Referendum on the Eighth Amendment

 

Sir, – A letter-writer (April 18th) suggests that if we find explaining abortion to children difficult, it’s likely we believe deep in our hearts that abortion is wrong.

This isn’t the case.

In my case, I simply believe that there are certain topics children deserve to be shielded from until they are old enough to understand them. I could tell the younger ones in my family that I want abortion to be available in the case that a woman gets raped, but then I would have to explain rape. I could tell them I want to be sure that a woman who’s miscarrying can end her pregnancy instead of waiting for the baby to die inside her, but that’s a pretty upsetting conversation to have with a seven-year-old child.

I could tell them that lots of people suffer from mental health issues, and for that reason feel that they cannot continue with a pregnancy. I could tell them I want to be sure that a woman who has cancer or another illness that is posing a threat to her life – but not an “immediate” threat – can end her pregnancy, in many cases to ensure she’ll still be around for the children who are already waiting for her at home.

But these are complicated, emotional topics. I don’t want to weigh the kids in my family down by talking about miscarriage, rape, mental health issues and disease.

That’s why it’s hard to explain the Save the 8th posters to children. No other reason. – Yours, etc,

KATIE HARRINGTON,

Rathmines,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – Dr Andrew O’Regan (April 14th) has firm views on when health practitioners should be allow to refuse participate in abortion procedures if the referendum is passed. However, the limits he considers a trespass on practitioners’ rights are in fact how conscience-based refusal should be regulated in order to safeguard the patient’s rights too.

There is an important difference between conscientiously objecting to something – we all have a human right to thought, conscience and religion – and being allowed to act on that objection in a way that negatively impacts on others.

People must be able to access the State’s health service, with health practitioners who are willing to provide the healthcare they need. So the right to conscientious objection cannot be unlimited. That is what properly regulated conscience-based refusal provides: a balancing of rights.

The Government may allow practitioners to refuse to perform or participate in abortion procedures, but this cannot result in women and girls being denied access to lawful services. The Government must also ensure that a sufficient number of health professionals across the country are willing and able to provide abortion services.

So, yes, a health professional exercising conscience-based refusal should still have a duty to make a timely referral to another who will provide the service. And, yes, refusal should not be permitted in emergency situations – they still have a duty to deliver treatment necessary to save a woman’s life, or prevent grave or permanent harm to her health – or when a referral is not possible.

In Amnesty’s experience, poorly regulated conscience-based refusal is one of the major barriers to women and girls’ access to lawful abortion procedures in many countries, such as Poland and Italy. Ireland needs to avoid following that path.

As to Dr Regan’s assertion that there is no evidence that abortion is ever necessary to avoid risks to the life or health of a pregnant woman, I might simply point to Savita Halappanavar. If the law this Government proposes to enact if the referendum is passed were in place then, she would have received an abortion when she requested it, and she would likely be alive today. – Yours, etc,

COLM O’GORMAN,

Executive Director,

Amnesty International

Ireland,

Fleet Street,

Dublin 2.

Sir, – When we, as women, are at our most vulnerable, pregnant and in crisis, desperate to be able to discuss our pregnancy with our doctor, we are not able to do so under our present Constitution. Women who become pregnant as a result of rape, women or couples who receive a devastating fatal foetal abnormalities diagnosis, women whose health may be put at risk by a pregnancy, cannot talk openly with their doctors about their healthcare and the decisions they need to make. Women facing crisis pregnancies need the best healthcare possible at home in Ireland. We cannot continue to pretend we don’t see them as they go, every day, to England for abortions.

We are a compassionate country and we want change. To respect and support women, we need to repeal the Eighth Amendment. – Yours, etc,

PATRICIA GARDINER,

Sligo.

Sir, – Áine Carroll asks what the anti-repeal side “proposes to do, in the event of their campaign being successful, with the women who will become pregnant from that moment forward, who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not carry forward with their pregnancies” (“Anti-abortion campaigners dodging the real question”, Opinion & Analysis, April 18th).

I cannot speak for the entire “anti-repeal” side. But the only reasonable answer I can propose is that we give all the support possible to women who choose to have children, and try to minimise the circumstances that make abortion seem like the only escape from a difficult situation.

But in the end, the law is not there to force people to want the right thing. The law is there to regulate external conduct, to protect people’s rights. And if you believe the unborn child deserves to live, then the law must protect his or her life, irrespective of the mother’s behaviour or choices. – Yours, etc,

DAVID THUNDER,

Dublin 5.