Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is not a ‘slippery slope’ to abortion on demand
Analysis: the graphic reality of the State’s current abortion law is that its hypocrisy is putting women’s health at risk
The real law which governs abortion for most Irish women is not the eighth amendment, it is the British Abortion Act 1967. Almost 4,000 women, among them the tragic woman at the centre of yesterday’s report, travelled to Britain for abortions in 2012. Since 1983, more than 150,000 women have made that journey: our sisters, friends, mothers and daughters. The vast majority of those women have obtained terminations in Britain on the legal ground that continuing the pregnancy would cause risk of injury to their physical or mental health.
This information is provided in the detailed annual report produced by the UK department of health. We rarely hear about the experiences of women themselves – although the 1998 Women and Crisis Pregnancy study highlighted the careful decision-making process engaged in by women who sought abortions; and the complete absence of formal supports in Ireland for those women. Some women interviewed had avoided going to doctors or counsellors for support because they were frightened that they would get into trouble with the authorities; others who sought information from individual doctors were dismissed out of hand.
It is 15 years since that publication, but yesterday’s news should remind us of some important issues raised in the report. Clearly, women in crisis pregnancy still receive no formal support from the Irish health authorities where they seek to terminate pregnancies – even where their pregnancy may pose a risk to their health.
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There has been vehement opposition to the protection of life Bill within the Oireachtas and elsewhere – this Government has been accused of liberalising abortion law, of introducing a “slippery slope” to “abortion on demand”. This is far from the truth.
In fact, the legislation is highly restrictive and merely restates existing law by setting out implementation procedures for the X case, within the terms of the Constitution. It will not cover those women, like the tragic woman whose death we learned about yesterday, who face serious risk to their health if they continue with their pregnancy. It will not help women who know that the baby they carry will not be born alive. It is reprehensible that we cannot legislate now for these women. But that is not the fault of this Bill. It is due to the restrictive wording of the 1983 amendment, which has effectively tied the legislature’s hands for 30 years.
I believe that, having legislated for the X case as we must, further change in our law is necessary to meet the real reproductive health needs of Irish women through a constitutional referendum to repeal the 1983 amendment. Only then will we meet our responsibilities to the thousands of women in crisis pregnancy who avail of the 1967 Abortion Act each year. Until then, Irish legal hypocrisy is putting women’s health at risk. That is the graphic reality of Irish abortion law.
Ivana Bacik is a Labour Senator for Dublin University