ethics in Medicine, University of Glasgow

Celia Wells
Professor of Law, Durham University

Hazel Biggs
Professor of Law, Lancaster University

Marie Fox
Professor of Law, Keele University

Stephen Wilkinson
Professor of Bioethics, Keele University

David Archard,
Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy, Lancaster University

Richard Ashcroft
Professor of Bioethics, School of Law, Queen Mary, University of London

Dr Nafsika Athanassoulis,
Lecturer in Ethics, Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University

Peter Bartlett
Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust Professor of Mental Health Law, School of Law, University of Nottingham

Simon Blackburn, FBA,
The Professor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge

Dr Iain Brassington
Lecturer in Bioethics, Centre for Social Ethics and Policy and Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation, School of Law, School of Law, University of Manchester

Christine Bell
Professor of Law, Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster

Joanne Beswick
Lecturer in Law, Staffordshire University

Lois S Bibbings
Senior Lecturer in Law, School of Law and Honorary Research Fellow, Centre
for Ethics in Medicine, University of Bristol.

Jenny Billings
Senior Research Fellow in Health Care Research (Vulnerable Groups), Kent University

Dr Lisa Bortolotti
Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Birmingham

Dr Bob Brecher
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics & Ethics, University of Brighton

Jo Bridgeman
Senior Lecturer in Law, Sussex Law School

Dr Jennifer Burr
Lecturer in Health Care Ethics, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield

Dr Ruth Cain
Lecturer in Law, Keele University

Dr Gideon Calder
Reader in Ethics and Social Philosophy, University of Wales, Newport

Dr Sharon Cowan
Lecturer in Law, Edinburgh University

Dr Roger Crisp
Uehiro Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy, St Anne's College, Oxford

Katherine de Gama,
Lecturer in Law, Keele University

Dr Marinos Diamantidis
Reader in Law, Birkbeck College

Gillian Douglas
Professor of Law, Cardiff University

Dr Heather Draper
Reader in Biomedical Ethics, Department of General Practice and Primary Care, University of Birmingham

Eileen Fegan
Lecturer in Law, Queen's University, Belfast

Dr Rachel Fenton
Senior Lecturer in Law, Bristol Law School, University of the West of England

P R Ferguson
Professor of Scots Law, Department of Law, University of Dundee

Dr Ruth Fletcher,
Senior Lecturer in Law, Keele University

Dr Sara Fovargue,
Lecturer in Law, Lancaster University.

Lucy Frith
Lecturer in Health Care Ethics, Medical School, University of Liverpool

Dr Colin Gavaghan,
Lecturer in medical law and ethics, School of Law, University of Glasgow

Dr Simona Giordano
Senior Lecturer of Bioethics, Centre for Social Ethics and Policy (CSEP), University of Manchester

Patrick Hanafin
Professor of Law, School of Law, Birkbeck College.

Vivienne Harpwood
Professor of Law, Cardiff University

John Harrington
Professor of Law, Liverpool University

Dr Peter Herissone-Kelly
Lecturer in Philosophy, Centre for Professional Ethics, University of Central Lancashire

Tamara K Hervey
School of Law, University of Sheffield

Dr Kirsty Horsey
Lecturer in Law, Kent University

Dr Jonathan Ives,
Research Fellow, Centre for the Study of Global Ethics, Centre for Biomedical Ethics, University of Birmingham.

Dr Marie-Andree Jacob,
Lecturer in Law, Keele University

Dr David Lamb
Hon Reader in Bioethics, University of Birmingham.

Dr. Melanie Latham
Reader in Law, Manchester Metropolitan University.

J.V. McHale
Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Leicester

Robin Mackenzie
Senior Lecturer in Law, Kent University

Sheelagh McGuiness
Lecturer in Ethics, Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University

Hugh McLachlan
School of Law and Social Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University

Dr Alasdair MacLean
Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Dundee

Dr Neil C. Manson
Senior Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, Lancaster University

Robyn Martin
Professor of Public Health Law, Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care, University of Hertfordshire

Dr Sabine Michalowski
Reader in Law, University of Essex

Susan Millns
Professor of Law, Sussex University

Dr José Miola,
Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Leicester.

