Women in the North too have to take the plane to get a termination
It is still not possible to avail of a service which the courts have decreed is your right
Edwin Poots: no date set for results of consultation. Photograph: Kate Geraghty
When Ruth Bowie, Arlette Lyons, Jenny McDonald and Amanda Mellet spoke last year to The Irish Times about the circumstances that had led them to travel outside the jurisdiction to have their wanted pregnancies terminated, public reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Even anti-choice individuals and organisations evinced sympathy and good will towards the women.
They didn’t get off so lightly up here, where the anti-choice outfit Precious Life had the press statement out quicker than you could say “ensoulment”, telling them that they had started down “the slippery slope to the Nazi Holocaust”.
It’s possible none of the women is aware they were stigmatised as harbingers of Hitlerism. Stories from the North which don’t have to do with Orange-Green politics find it hard to elbow their way onto the agenda.
Last May, Deirdre Conroy waived her anonymity to reveal that she was the woman in the D case: pregnant with twins, one of which had died in the womb and the other diagnosed as suffering from a fatal abnormality, she had had to travel to the North in 2002 for an abortion after being told in the South that as there was nothing that could be done for her she should to “go home and sort it out”.
“I found on our own island there was a place where compassion and sympathy and tolerance prevailed,” she said.
It is wonderful that this was the attitude she encountered. But it is not at all certain she would be given a termination were she to present herself to a Northern hospital today.
It took the political system in the Republic 20 years of evasion and prevarication before a legislative response to the X case judgment was forthcoming. The new measure may be a woeful, whimpering thing. But at least a relevant law has emerged. Consider the Northern contrast, where pro-choice activists are merely urging that guidelines be issued so that medical practitioners and women with problematic pregnancies know where they stand under existing law.
Twelve years ago, the NI Family Planning Association (FPA) asked the High Court to instruct the Stormont Department of Health to define the circumstances for legal abortion. The case has since been travelling a long and winding road, the end of which may – or then again may not – be coming into view.
The current law in the North is the law which applied in Britain prior to the 1967 Act. On a number of occasions in the 1990s, the High Court set out the duties and entitlements of women and doctors under the law.