Thursday, February 04, 2010

David McKittrick : article relating to A.B. and C v Ireland from Dec 2009

The Big Question: After decades of controversy, could abortion become legal in Ireland?

By David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, The Independent

Friday, 11 December 2009

Why are we asking this now?

This week three women mounted a legal challenge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, arguing that the Irish Republic's strict abortion laws violated their rights. Specifically they claim that they had to go abroad for abortions and in doing so their health was put at risk. They say this amounted to inhumane treatment. Two of the women are Irish while the third is a Lithuanian living in Ireland. One was an unemployed long-term alcoholic who lived beneath the poverty line and was trying to regain custody of her four children when she became pregnant. Another was at risk of an extra-uterine pregnancy while the third was recovering from cancer and feared a relapse. The women are said to have borrowed money from friends and a money-lender to travel abroad for their abortions.

What do the lawyers say?

A statement on their behalf said: "All three women complain that the impossibility for them to have an abortion in Ireland made the procedure unnecessarily expensive, complicated and traumatic. In particular, that restriction stigmatised and humiliated them and risked damaging their health and, in one applicant's case, even her life." Their case is that Irish abortion law breaches several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the rights to life, privacy and family life, and further represents discrimination against women.

What do their supporters and opponents say?

The Irish Family Planning Association, which supports the case, declared: "This is hugely significant for reproductive rights in Ireland. The fact that Ireland's draconian laws on abortion have been put under the spotlight is a landmark. They are totally out of step with those of its European neighbours. Women and girls do not give up their human rights when they become pregnant." Pro-life campaigners responded by accusing the Family Planning Association of "creating unnecessary fears about women's health in an attempt to have abortion foisted on Ireland by a European court."

How have the Irish authorities responded?

The Irish government sent a strong legal team to Strasbourg, headed by Attorney-General Paul Gallagher, to contest the women's challenge. He characterised the claim that their health was threatened as "a significant attack" on the Irish health service and the treatment, advice and support it offered, including aftercare and post-abortion counselling.

He asserted that Irish laws – which have forbidden abortion in almost every case for a century and a half – were based on "profound moral values deeply embedded in Irish society." He said anti-abortion legislation had been endorsed in three separate referendums.

Are there any abortions in Ireland at the moment?

They are extremely rare. But each year thousands of Irish women make the journey abroad, mainly to British clinics, to have their pregnancies terminated. Last year at least 4,600 did so, and over the decades an estimated 140,000 have made the trip. A recent Trinity College Dublin study concluded that almost one in 10 Irish pregnancies ends in an English abortion clinic. This cross-channel traffic has long been regarded as a fact of life.

Does this case have global implications?

Yes. Abortion is a highly emotive issue in many countries and in the US, for example, it is a highly important political issue. In some countries, such as Britain, termination is readily available while in others the law allows it in cases such as rape or serious risk to the woman's life or health. European court rulings are not always automatically and fully put into effect but, representing as it does 47 member countries of the Council of Europe, its judgments carry substantial weight.

Why is Ireland so strongly anti-abortion?

It always has been, with the right of the unborn child to life enshrined in the constitution of this overwhelmingly catholic country. Over the years church authority has been in decline, largely because of the child abuse scandals. The emergence of a more secular and cosmopolitan society has brought a marked relaxation in laws and general public acceptance of issues such as divorce, homosexuality, contraception and co-habitation rather than marriage. But abortion has always been regarded as a special case, a fraught issue which has been a particular battlefield between liberals and conservative elements which touches the rawest of nerves.

Why have a referendum?

Making important changes to the anti-abortion measures means changing the constitution, and that means having them approved in a referendum. Recent decades have been littered with bitter abortion controversies and a series of

referendum votes, some of them intensely hard-fought and traumatic. None of the various referendum campaigns was fought on the basis of legalising abortion, instead centring on amendments which made often confusing adjustments to legal wording. As a result the exact status of the law has lacked clarity, although the general sense that the authorities frown on abortion has been clear enough.

Referendums have often served to show the depth and starkness of divisions. One in 2002, which aimed at further tightening the law, was rejected by the narrowest of margins – 50.42 per cent to 49.58 per cent. Outcomes such as this have caused many politicians to steer away from an issue on which no consensus seems possible.