Derek Morgan
Professor of Medical Law and Jurisprudence, University of Sheffield,

Linda Mulcahy
Anniversary Professor of Law and Society, Birkbeck College

Vanessa Munro
Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Nottingham

Therese Murphy,
Professor of Law & Critical Theory, University of Nottingham

Richard Norman
Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy, Kent University.

Aurora Plomer
Professor of Law and Bioethics, School of Law, University of Sheffield

Dr Nicolette Priaulx,
Senior Lecturer in Law, Cardiff University

David Price,
Professor of Medical Law, De Montfort University School of Law, Leicester.

Jan Quallington,
Principal Lecturer, Institute of Health, Social Care and Psychology, University of Worcester.

Genevra Richardson,
Professor of Law, School of Law, King's College London

Jo Samanta,
Senior Lecturer, De Montfort University School of Law, Leicester.

Associate Professor Ralph Sandland,
Associate Professor of Law, University of Nottingham.

Professor Julian Savulescu B.Med.Sci., M.B., B.S., M.A., Ph.D.
Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, Director of the Program on Ethics and the New Biosciences in the 21st Century School, University of Oxford, Director of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, University of Oxford.

Dr Leanne Smith
Lecturer in Law, Cardiff University

Dr John Stanton-Ife
Senior Lecturer in Law, King's College London

Dr. Dania Thomas
Lecturer in Law, Keele University

Dr Michael Thomson
Professor of Law, Culture & Society, Keele University

Dr Kenneth Veitch
Lecturer in Law, Sussex University

Dr Julie Wallbank,
Senior Lecturer in Law, Leeds University

Donna Whitehead,

Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Sunderland.

Noel Whitty
Professor of Human Rights Law, University of Nottingham

Dr E Wicks
Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Birmingham

Melanie L Williams
Professor of Law, University of Exeter School of Law

Dr James Wilson
Centre for Philosophy, Justice and Health, UCL.

Dr Anthony Wrigley
Lecturer in Ethics, Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Guardian: 'We're Talking About Women's Lives'

'We're talking about women's lives'

Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK where abortion is illegal - but that could be about to change. Mary O'Hara reports Mary O'Hara Friday October 17 2008 The Guardian

Four years ago Annie Smith (not her real name) walked into her GP's surgery and pleaded for help.

"I'd been sick for ages, my blood pressure was through the roof and I was worried that something was seriously wrong," she says. "The last thing I expected was to be told I was 12 weeks pregnant. I was still having periods."

As a single mother on benefits, suffering with depression and chronic health problems, Smith realised she could not cope with being pregnant. After a few "very difficult days" she decided to have an abortion. "I just knew it was the right thing to do. I had to think of my two children. What use am I to them even more sick, or dead?"

What Smith had not realised was just how difficult it would be to get an abortion - she lives in Northern Ireland where the procedure is illegal in almost all circumstances. A friend helped her scrape together the cash to go to England for a termination, and the pair kept it a secret because, she says, "It's just not something you could tell people about where I live.

"If it had not been for my friend, I don't know what I would have done. I had absolutely no money. I was living on benefits. The whole thing was so distressing. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. If we had the same rights here as the rest of the UK, I could have had my abortion without all that additional stress. It just doesn't make sense to me."

Smith's experience stemmed from the fact that the UK's 1967 Abortion Act was passed when Northern Ireland had its own parliament - and even after direct rule was imposed in the early 1970s the law was never extended. Now that could be about to change. Next week an amendment to the embryology and human fertilisation bill, tabled by Labour MP Diane Abbott, is due to be debated in parliament; if passed, it will extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland. This challenge to the current law has triggered outrage from anti-abortion campaigners, not to mention Northern Ireland's mainstream parties - on both sides of the political divide.

Anti-abortion campaigners have been mobilising all summer, holding public town hall-style meetings and gearing up for a "Rally for Life" scheduled for tomorrow at Stormont. The leading pro-life group, Precious Life, also launched a prominent poster and bus advertising campaign a week ago to drum up support.

