Illegality issue doesn't deter women from seeking abortions, says IFPA chief


Family planning:Ireland is the only country in Europe which forces doctors to distinguish between allowing abortion to save a woman’s life and not allowing it to preserve her health, according to the Irish Family Planning Association.

Chief executive Niall Behan said there was “no bright line between life and health”. He said “no other country in Europe forces doctors to make the distinction that is made in Irish law, permitting abortion to save a woman’s life but not to preserve her health”.

Speaking on the first day of the Oireachtas health committee abortion hearings, he said criminalisation of abortion did not deter women from seeking terminations or lead to lower rates of abortion. It was the association’s experience that for their clients “the choice of a termination is a rational response of a person” making a long-term decision.

He told the committee: “Once a woman has made this rational decision, she is extremely unlikely to change her mind, regardless of the legalities. Her focus is on the practicalities of organising and financing the procedure in another country.”

Respect for the law

Questioned by Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford about the association’s respect for and adherence to the law given its support for abortion, Mr Behan said it was fully compliant with Irish law. The organisation “has always respected the laws of the State. It doesn’t stop us advocating for our clients . . . and highlighting circumstances where the law is a barrier to good care.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Jim Walsh asked if the association believed the current “two-patient model is something we would try to preserve and if there would be a duty of care to the baby in any legislation brought in”.

Mr Behan said they had tried to equate the life of the unborn with the life of the woman and “what that has in effect done is, it has given the unborn more rights than a woman”.

Obstetrician Richard Greene, a member of the Maternal Mortality Working Group in Ireland, said there had been two suicides in the State between 2009 and 2011, one during pregnancy and one after the woman had delivered her baby.

Prof Greene said in the three years, when there were 222,136 pregnancies, there were 25 maternal deaths, six of them classified as direct, five indirect and six attributed to coincidental causes. Ireland had a maternal mortality rate of 8.6 per 100,000, compared to 11.3 per 100,000 in the UK over a similar period.

Low mortality figures

He said Ireland had figures “that are very good in comparison to the rest of the western world”. However in response to questioning, he said he did not have evidence to support “in any way” claims that Ireland’s low maternal mortality rate “may be because we don’t have termination”.