Have cases in the courts had an effect?

Two cases over the years have attracted great attention and caused national soul-searching. In one a 14-year-old girl who had been raped by a neighbour was initally prevented from travelling to England for an abortion. This was overturned. In another a health authority sought to prevent a 17-year-old girl, who was four months pregnant, travelling to England to abort a foetus suffering from a brain condition which meant it could live for only a few days after birth. A court gave her permission to travel.

What happens if the court demands Ireland legalise abortion?

The result could be uproar. Although the Court is entirely separate from the EU, the Irish public has recently shown itself to be in two minds about Europe in general. During a referendum campaign on European issues earlier this year, centring on the Treaty of Lisbon, Irish bishops assured their flock that the Treaty "does not undermine existing legal protections in Ireland for unborn children." But anything that seemed like a directive from another part of Europe on such a contentious issue would create major controversy. Enacting such a directive would presumably involve a referendum, and referendum campaigns are often bitter and divisive.

More to the point, they have often proved unpredictable. Ireland is a country in deep trouble at the moment, struggling to cope with a shocking economic downturn and problems such as the church abuse scandal. Most of its politicians would almost certainly shy away from the abortion issue if they possibly could, preferring to continue with the present approach, even though that would allow drift and confusion to prevail.

Would legalising abortion benefit Ireland?


* It would show Ireland as more secular, shrugging off the dominance of the Catholic church

* It would end the trail of pregnant women travelling to England for abortions

* It would de-criminalise abortion, gradually removing the stigma attached to it in Ireland


* Legalising it would probably result in more abortions, putting Ireland out of line with other Catholic countries

* Introducing abortion would fly in the face of more than a decade of Irish tradition and culture

* Legalising it would create yet more division in a country which already has other deep problems

Guardian: Summary of Irish Abortion Legislation Report

Summary of the Irish abortion legislation report
What Human Rights Watch discovered in its investigations of abortion laws and pro-life groups in Ireland

Alexandra Topping, Thursday 28 January 2010

The Human Rights Watch report A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland accuses the Irish government of limiting information about how to access abortion services abroad.

According to the report, "rogue" agencies, representing themselves as providers of information about abortion, have told women that, should they choose to have an abortion, their relationships are likely to fail, that they may become infertile or need a hysterectomy, or a colostomy bag after the procedure.

Sinead Ahern from Choice Ireland, a pro-choice group, went undercover to visit an agency. Having told the woman that she was five weeks pregnant, at which point her foetus would have been the size of a grain of rice, she was shown a plastic fetus the size of a pen.

"[The woman] told me that's what my baby looked like … the plastic foetus was sucking its thumb and had eyelashes."

She described being asked to sign a consent form. "It said I understand that I most certainly will need a hysterectomy ... that I might end up with the need for a colostomy bag ... [it said] most women end up with infections, infertile."

Another woman who visited an agency with her boyfriend described being separated from him. "They said I'd probably never have kids [if I had an abortion] that we'd probably split up … They said your family is going to reject you."

A women who contacted a service called British Alternatives in the Golden Pages [the Irish equivalent of the Yellow Pages] was asked from the start of her consultation about adoption.

"I was devastated I was in this situation and I was afraid of getting a doctor who was unsympathetic [...] Nothing tipped me off about whether they were pro-life. I was in a state and just looking for something friendly. British Alternatives sounded very friendly."

France 24: Ireland's Abortion Laws 'Violate Human Rights'

Dublin 28th January 2010
Click headline above for France 24 film report.

Irish abortion laws 'violate human rights' Human Rights Watch has accused Ireland of violating women's rights with its strict legislation on abortion. Terminating a pregnancy in the Irish Republic is illegal, unless the mother's life is in danger. Punishable by life in prison, the only alternative for Irish women is to travel to Great Britain or the rest of Europe and pay for the operation themselves.

From Irish Ireland's War on Women

You wouldn’t expect a country like Ireland to be accused of breaching human rights. Our little green nation is best known for its rich culture and friendly customs. We’ve never invaded another country or annoyed anyone too much.

