The Eighth Amendment

 

Sir, – Over the coming months, we will undoubtedly hear many claims and counterclaims with regard to Ireland’s abortion rate. Contrary to a letter writer’s assertion (February 7th), the precise abortion rate for Ireland is unknown. Annual reports from the UK department of health provide data on women who give Irish addresses at UK clinics. The statistics omit Irish women who give non-Irish addresses, women who travel to states other than the UK and the growing number of women who are risking prosecution by using abortion medication obtained from websites.

However, the UK statistics make one thing very clear. The Eighth Amendment does not prevent women in Ireland from having abortions. At least 3,677 women travelled to the UK for abortion care in 1983, the year article 40.3.3 was inserted into the Constitution. This figure rose year on year until 2001, peaking at 6,673. This included the pre-internet years when the State’s policy of prohibiting information about abortion services was aggressively enforced. The fall in the number of women accessing care in UK clinics corresponds with a shift in Ireland in the late 1990s to more women-centred health policies. These included improvements to sexuality education and better access to contraception, two of the most effective measures for reducing unintended pregnancy rates.

But these measures cannot entirely eliminate the need for abortion. Access to safe and legal abortion is an essential part of sexual and reproductive healthcare. The denial of this care under the Eighth Amendment has caused immense harm.

Supporters of the Eighth Amendment seem indifferent to the callous treatment of women in Ireland: women denied care within the State when their health is at risk or when a pregnancy is a crisis; women forced to continue pregnancies because they cannot travel for abortion care outside the State; women waiting alone and in fear in flats and bedsits after illegally taking abortion pills.

When the evidence of these harms was presented to the Citizens’ Assembly and the Joint Oireachtas Committee, both responded with compassion and care. Both recognised the need to repeal the Eighth Amendment and bring women who are currently abandoned by the State into the Irish healthcare system, to appropriate clinical settings where they can obtain medical advice and support and where healthcare providers can operate within proper regulation and guidance.

Knowing what we know about the harms of the Eighth Amendment, how can we as a caring society do otherwise? – Yours, etc,

NIALL BEHAN,

Chief Executive,

Irish Family Planning

Association,

Pearse Street, Dublin 2.

Sir, – I recently saw advertised the launch of “Every Woman” by the National Women’s Council of Ireland. This event was launched in Galway on February 6th. In the advertisement for the event, the group claimed that it sought to “build consensus . . . of what reproductive services, including abortion, we need to enable all women to realise their potential in life”.

It went on to specify who was welcome in this discussion – the invitation is specifically extended to “those who share our hopes and aims”.

So what about me, a young university student here in Galway, who is opposed to legalised abortion? How can the ironically called “Every Woman” group possibly build “consensus” among “all women” if it is specific as to which women are invited and welcome at the discussion? Consensus among all women cannot be reached if women like me – women who believe in the right to life of the unborn – aren’t welcome to join the discussion. – Yours, etc,

MIA DOVEL,

Galway.

Sir, – A letter-writer’s view (February 7th) that “GPs would have to be permitted to opt out of any new abortion service on conscience grounds” sounds reasonable until you give it some thought. Why would it not apply to other trades and professions? For instance, would a garda be obliged to enforce a law to which, in conscience, he or she is totally opposed? – Yours, etc,

JAMES MORAN,

Bunclody, Co Wexford.