On the other side of the debate, pro-choice groups are also taking their case to politicians, launching a petition on the Downing Street website and holding regular public meetings. In the summer, the FPA (formerly the Family Planning Association) launched its latest campaign for women's right to choose, and it notes that more than 50,000 women have had to leave Northern Ireland in search of abortions in the past 40 years - many in the later stages of pregnancies because of delays caused by financial hardship. In 2007 alone, it estimates, around 1,400 women fled, paying up to £2,500 each for clinic and travel costs. Audrey Simpson, director of the FPA in Northern Ireland, says the situation amounts to "discrimination" against women, particularly poorer women such as Smith.

Goretti Horgan of the pro-choice group Alliance for Choice agrees, and says that some women are so desperate they are buying abortion pills on the internet. She adds that, according to one survey of GPs in Northern Ireland, 11% "have seen the results of amateur abortions".

There are very few political figures in Northern Ireland who are openly in favour of the extension of the 1967 Act - the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party are all against it - but Dawn Purvis, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, says it is about time people such as Smith were heard. As an outspoken pro-choice advocate, Purvis says she comes across "all kinds of women" who have to leave the country for a termination.

"There was the 17-year-old girl who was just about to start her A-levels when she found out she was pregnant. Her boyfriend had left her. The pregnancy was enormously difficult for her and she just couldn't go through with it. There was a woman who had grown-up children - she thought she had been through the menopause, and was feeling suicidal at the prospect of having more children. There was another woman who found herself pregnant but by the time she raised the money to go to England to have an abortion she was over the [legal] limit.

This is women's lives we are talking about. That women in Northern Ireland are treated differently from women in Bradford or Birmingham or London is a national disgrace."

So why has the Abortion Act never been extended to Northern Ireland? Liam Gibson of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child - an anti-abortion group established in 1967 specifically to challenge the Abortion Act - says that it has never been applied "because the people of Northern Ireland simply don't want it". He argues that people in the rest of the UK and pro-choice campaigners "just don't understand" Northern Ireland and the fact that it is "more socially conservative", and he objects to any suggestion that the law should be extended, saying, "It's a matter for the assembly, not Westminster."

Purvis agrees with Gibson that to some degree Northern Ireland has always been a more conservative society, but says he and the mainstream politicians are "spectacularly out of touch" with the reality of people's lives today. She feels that the louder anti-abortion voices "drown out" those of more moderate women and men who support the right to choose. "We are criminalising women and we have a situation where people are fearful of talking openly about abortion, never mind admitting to having one."

Abbott has been accused of trying to impose abortion on Northern Ireland against the express wishes of the assembly - an accusation she rejects. For her, the issue is simply about women's rights, and enabling women to have a voice. "This is an issue that dare not speak its name in Northern Ireland," she says.

There have been controversial suggestions - widely denied - of some kind of deal between the government and the Democratic Unionists (DUP) to prevent the Abortion Act being extended. It is difficult to see how this might happen if a vote does take place, since MPs are granted a free vote on the issue in parliament. But after the nine DUP MPs voted in favour of the 42-day detention of terror suspects earlier this year - helping the government to win the vote in the Commons - questions were asked about what the "trade-off" was. Some pro-choice campaigners, including Horgan, suggest a "soft whip" is being applied to MPs on the basis that if they vote for the amendment it could threaten the peace process.

Jeffrey Donaldson, an MP and member of the legislative assembly (MLA) for the DUP, and head of the all-party Pro-Life Group in the assembly, denies any kind of deal has been struck but says he has anecdotal evidence that many MPs would consider voting against the amendment if it would destabilise the peace process. If the amendment were carried, Donaldson says, there "would definitely be a constitutional upset" because Northern Ireland MLAs believe it is a decision that should rest with the assembly and not Westminster. The assembly could, he says, "refuse to implement" the extension of the act even if MPs in Westminster voted in favour.

