Reproductive healthcare ‘must recognise women’s diverse needs’

National Women’s Council of Ireland says services should be private and confidential

 Orla O Connor , director National Women’s Council (left), Ellen O Malley Dunlop, chairperson, Alison Cowzer and Sonya Lennon Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times

Orla O Connor , director National Women’s Council (left), Ellen O Malley Dunlop, chairperson, Alison Cowzer and Sonya Lennon Photograph: Cyril Byrne / The Irish Times


Ireland’s reproductive health services should be private and confidential and must recognise the diverse and complex healthcare needs of women and girls of all ages, the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) has said.

Speaking at the launch of the NWCI Every Woman report, the group’s director Orla O’Connor said the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution was acting as a “barrier” to full reproductive care and restricting services for women.

“Reproductive health matters at all stages of our lives, from sexual health education in school to menopause services,” said Ms O’Connor. “Access to reproductive healthcare is fundamental to women’s family and life decisions and essential for women’s equality.”

“We need to ensure the health and wellbeing of a women or girl is prioritised over the forced continuation of a pregnancy. We need to recognise that abortion is a necessary element of obstetric care and we need to acknowledge that women and girls need to end pregnancies for many reasons and that those reasons need to be respected and remain private.”

“Every pregnancy is different and every decision is personal. Women are different. We are Traveller women, we are rural women, we are migrant women, we are women with disabilities, we are older women, we are young women. We have different needs based on our different circumstances, our backgrounds, our beliefs, our socioeconomic circumstances and our ethnicity.”

The report, which is based on consultation events it organised for women and men across Ireland, is proposing a reproductive healthcare model that focuses on women’s health needs rather than “criminal sanctions” and “restrictions and limits of care options”. Ms O’Connor said she hoped the report was representative of the views of the many people who feel their opinions have been ignored by the public debate on abortion.

“It’s important that the language around abortion is inclusive of all women. What’s really important is that women can see themselves in what’s being discussed and not just in an abstract sense.”

Disability rights activist Suzy Byrne said women with disabilities were also feeling excluded from the abortion debate. “Disabled voices are hidden in the discourse about reproductive health. I’m very conscious that issues of disability get thrown into the mix when we talk about abortion in Ireland but it’s not from the perspective of people with disabilities and I and other women are looking for the opportunity to talk.”

Ms Byrne called for Irish people to learn to see disabled people “sexual beings” who also need access to contraception and reproductive health services. “Access for us is about a lot more than ramps. It’s about accessible attitudes and accessible information.”

Entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den investor Alison Cowzer called for an end to a “one-size fits all” solution to women’s reproductive needs, underlining the diversity that exists among women.

“It’s time as a country we reclaimed our women’s reproductive health service from the polarised political sphere that it has been in,” she said. “Women’s healthcare should not be a cause, we should not need marches. Women are not a minority.”