But on Thursday the respected international advocacy group Human Rights Watch published a report saying Ireland deprives many of its citizens of their basic entitlements.

The report is called “A State of Isolation.” It tells how the government blocks the way of women who look for information on abortion or seek care abroad.

Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocacy director at HRW, said such women “are actively stonewalled, stigmatized, and written out."

Today in Ireland, abortion is allowed if a woman’s life is at risk. But otherwise a woman who has one potentially faces a life term – yes, life – in prison.

It’s a good time to recall that the Irish government has not yet agreed to compensate the women who spent decades, some of them a lifetime, imprisoned in the Magdalene Laundries, often for crimes that included getting pregnant or giving birth.

Not that government policy has prevented terminations. Every year thousands of women and girls (7,000 by one estimate) travel from Ireland to other European countries in order to end their pregnancies. Officials may have tried to stop abortion, but all that has happened is that the country has inadvertently outsourced it.

In this sense Irish women have been lucky. The price of a botched backstreet abortion is high: in the developing world 68,000 women die of complications every year, according to a BBC report.

The European Court of Human Rights is currently considering the case of three Irish women who argue their rights were denied because they were forced to abort outside their home state: one was a former substance abuser whose other children were in care; one wished to avoid an ectopic pregnancy (where the fetus develops outside the womb); the third became pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy and feared for her own well-being, as well as the child’s.

This decade has seen a plague of problems afflict Ireland: sex abuse revelations in the Catholic Church, political corruption, and more recently, an economic crisis, the housing boom and bust, and some environmental issues too. Many real crimes have occurred and gone unpunished.

The phrase “war on women” gained currency to refer to the experiences of women living in places far away from Ireland. But Ireland should take heed. It’s time to give women a choice in this vital matter. This is 2010, not 1950.

IFPA Welcomes International Scrutiny of Ireland's Restrictive Abortion Laws By Human Rights Watch

The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has today (28.01.10) welcomed the publication of the Human Rights Watch report A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland.

The IFPA is not surprised that the Irish Government has been criticised by this important international human rights group. As a service provider IFPA has extensive knowledge of the extreme physical, financial and emotional hardship experienced by women who are forced to travel abroad for health care that should be available to them at home.
According to the IFPA, the criminalisation of abortion in Ireland violates international human rights standards because it disproportionately harms women's health and well-being. The organisation believes that women and girls do not give up their human rights when they become pregnant nor should the State take these human rights away with impunity.
The experiences of women outlined in the Human Rights Watch report are illustrative of the reality faced by thousands of women in Ireland. Since 1980, at least 138,000 women have been forced to travel abroad to access safe and legal abortion services. The IFPA believes that the criminalisation of abortion has little impact on abortion rates, it merely adds to the burden and stress experienced by women experiencing crisis pregnancies.
Ireland’s restrictive laws on abortion are out of step with those of its European neighbours. Forty four out of 47 European countries provide for abortion to protect women’s health.
This is the second time in the last two months that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws have been scrutinised by international human rights bodies. In December the European Court of Human Rights heard a challenge to Ireland’s abortion laws.
According to the IFPA, Ireland has a strong reputation for promoting human rights values around the world, yet it is unwilling to recognise the human rights of women in its own country. Ireland’s restrictions on abortion put it firmly outside of human rights norms.
The IFPA has called on the Government to take responsibility and stop exiling women experiencing crisis pregnancies.


About IFPA:
The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) has been to the fore in setting the agenda for sexual and reproductive rights in Ireland for the last 40 years.
The IFPA offers a comprehensive range of services which promote sexual health and support reproductive choice on a not-for-profit basis, including clinical and counselling services, sexual and reproductive health information, education, training and awareness raising.

Guardian: Ireland Accused Of Exposing Women To Anti-Abortion Lies

Ireland accused of exposing women to anti-abortion liesHuman rights group says women seeking information about terminations are told they will often cause irreparable damage

Alexandra Topping, Thursday 28 January 2010

The Irish government came under increasing pressure to overhaul its ban on abortion today, after it was accused of exposing women to "grossly misleading" information about the procedure.