What happens next - and whether a constitutional crisis would indeed ensue - hinges first on whether the speaker calls the amendment for a vote, and, ultimately, on whether the pro-choice majority in the Commons votes in favour. Les Reid of the Belfast Humanist Association, another pro-choice advocate, believes that for all the threats of constitutional crisis, the anti-abortion lobby's protestations may come to nothing in the long term. "The DUP and the Catholic church warned that gay rights would never be accepted in Northern Ireland, but time has proved them wrong," he says. "Likewise, if the abortion laws are extended, all that will happen is that, eventually, women who have been forced to find access [elsewhere] will be able to get treatment they need."

For Smith, an extension in the law can't come a moment too soon. "I understand that many people do not agree with abortion," she says. "That is their right and I respect it. But I don't see why they should be able to impose their views on me or any other woman. It's a disgrace that I had to go through what I did."

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008


Friday, October 10, 2008

Abortion Decriminalised in Victoria, Australia

The bill to decriminalise abortion in Victoria has passed a conscience vote of Upper House MPs by six votes.

The final vote was 23 to 17.

The decision has been welcomed by former Premier, Joan Kirner a long-time pro-choice campaigner.

Ms Kirner said she is relieved the bill passed in the Upper House.

"It was fantastic to see people from all sides of the House standing up to make sure that women were no longer potential criminals," she said.

But Ms Kirner says the changes are not a certainty yet. There are still m ore than 60 amendments to be debated before a final vote.

There was an outburst in the public gallery from anti-abortion protesters when the vote was read out.

Pro Life Victoria President, Denise Cameron, says opponents of the bill have no intention of giving in.

"This will go on forever. They need to stand up and defend human life," she said.

Greens MP, Colleen Hartland, voted to decriminalise abortion, but is concerned amendments will undermine the Bill.

"If any of the amendments got up they could actually undermine what is current clinical practice," she said.

"And that's what this bill is about. It's about putting out what is actually happening already, into the legal framework. We're happy to sit today, tomorrow, Sunday, we'll sit until this is finished."

Democratic Labor Party MP, Peter Kavanagh, spoke for more than three hours last night, denouncing the abortion legislation.

He says no amendments would change his vote against reform.

"But even if the amendments get up, it will only be slightly improving a fundamentally flawed law," he said.

Twenty First Anniversary of Historic Ruling to Extend Abortion to Northern Ireland

Press Release from fpa: Friday 10 October 2008

Twenty first anniversary of historic ruling to extend abortion to Northern Ireland

This week marks the twenty-first anniversary of an historic announcement by an International Tribunal of lawyers, civil libertarians, doctors and academics who found that the UK Government should extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland. Despite this women in Northern Ireland are still waiting for the same rights that women in Britain have. The tribunal organised by the Northern Ireland Abortion Law Reform Association, on the 7 and 8 of October 1987, heard evidence from local women, doctors, lawyers and support and advice agencies of the consequences of denying women access to abortion.

On the 8 of October 1987, the tribunal made this statement:

“We believe that the UK government has an obligation to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland…Women in Northern Ireland should have at least the same rights as women in the rest of the UK. We believe the extension of the Act will reduce the unnecessary and inhumane suffering women in Northern Ireland are forced to endure through unwanted pregnancy.”

In July of this year, The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, also voiced its concern that abortion continues to be illegal in Northern Ireland with detrimental consequences for women’s health.

An amendment has been put down by Diane Abbott MP to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill being passed through parliament. This is seen by many as the last chance to secure equal reproductive rights for women in Northern Ireland before criminal justice is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Audrey Simpson, Director of fpa in Northern Ireland, said:

“The anniversary of the tribunal is a powerful reminder to Westminster MPs voting on the amendment in the coming weeks, that people in Northern Ireland want the same rights to abortion as women have in Britain: and they have done for many years. Twenty-one years has passed by us, and it is unacceptable that Northern Irish women are still at the peril of an outdated, arbitrary and restrictive law on abortion. Women in Northern Ireland have been waiting decades to secure the same rights to reproductive health care services as women in Britain. The rights of women can no longer remain invisible in the context of abortion.”

