Women cannot get abortion to save lives, says group

Mon, Mar 1, 2010, 00:00

FAILURE TO legislate on the X-case means that a woman cannot access an abortion even when it is necessary to save her life, according to a pro-choice organisation.

Choice Ireland has criticised what it believes to be the failure of successive governments to legislate on the issue. “Without legislation many medical practitioners do not know what services they may lawfully provide to women and what the standard of medical care should be when an abortion is performed in Ireland,” according to Choice Ireland activist and founding member Sinéad Ahern.

She was speaking at Choice Ireland’s third annual conference, marking the 18th anniversary of the controversial X-case on abortion. Ms Ahern said “service providers also do not know when they can advise their clients to request an abortion”.

Doctors have stated it is not absolutely clear-cut when an abortion can be performed to save the life of a woman, she said. “And as a result no doctor is willing to take a risk. And even though the ethical guidelines of the medical council of Ireland do admit that abortion is available where there is a grave risk to the life of the mother, doctors are given no guidance as to how they might make that assessment.

“The result of this is that despite the legal and constitutional position, without legislation a woman cannot practically access abortion even when it is necessary to save her life.”

In the X-case of the Attorney General vs X, the Supreme Court ruled that the 14-year-old girl, whose pregnancy resulted from rape, faced a real and substantial risk to her life due to threat of suicide and this threat could only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy. Therefore the court found that she was entitled to an abortion in Ireland under the provision of article 40.3.3 of the Constitution that requires the State to have “due regard to the equal right to life of the mother”.

Ms Ahern said “there have been two attempts to hold referenda to overturn the X-case, in 1992 and again in 2002. On both occasions the Irish electorate has refused to reject suicide as grounds to access abortion.

“We are now 18 years later and our governments have refused to listen to the will of the Irish people and have refused to legislate for the X-case judgment.”

Ireland is “perhaps unique in the western world of having no effective means for a woman, even when her life is gravely threatened, to access an abortion on Irish soil”.

Ireland is one of only three countries in the EU along with Malta and Poland which “place stringent restrictions on a woman’s right to access abortion services. Even in Malta however there is some leeway on this issue and there have been documented cases of women being able to access life-saving abortions in the country without being prosecuted.”