According to Human Rights Watch, Irish legislation – under which women who have an abortion in Ireland face a life sentence in prison if prosecuted – is putting women's health at risk and exposing them to deliberate misinformation from rogue pro-life agencies.

Women have been told they may become infertile, require a hysterectomy or possibly need a colostomy bag after an abortion by agencies that target women seeking advice about unwanted pregnancies, says the report.

It comes as Ireland waits for a landmark ruling from the European court of human rights on the case of three women who accuse the government of putting their health at risk by forcing them to travel abroad for terminations.

"Women in need of abortion services should, as a matter of international law and human decency, be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation," said Marianne Mollmann, the women's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatised, and written out."

According to the report, the government limits information about legal abortion services and has failed to crack down on false claims from "rogue" agencies masquerading as unwanted pregnancy support groups.

One 29-year-old woman was shown a video of ultrasound images and pictures of mothers by an agency called "British Alternatives".

"[The woman] put a model of a small foetus in my hand ... told me to name my baby, asked me how I would feel if I killed the baby," she said.

Another woman described being harassed over the phone by a pro-life agency for weeks: "They would ask 'Is your baby still alive? Have you killed it yet?'."

The Irish government recently launched a campaign urging women who feel that have been given false information about abortions to inform the authorities, but this assumes that women have access to the correct information, said Mollmann.

"This is abdicating their responsibility and putting it on the shoulders of already distressed women. The government needs to take decisive action to shut down and prosecute these rogue agencies," she said.

It is currently illegal to have an abortion in Ireland under any circumstances, unless the life of the pregnant woman is at risk, although women have the legal right to terminate their pregnancy abroad.

According to UK Department of Health figures, 4,600 women who had abortions in the UK in 2008 gave Irish addresses, but the real number of Irish women having terminations is likely to be significantly higher, said Mollmann.

"This law does not stop women getting abortions but it does prevent them getting one in a timely manner, which increases the risk involved," she said.

The difficult economic situation in Ireland is making it increasingly difficult for some women to meet the cost of an abortion, estimated by HRW at between €800 and €1000 (£690 and £862) for the procedure and travel costs, said Niall Behan, CEO of the Irish Family Planning Association.

"We are increasingly seeing women who can't travel being forced to look at other options that are not safe. There is evidence to suggest that women are having illegal abortions, not on a huge scale, but on any scale is unacceptable," he said.

The Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland has previously accused the IFPA of creating unnecessary fears about women's health and argues that Ireland without abortion is the safest country in the world in which to be pregnant.

In the case currently before the European court , three women, known as A, B and C, are arguing their right to privacy and family life have been violated.

One of the women who had a termination became pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer and feared for her health and that of her child. Another is a former alcoholic and drug addict whose four children were in care. She feared her pregnancy would prevent her getting her children back, and borrowed cash from a money lender to finance the termination. A judgment is expected in the autumn.

'I was very angry. I felt let down, maltreated'

‘I was very angry. I felt let down, maltreated’
By Evelyn Ring The Irish Examiner

Friday, January 29, 2010

NONE of the 13 women interviewed by Human Rights Watch wanted to be identified, even though all had told friends and family about the abortion and had received support and understanding.

The women interviewed described feelings of isolation and shame, and their fear of public disapproval.

Sarah B talked of the "shame factor" and being "terrified of people judging me". She also spoke of her anger at being made to feel like a criminal by her country.

Aisling J had an abortion abroad after a scan conducted in another European country showed that the foetus she was carrying had spina bifida and hydrocephalus and could not survive.

She recounted several obstacles she experienced accessing diagnostic tests in Ireland during the early stage of her pregnancy .

"I was very angry. I felt let down, maltreated," she said.

Siobhán G was pregnant with twins when she discovered that both had fatal birth defects.

"I was forced to leave home and do everything in secrecy... I was made to feel that I was doing something wrong."

Mary H ended her pregnancy in Britain after antenatal tests showed that the foetus had Edwards syndrome, which leads to severe physical and mental disabilities.

"I was all over the place... Then (after an initial visit to an Irish clinic) I was on my own. I had to contact the place, make my own travel arrangements, hotel arrangements."

