One in 20 rapes lead to pregnancy, Citizens’ Assembly hears

Legal difficulties in having rape as a grounds for abortion outlined

Dr Noelle Higgins from Maynooth University - International Human Rights Law and Fatal Foetal Abnormalities speaking at the second meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly in January. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

Dr Noelle Higgins from Maynooth University - International Human Rights Law and Fatal Foetal Abnormalities speaking at the second meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly in January. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / The Irish Times

 

Approximately one woman in 20 who is raped will go on to become pregnant, the Citizens’ Assembly has been told.

Dr Maeve Eogan, the medical director at the sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) at the Rotunda Hospital, said some women get pregnant as a result of rape despite the availability of emergency contraceptive which can be up to 99 per cent effective.

She said pregnancies can occur because women who have been raped have not accessed emergency contraceptive or because that emergency contraceptive does not work. She stressed the latter scenario is rare.

The 99 members of the Citizens’ Assembly are meeting again on Sunday to continue deliberations over the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.

On Sunday the assembly will hear from both sides of the debate on reproductive autonomy. Dr Joan McCarthy from University College Cork is presenting the pro-abortion perspective; Dr Donal O’Mathuna from Dublin City University will present the anti-abortion perspective.

The session will conclude with the regulation of the medical profession and the issue of conscientious objection by Professor Gerard Bury of University College Dublin.

On Saturday, the group heard from the Rape Crisis Centre and other support networks on the provisions for women to help them deal with the trauma of rape.

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Women who present to the six sexual assault treatment units in Ireland are given three options. The first is to report the offence to the gardaí and then avail of medical treatment.

Alternatively, women can avail of a health check and receive medical treatment without reporting the offence to the gardaí.

The third is to receive treatment and to give forensic samples which can be kept up to a year while the victim decides whether or not to press charges.

Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Noeline Blackwell said the provision which allows women to bring a case up to a year after an incident is really important.

Only a quarter of all rapes are carried out by strangers and women often need the time to deal with the trauma of being raped. They also need time to bring a case against somebody they know.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI), which operates 14 centres across the country, has estimated 4 per cent of rape incidents reported to it result in pregnancy.

There was a marked difference, Ms Blackwell said, between incidents of pregnancy resulting from rape in the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and nationwide.

In Dublin 35 per cent of women go on to give birth to the child. In the rest of the country which is covered by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland the figure is 49 per cent.

Ms Blackwell said the rural background of many of the women might be a factor in higher numbers deciding to keep the baby. Another factor might be easier access to travel for somebody living in Dublin.

Tom O’Malley, a senior lecturer in law at the National University of Ireland, Galway said there were legal difficulties in allowing for abortion in the case of rape.

He said most rape cases take an average of 645 days to go to court so it would be “impossible” to allow for the criminal proceedings to take place first.

Alternative means would have to be sought for proving rape and that would raise questions as to whether the gardaí should be involved and what proofs would be required.

If there was a specific investigatory system, important decisions would have to be made about who would do the investigation and the burden of proof needed, the told the 99 members of the assembly who are deliberating over the Eighth Amendment.