Professor Bill Rolston, Professor of Sociology at the University of Ulster, and a founding member of the NIALRA, said:

“While the last 30 years have seen a global trend toward liberalization of national abortion laws, Northern Ireland has not taken the opportunity to lift the restrictions on abortion and afford women better reproductive choice. It is an urgent priority for the women of Northern Ireland to have the right to a safe and legal abortion, and that this right is not unduly restricted.”

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Sunday Tribune: Pro-abortion group urge British MPs to Support Legislation

Sunday Tribune: Pro-abortion group urge British MPs to support legislation
October 5th 2008

Suzanne Breen Northern Editor

Forty women from the North will this week travel to Westminster to urge British MPs to support legislation to make abortion available in Northern Ireland.

An amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which has been tabled by Labour MP Diane Abbott, is due to be debated in the House of Commons later this month. It proposes that the 1967 British Abortion Act be extended to the North. Such legislation would also mean Southern women could cross the Border to have abortions. The North's four main political parties have all written to MPs to oppose any change in the law and claim they have the support of 90% of the population.

The 40 women represent the 40 women a week who currently travel from the North to Britain and Europe to have abortions. A letter signed by prominent individuals in the public, legal, academic and community sectors also urges MPs to extend the 1967 Act.

Among the signatories are Irish Congress of Trade Unions president Patricia McKeown; former Westminster MP Bernadette McAliskey; Annie Campbell, director of Northern Ireland Women's Aid; Audrey Simpson, director of the North's Family Planning Association and Eileen Calder of Belfast Rape Crisis Centre.

Alliance Assembly member Anna Lo, Progressive Unionist leader Dawn Purvis, and Baroness May Blood of the Shankill are also supporting the women. Goretti Horgan of Alliance for Choice said: "We totally reject the claim by the four main parties that 90% of people in the North oppose abortion. We challenge them to hold a referendum on the issue. But regardless of what the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Ulster Unionists say, women will continue to vote with their feet and travel to Britain or Europe for abortions. Almost 80,000 have gone since 1967.

"Women should not be forced to make such expensive and often emotional journeys. Working-class women often struggle to raise the £1,000 it generally costs in travel and medical expenses."

Gordon Brown is rumoured to have done a deal with the DUP whereby they supported the 42-day detention of terrorist suspects in return for Westminster leaving it to the Stormont Assembly to legislate on abortion.

"That's like saying 'leave it to the Taliban to sort out women's rights'. It's also double standards because abortion has not been devolved to the Scottish or Welsh administrations," Horgan said.

October 5, 2008

Wall St Journal: When Justices Prefer Not to Judge- Court May Pass on Abortion Again

Wall St Journal
· When Justices Prefer Not to Judge: Court May Pass on Abortion Again
A European court may decide whether a woman has a basic right to abortion to preserve her health. Or, some observers fear, it may avoid the issue, as it has in the past.

The European Court of Human Rights was established to uphold rights to life, privacy, freedom of speech, religion and the like. The court has one justice from each of the 47 nations that signed the European Convention on Human Rights. It rules on cases that applicants bring when they feel they cannot get adequate legal redress in their home countries.

Pro-choice supporters protest Ireland's abortion laws, among the strictest in Europe, outside Dublin's High Court.

But for years the court has essentially turned a blind eye to Ireland's abortion laws, considered among the most restrictive in Europe. Critics say that helps perpetuate an inequitable patchwork of rules across the region.

Regardless of which way the court ultimately rules, its delay highlights the complexity of what would seem a simple question: Aren't judges supposed to judge?

Siobhán Mullally, senior lecturer at the University College Cork Faculty of Law, says that by declining to hear certain cases, the justices can skirt a reckoning with the most central questions on abortion. "So far the court has been very cautious," she says.

The current case, A.B. and C. v. Ireland, was brought by three Irish women who received abortions in England for health reasons -- one had cancer -- and suffered medical complications upon their return to Ireland. The women say they were uncomfortable seeking medical treatment, both before and after the abortions, because of Ireland's laws, including a 1995 statute that applies criminal penalties to anyone giving information or assistance that promotes the procedure.