Aoife C, who is from a rural part of Ireland, was almost 28 weeks’ pregnant when she finally had an abortion in Britain and blamed a lack of information for having the termination so late in her pregnancy.

"Information wasn’t easily available... it was really hard to make the right connections," she said.

All the women interviewed for the report said costs associated with travelling was their most immediate and urgent concern once they had decided to have an abortion.

Sarah B went to Britain for an abortion when she was a student and part-time waitress. "First and foremost was the money thing, I was so broke, I was up to my eyeballs in debt."

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, January 29, 2010

Read more:

Human Rights Group Attacks State Policy on Abortion

Human rights group attacks state policy on abortion
By Evelyn Ring The Irish Examiner

Friday, January 29, 2010

WOMEN entitled to a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one because of deliberately obscure anti-abortion policies, a leading human rights organisation has claimed.

Human Rights Watch has accused the Government of actively seeking to restrict access to abortion services and information, both within Ireland and for residents seeking care abroad.

In particular, it has criticised the lack of legal and policy guidance on when an abortion might be legally performed within Ireland.

"The Irish Government has failed utterly to ensure that health services are available to those women who are legally entitled to an abortion," claims a report by the independent body.

It says some doctors in Ireland are reluctant even to provide pre-natal screening for severe foetal abnormalities and very few, if any, women, have access to legal abortions at home.

Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said women in need of abortion services should be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation.

"But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatised and written out," Ms Mollmann said at the launch of a 57-paper report, entitled A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland, in Dublin yesterday.

"Irish law on abortion is in and of itself an affront to human rights. But it is made worse by the fact that even those who may qualify for a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one due to deliberately murky policies that carry an implied threat of prosecution."

Ms Mollmann said women should have publicly available information on how to seek abortion services abroad and there should be medical guidelines for the kind of abortions that are currently legal within Ireland.

"Your newspaper (Irish Examiner) just published a survey saying that over 60% of young adults agree that abortion should be legalised. So it is a little bit of a myth that the Irish population believes that abortion should be a criminal offence."

Rosie Toner, crisis pregnancy counsellor with the Irish Family Planning Association, said the report illustrated the reality faced by thousands of Irish women. Since 1980, over 140,000 women have been forced to travel abroad for an abortion, she pointed out.

"Women are put under severe burdens of distress to try and find medical services in other countries to give them a service they believe should be available to them here in Ireland," said Ms Toner.

The IFPA had been advocating for safe and legal abortion in Ireland over the last two decades.

The Cork Women’s Right to Choose Group said the report and three cases taken by Irish women to the European Court of Human rights demonstrate that successive governments had been blind to women’s needs.

"Making abortion illegal does not stop it happening, it simply makes it more stressful and dangerous," said spokesperson Dr Sandra McAvoy.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Friday, January 29, 2010

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Read more:

In Their Own Words Women Who Travelled Abroad for Abortions

In their own words women who travelled abroad for abortions
Irish Times Friday January 29th 2010

“I was forced to leave home and do everything in secrecy . . . I was made to feel that I was doing something wrong.” Siobhán G was pregnant with twins when she discovered that both had fatal birth defects.

“When I came back, I rang the hospital and asked for follow-up care . . . I told them that I had a therapeutic abortion and asked about genetic testing. They just said to me, come back when you’re pregnant again.” Aisling J encountered problems in accessing diagnostic tests during her pregnancy and discovered late that her foetus had spina bifida. She had no access to follow-up care

“I think they weren’t used to girls coming with their boyfriends, so they separated us. One person spoke to each of us . . . from what I remember, they said we’d probably split up . . . they said your family is going to reject you.” Jane H was misled by an advertisement by a rogue crisis pregnancy agency

Source: Human Rights Watch

Irish Times: State's Erratic Response to Abortion Creating 'Climate of Shame' - report

State's erratic response to abortion creating 'climate of shame' - report
JAMIE SMYTH Social Affairs Correspondent The Irish Times January 29th 2010

THE GOVERNMENT’S erratic and divisive response to the abortion issue has contributed directly to the violation of women’s human rights and increased risks to their health, a human rights watchdog has claimed in a new report.

Human Rights Watch also accused the State yesterday of creating a “climate of fear and shame” that has deepened the emotional trauma and despair felt by tens of thousands of Irish women with crisis pregnancies.

