Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's Time The State Faced Up To Abortion Realities

The Irish Examiner - Letter to the Editor

It's time the state faced up to abortion realities

Thursday, July 30, 2009

HOW ironic if, as Dan Buckley suggests (July 21), a European Court of Human Rights decision in the A,B and C abortion cases becomes Europe's equivalent of Roe v Wade.

Anti-choice groups have influenced the Irish state's policy on this matter to the extent that it has failed even to legislate on the protection of a woman's life when, in the words of the X case judgment, there is a "real and substantial risk" that she will die because of her pregnancy.

It is surely no defence to claim that every woman in the country who finds herself in situation where she wishes to choose abortion has the option of exposing her most intimate concerns before a court in order to seek permission. It is time the state was honest and admitted that far from being a shining example of difference from our European neighbours, abortion is commonplace here.

Failure to face up to that reality and give Irish women access to those reproductive rights shared by most European women has meant that, as US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg recently said of the situation in the USA, "we have a policy that only affects poor women ... and I don't know why this hasn't been said more often".

A period of recession can only deepen the inequalities between Irish women who have the means to define and exercise their right to choose abortion and can travel to Britain, the Netherlands or further afield and those who do not. The matter of abortion involves complex issues of rights and ethics which Irish politicians have grappled with only at the most simplistic level – and rarely with a focus on the rights, experiences or health of women.

The Irish state's failure to address this issue and its lack of interest in or understanding of the difficulties pregnant women may face deserves to be exposed in an international arena.

Dr Sandra McAvoy
Douglas Road

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Amnesty Condemns Abortion Ban in Nicaragua

The Irish Times July 29th

• Amnesty condemns abortion ban


NICARAGUA’S TOTAL ban on abortion is a violation of human rights and is killing a growing number of women and children, Amnesty International has said in launching a campaign to have the measure repealed.

In a report released in Mexico City yesterday, the international human rights organisation said Nicaragua’s law, which went into effect in late 2006, put it in a group with only 3 per cent of the world’s nations that do not allow abortion under any circumstance.

Citing statistics from the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health, the report said 33 women and girls died from pregnancy complications in the first 19 weeks of this year, compared with 20 in the same period last year.

But it added that the real numbers were probably much higher.

Nicaragua has one of Latin America’s highest rates of sexual violence, with the abuse often perpetrated by fathers, uncles or other relatives. At least 50 per cent of reported rapes are of girls under 18, and most of those who get pregnant are under 15, the report said.

Women and girls who have been impregnated by rapists or whose life or health is at risk are not allowed to abort.

“A festering, debilitating human rights situation [is] bringing grave fear, threat, harm and even death to Nicaragua’s girl children and women,” Kate Gilmore, executive deputy secretary general of Amnesty International, said in Mexico City.

Abortion laws are generally restrictive in most of Latin America. The irony in Nicaragua is that the ban was backed by now-president Daniel Ortega, who led the left-wing Sandinista revolution 30 years ago and championed women’s rights. In the middle of the 2006 election season, Mr Ortega promoted the law to gain the support of the Catholic Church and return to power.

The ban ended a 100-year-old exception that had allowed abortion when the woman’s health was at risk.

Amnesty International issued its 50-page report following an investigation in Nicaragua by Ms Gilmore and a team of experts. She said Mr Ortega refused to see them, and the health minister dismissed their findings of a growing mortality rate among pregnant women as unfounded.

Dr Leonel Arguello, president of the Nicaraguan Society of Medical Practitioners, said the ban has had a chilling effect on doctors.

“Not being allowed to do everything to save your patient goes against medical ethics,” he said in a telephone interview from Managua.

Fearing they will break the law, many doctors decline to treat pregnant women in obstetric emergencies, or delay treatment, increasing the risks, he said.

The ban initially contained penalties of as long as six years for women who had abortions and the doctors who performed them. The penalty was raised to eight years last year. Some advocates wanted sentences of as long as 30 years. No one has been charged or put on trial yet.

While criticised by human rights and women’s groups since it was first drafted, the prohibition received wide support from the church and from several political parties in addition to Mr Ortega’s Sandinistas. A petition supporting the ban collected 300,000 signatures.

Proponents contended at the time that advances in medical science now allowed doctors to bring a foetus to the point of viability without endangering the woman’s life and that warnings of heightened dangers were exaggerated. But Ms Gilmore said lawmakers ignored expert opinion to the contrary.– ( LA Times-Washington Post service)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Human Rights Court To Hear Irish Abortion Case

• Human rights court to hear Irish abortion ban case

CARL O'BRIEN, Social Affairs Correspondent The Irish Times

THE EUROPEAN Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear a challenge by three women in Ireland to the Government’s ban on abortion in a full hearing before its grand chamber of 17 judges.

The women claim the restrictive nature of Irish law on abortion jeopardises their health and their wellbeing and violates their human rights. The identities of the three will remain confidential.

The court in Strasbourg, which is separate from the EU, adjudicates on human rights issues among the 47 states of the Council of Europe. Any court decision at this level is binding on the state involved.

The court’s decision to hold a hearing before the grand chamber rather than a smaller chamber of seven judges is regarded by legal experts as a sign of the significance of the issues at stake.

The three women at the centre of the case include a woman at risk of an ectopic pregnancy, where the foetus develops outside the womb; a pregnant woman who received chemotherapy for cancer; and a woman whose children were placed in care as she was unable to cope.

Their complaints centre on four articles in the European Convention on Human Rights, including protection from “inhuman or degrading treatment” and freedom from discrimination. The case is expected to be heard later this year, although no firm date has been set.
In papers filed with the court and seen by The Irish Times, the Government has indicated it will launch a robust defence of the State’s restrictions on abortion.

It also insists the European Convention on Human Rights does not confer even a limited right to abortion and it would be “inconceivable” that member states would have agreed to this in drafting the convention. The main plank of its defence is that domestic legal remedies have not been exhausted by the women.

The women at the centre of the case – who are supported by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) – say the lack of any effective remedy at home means they have satisfied the requirement to exhaust domestic legal remedies.

In addition, they say that taking a case would have been costly, futile and could have forced them to relinquish their anonymity.
Niall Behan, chief executive of the IFPA, said: “The women are looking forward to have their voices heard in the grand chambers and having their human rights vindicated.”

After several referendums in recent decades and rulings by the higher courts, abortion is illegal but may be performed if there is a substantial risk to the mother’s life, including the threat of suicide. Abortion in the case of foetal abnormalities is not provided for. The case will be watched closely by observers given a ruling by the same court in recent years that resulted in Poland being instructed to guarantee access to legal abortions.

The case has drawn the interest of a large number of groups with divergent views on abortion who have sent in observations to the court on the case.

These groups, along with the three women and the State, will be asked to send in new briefs or observations to the court over the coming weeks.