In addition, an abortion ban is written into the Irish constitution, which essentially states that the right to life of the fetus is equal to that of the mother. The Irish Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that abortion is legal if necessary to save a woman's life, but no laws were made to define when an abortion is necessary. The applicants argue that the Irish laws infringed on their rights to life, privacy and freedom from discrimination.

Prof. Aurora Plomer, an expert in bioethics at the University of Sheffield's School of Law, in Britain, cites the court's language that its charter "is intended to guarantee not rights that are theoretical or illusory but rights that are practical and effective."

The judges have stepped back from the issue before. They refused to examine whether a fetus is protected in cases brought from other countries. And they declined to hear an earlier challenge to Ireland's law. Applicants must exhaust all legal remedies in Ireland before seeking redress in Strasbourg.

The Catch-22: how to exhaust those remedies amid vague or conflicting laws before a dangerous due date arrives -- or it becomes too late to abort.

The U.S. Supreme Court, too, has shrunk from tough issues, though it is often accused of being too activist. Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar and founding dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law, cites early challenges to the ban on interracial marriage as an example. In a more recent instance, in 2004, the high court used procedural grounds to avoid ruling on a challenge to the 'one Nation under God' phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance.

It is a topic of a longstanding debate in U.S. history. Some say it's good for the justices to wait, allowing time for the political process to resolve issues. Others argue that it's the court's job to make the tough calls.

The European justices could make their own case. By requiring the applicants to exhaust civil remedies in their home countries first, they avoid exceeding their mandate. While 43 of the 47 states have laws allowing abortions for health reasons, four do not, and those bans are strict.

But the court was created, in part, to resolve conflicts. Standing pat can sustain inequity, some observers say. A woman could die in one country from complications from a pregnancy, where another state would have protected her life.

Prof. Richard Kay of the University of Connecticut School of Law says that in a landmark 2004 case, the court noted that there was no European consensus on when life begins. That consensus is critical for the court, Mr. Kay says, because, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, the European court has no binding authority. Member states rarely resist its decisions, but enforcement is political, not legal.

Mr. Kay says the court could rule on Irish abortion and that even if the government disagreed, it would comply. It's a sophisticated country, he says. It follows the rule of law.

Irish Times: Northern Ireland abortion campaigners lobby British MPs

NI abortion campaigners lobby British MPs

Campaigners pressing for the extension of abortion laws to Northern Ireland today lobbied MPs at Westminster.

Forty protestors from the Alliance for Choice group — representing the 40 women who leave Northern Ireland every week for abortions — also delivered a letter to Downing Street

The group met Labour MP Dianne Abbot, who has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill calling for an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Abortions can currently only take place in Northern Ireland where it is proved that the woman’s physical or mental health is at risk.

Leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) Dawn Purvis was among the campaigners who travelled to Westminster and she hit out at attempts by the larger parties at Stormont to prevent a change in the law.

“I do not understand their position on women facing crisis pregnancies,” she said.

“They don’t mind if it happens in England or Wales, just not in their own backyard.

“That is not good enough.”

The East Belfast Assembly member said the current situation added to the trauma faced by women.

Ms Purvis said it also placed an additional financial burden on women from low income backgrounds who had to find the money to pay for the cost of travelling for private abortions — bills that sometimes cost up to £2,000.

She said women in Northern Ireland were being treated as second class citizens in comparison with those in Britain.

“They are not afforded the same rights as in the rest of the UK and that is a disgrace,” she said.

The Alliance for Choice’s Goretti Horgan said the group was pleased by the reception they got at Westminster.

She said many of the politicians who spoke to the Alliance group were surprised to hear the abortion laws did not extend to Northern Ireland.

Chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service Ann Furedi said: “Every year we see hundreds of Northern Irish women who travel to our clinics in Liverpool, Birmingham and London seeking abortion care.

“It’s absurd that a woman living in Newcastle, County Down, can’t access exactly the same reproductive health services that are available to women in Newcastle upon Tyne.

“Women in Northern Ireland are just as much at risk of an unintended pregnancy as women are in the rest of the UK — so they should have access to the same healthcare.”