A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland calls for the immediate decriminalisation of abortion for women and the development of a new national regulatory framework to guarantee access to legal abortion.

“Women in need of abortion services should, as a matter of international law and, frankly, human decency, be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation. But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatised and written out,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

She said the Government “actively sabotaged women’s health” by not allowing women to access abortion services in the Republic and aggressively discouraging them from seeking the care they need abroad.

“The Irish Government is complicit in the distress they feel. In other words, the Government contributes directly to undermining women’s health dignity and human rights,” said Ms Mollmann, who added that preventing women from having abortions in a timely manner could have a detrimental effect on their health.

Human Rights Watch said it sought interviews with senior people in Government about the report but these were refused.

A letter sent by the secretary general of the Department of Justice Sean Aylward to Human Rights Watch while compiling its report suggested there would be no change in policy on abortion.

“Ireland has held five separate referenda on three separate occasions on this issue. I am not aware of any proposal to put this issue before the people again,” wrote Mr Aylward in a handwritten addition to a standard reply letter.

The Human Rights Watch report called on the Government to ensure “truthful and objective” information on abortion is available to all women and to take action against “rogue” agencies that disseminate misleading information to pregnant women.

The report was compiled following interviews with 13 Irish women who had abortions abroad. One woman described how she attended a crisis pregnancy agency called British Alternatives, which had been advertised in the Golden Pages. She said the agency first asked about the possibility of adoption and then left her to watch a video of an ultrasound of a baby. She was then asked how she would feel if she “killed the baby”.

Anti-abortion campaigners said the claims made by Human Rights Watch were ridiculous. “Seeking to protect both mother and baby during pregnancy is not a violation of any human right. In fact it is the complete opposite,” said Dr Ruth Cullen of the Pro-Life Campaign. “Human Rights Watch cannot credibly claim to be a human rights organisation while at the same time denying the rights of unborn children throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy.”

Human Rights Watch: Ireland: Abortion Limits Violate Human Rights

Ireland: Abortion Limits Violate Human Rights
Policies Designed to Sabotage Access Both at Home and Abroad
January 28, 2010

A State of Isolation.

'Women in need of abortion services should, as a matter of international law and – frankly - human decency, be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation. But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatized, and written out.
.Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch .

(Dublin, January 28, 2010) - The Irish government actively seeks to restrict access to abortion services and information both within Ireland and for its residents seeking care abroad, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 57-page report, "A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland," details how women struggle to overcome the financial, logistical, physical, and emotional burdens imposed by restrictive laws and policies that force them to seek care abroad, without support from the state. Every year thousands of women and girls travel from Ireland to other European countries for abortions.

"Women in need of abortion services should, as a matter of international law and - frankly -human decency, be able to count on support from their government as they face a difficult situation," said Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "But in Ireland they are actively stonewalled, stigmatized, and written out."

In Ireland, abortion is legally restricted in almost all circumstances, with potential penalties of penal servitude for life for both patients and service providers, except where the pregnant woman's life is in danger, but there is little legal and policy guidance on when, specifically, an abortion might be legally performed within Ireland. As a result, some doctors are reluctant even to provide pre-natal screening for severe fetal abnormalities, and very few - if any - women have access to legal abortions at home. The government has indicated that it has no current plans to clarify the possible reach of the criminal penalties. The government does not keep figures on legal and illegal abortions carried out in Ireland, or on the number of women traveling abroad for services.

"Irish law on abortion is in and of itself an affront to human rights," Mollmann said. "But it is made worse by the fact that even those who may qualify for a legal abortion in Ireland cannot get one due to deliberately murky policies that carry an implied threat of prosecution."

But women also face more active sabotaging of their health decisions by the state. Throughout the last two decades, the Irish government has used injunctions to prevent individuals from traveling abroad for abortion. As recently as 2007, a 17-year-old girl in the custody of the Health Services Executive had to go to court to get permission to travel to the United Kingdom for an abortion.
Organizations that provide information on how to access abortion services abroad face restrictions on when and how this information can legally be conveyed, under threat of penalties. And the government does nothing to prevent "rogue" agencies that represent themselves as providers of information about abortion from circulating blatantly misleading and false information.

