Pro-choice campaigners ignoring threats to women’s lives posed by abortion

Attitudes appear to be hardening to the degree that any abortion must be facilitated

Here I am, wearily writing about abortion yet again, for the simple reason so few commentators will attempt to address the egregious spin put on the tragic death of a young woman.

A woman bleeds to death in a taxi after an abortion in a Marie Stopes Clinic, and that is somehow the fault of people who oppose all direct abortions? Is there nothing that will cause ardent pro-choice people to question abortion, or abortion providers, not even the unnecessary and cruel death this young woman suffered?

Apparently not. Over a decade ago Prof Patricia Casey and I organised a conference called 5,000 Too Many, which brought pro-choice and pro-life people together to discuss reducing the numbers of women seeking abortion by providing viable alternatives.

However, among pro-choice people, it appears that attitudes have hardened to the extent that any abortion, for whatever reason, so long as a woman wishes to have it, must be facilitated.

Senator Ivana Bacik has been commendably honest about her pro-choice views. I believe she is motivated by concern for women.

However, this week, she was to the forefront, not in demanding that there be an immediate investigation into Marie Stopes Clinics, but in condemning pro-life people for their "hypocrisy" in not wanting abortion clinics to open here.

Let’s look at some cases involving Marie Stopes Clinics. In 2007, a 15-year-old girl, Alesha Thomas, died from a heart attack caused by bacterial toxins after an abortion.

The Leeds clinic was reprimanded by the coroner because no one had bothered to follow up when Ms Thomas left without picking up a prescription for antibiotics, not even when her worried mother rang the helpline to say how ill she was.

Dr Phanuel Dartey of the Marie Stopes International Clinic in Ealing was struck off in 2011 for causing an Irish woman to be hospitalised for two months in 2006, after he perforated her womb and left parts of her unborn child inside her. Marie Stopes had employed him, despite the fact that he was also the doctor who carried out the abortion in 2001 in a BPAS clinic where 28-year-old Sharon Bagg had a heart attack on the operating table and later died.

Senator Bacik has also been silent about allegations of breaches of good practice regarding women's health in Ireland, except to say repeatedly in the Seanad this week the allegations are "unfounded".

After a "sting" operation, the Irish Independent, on October 27th, 2012, alleged that Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) counsellors had advised women to illegally import and use the so-called abortion pill. Using this pill unsupervised poses severe risks to women.

It was also alleged counsellors had suggested that women conceal the fact they had had abortions and to say instead they had miscarried if they needed to go to a hospital.

HSE director designate Tony O’Brien, former chief executive of the IFPA, announced an investigation in November 2012. Over the months, it has morphed into an “audit”.

Although Brigid McManus, the former secretary general of the Department of Education, who heads the audit, is highly regarded, no terms of reference have been published, and neither have any of the people involved in the taping of the counsellors been contacted. Nor has the journalist who broke the story.

Yet according to Minister for Health James Reilly, the report is almost finalised and will be published within weeks.

On Wednesday, Senator Rónan Mullen read into the Seanad record part of a transcript from the alleged recordings of an IFPA crisis pregnancy counsellor.

“Now there is one clinic that I would not advise you to go to ... is Marie Stopes. Don’t go near them, okay? So I am not saying they are dirty or anything but we’ve got a lot of complaints about them, okay? I don’t send anyone there, and I wouldn’t. So if Abortion Support Network suggest Marie Stopes, say no.”

This raises serious questions. If it emerges State-funded IFPA counsellors were aware of problems with these clinics, did the IFPA inform the Department of Health, the HSE or the Crisis Pregnancy Agency? And another question. For militant pro-choicers, do potential threats to women’s lives only count if they serve to smooth the way for the introduction of abortion?