"Women should not have to make decisions about their health and lives based on lies," Mollmann said. "Yet the law leaves ‘rogue' agencies unregulated and threatens honest service providers with fines or worse if they help a distressed woman make a phone call to a clinic abroad."

Maman Poulet Blog: Human Rights Watch Launch Report on Abortion and Ireland

Posted by Maman Poulet on 28 Jan 2010 at 11:00 am | Tagged as: Abortion

'The Irish government should take all necessary steps, both immediate and incremental, to ensure that women have informed and un-coerced access to safe and legal abortion services within Ireland as an element of women’s exercise of their reproductive and other human rights. In the interim, the government should immediately ensure that those abortion services that are currently legal under Irish law be provided to all who need them without discrimination, and that full and accurate information on how to obtain safe abortions both within Ireland and outside its borders be available to all women, without discrimination.'

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have today released their report A State of Isolation: Access to Abortion for Women in Ireland on the human rights implications of Irish legislation and policies regarding residents access to abortion. The report highlights international law and treaties and how they detail that people should be free from Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and how Ireland’s treatment of pregnant women seeking abortions contravenes this and other rights.

It details the situation facing women seeking access to legal abortion with no clear policy in place enabling these to take place. HRW chronicle the reluctance of the Department of Health, the medical council and many members of the medical profession in becoming involved in forming policy in the area though attitudes towards the women involved are changing.

Women seeking information on abortion are still at risk of receiving information from agencies (state funded) who do not support a woman’s right to choose or receive impartial information or indeed rogue agencies who are allowed to exist unregulated targeting women. (See earlier post on the actions of the state in trying to make women feel guilty about attending rogue agencies)

Women travelling outside the state wishing to access a termination continue to face many barriers in organising travel.

Quote from Report:
'The women interviewed by Human Rights Watch described a climate of fear and shame, at least in part attributable to the criminalization of abortion. They explained their concerns about disclosing that they had had an abortion and the burden of secrecy that they are forced to carry. They also described their confusion about whether they could legally leave Ireland to access an abortion in the UK or other parts of Europe, and their concerns about whether to access post-abortion care, legally available in Ireland.

They also described financial constraints. Every woman interviewed for this report told Human Rights Watch how difficult it was to raise the money needed to pay for travel and the costs of the abortion. Even those who were employed indicated that the costs related to traveling created a significant barrier and delayed their access.'

Asylum seekers face financial and freedom of movment barriers in accessing abortions abroad.

Quote from Report:
'Asylum seekers are in a particularly vulnerable position. Often isolated, without family and other social support, they fear the consequences of seeking permission to leave the country to have an abortion. They also face additional costs as they have no travel documents, and must therefore apply and pay for emergency temporary travel documents, which are issued by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. They will also have to apply and pay for visas to enter the UK, or Schengen visas to enter into a European Union (EU) country. Currently the cost of a UK visa is £65 (€72).[105] Application fees for a Schengen visa to the Netherlands cost £60 (€67).[106]

A service provider, who spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity, described the situation of a young female asylum seeker she had worked with:

She could not legally leave the country. Her difficulties were that she didn’t know where to go … money and her legal status. We made the call to Holland … she needed to get a re-entry visa to return and to apply for a Schengen visa…. She needed a temporary travel document from the Department of Justice—we had a contact there—not sure how someone without a contact would do this…. It took a whole month to organize this. She was just over 12 weeks pregnant when she went to Holland. There were fees attached to the issuing of all the documents and there was no funding available for this.[107]'

These issues and recommendations may not be news to many of us, though we often forget about them or have decided that nothing can be done. But it is the first time in some years that all the issues affecting the human rights of women in trying to access information and services inside and outside the state have been researched and documented in one place.

The Department of Justice by the way don’t think that there is a problem regarding the issue in Ireland and refused to be interviewed by Human Rights Watch and said they had no intentions of doing anything on the matter.

I expect many of the agencies cited to come out denying that there is anything amiss in the country while women silently organise to travel or indeed as one person mentions in the report go through ‘desperate pregnancies’.