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14 February 2002 Edition

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The Abortion Referendum - What the campaigns have to say

The latest referendum on abortion takes place on Wednesday, 6 March and the campaign kicked off proper this week, with rows in Leinster House over which party was more pro-life and the launch of campaigns for Yes and No votes by a number of campaigns. An Phoblacht offered space in this week's issue to four groups campaigning, alternatively, for and against the referendum. The Mother and Child Campaign, which is advocating a No vote, the Pro-Life Campaign, which is asking voters to say Yes, and the Alliance for a No Vote, all responded with position papers outlining their respective positions. We had intended to run two pieces advocating a Yes vote but bizarrely, despite repeated assurances and the launch of their campaign the same day, the Fianna Fáil press office could not even manage to fax over their publicity material, never mind provide a written article, by the time we went to press.


The Pro-Life Campaign

Every society has to address the issue of unexpected pregnancy. Either we legislate for abortion on demand or we concentrate on restoring clarity in the law regarding the right to life. The government's proposal forces us to honestly confront the issue of whether or not we believe the unborn child is worthy of legal protection.

The proposal succeeds in restoring legal protection to the unborn. While guaranteeing all necessary medical treatment for women in pregnancy. It also places an obligation on society to put the resources in place to meet the needs of women in crisis pregnancy, by providing real alternatives to the painful option of abortion.

In shaping public policy on this sensitive matter, there is a responsibility to be guided by the medical experts in the area. The proposal, therefore, rightly recognises that abortion is not an appropriate response to suicidal feelings. At the recent Oireachtas hearings on abortion, the psychiatric evidence showed that abortion itself appears to be a significant risk factor for suicide.

Ireland is among the safest countries in the world in which to be pregnant. The Green Paper on Abortion recognised our success in this area, Which is better than countries with abortion regimes. The great merit of the proposed amendment is that it gives legal certainty and protection to good medical practice.

It is deeply misleading for advocates of legalised abortion on demand to claim the proposal will endanger women's lives. It explicitly provides that doctors may give medical treatment to a pregnant woman necessary to save her life, even if it results in the loss of the unborn's life, as long as everything practicable is done to preserve the baby's life.

The only alternative to clarifying the law regarding the right to life is to legislate for abortion on demand. An reasonable examination of the international experience of abortion suggests that legalised abortion is not the answer. The accusations of hypocrisy sometimes levelled against Ireland ignore the true reality of abortion laws in other countries. In Britain, abortion is legal, formally on health grounds, but in practice, allows for abortion up to 24 weeks for any reason., and up to birth where the child has a disability. Rather than confronting reality, such laws do nothing to meet the real needs of women in crisis pregnancy and represent a total denial of the humanity of the unborn child.

The Labour Party supports legislation in line with the 1992 Supreme Court decision. In reality this amounts to abortion on demand without time limits, right up to birth. It is an inexcusable position for any Party claiming to champion human rights.

Restoring clarity to the law on the right to life is an indispensable first step to framing social policies to help reduce our abortion rate. There is considerable scope with the establishment of new Crisis Pregnancy Agency for providing increased support for registered agencies offering positive alternatives to abortion, in promoting contemporary models of adoption, in putting in place adequate respite care facilities to meet the needs of families with multiple special needs and in providing resources to assist women hurt by abortion.

The Pro-Life Campaign will work enthusiastically in support of the proposal over the coming weeks. We will try to play our part in ensuring there is a calm and informed debate and that the effort to clarify the legal situation is matched by a determined effort to put in place the necessary resources to create a more supportive environment for expectant mothers and their unborn children.


The Alliance for a No Vote

For years, politicians have been exporting the issue of abortion. Every year 7,000 Irish women - 19 every day - go to England to terminate their pregnancies. In the Dáil debate on this referendum Fianna Fáil TD Noel Ahern said that if his daughter was suicidal due to a crisis pregnancy he would be on the plane with her. For women without his money, the price of an abortion in England is difficult to get hold of - and sometimes impossible. In this referendum, the government's attitude is once again 'Out of sight, out of mind'.

The Progressive Democrats are particularly hypocritical. In 1992 Mary Harney called for abortion to be made available in Ireland in cases of rape, incest, risk of suicide and danger to the woman's health. "In this debate, as in many others," she said, "we will continue to export our problem to Britain. Once again, Britain will provide a solution to an Irish problem." In the same year Michael McDowell said that reversing the 'X' case was "a euphemism for tilting the scales of justice so as to force Irish women (including rape victims) to carry a real and substantial risk". McDowell has now drafted a proposal to do just that. And now that she's in government - Harney supports it.

The government need telling loud and clear: We don't want to be the kind of society that denies suicidal women the choice of abortion.

Women need more choice, not less.

The Alliance for a No Vote held a Press Conference on Wednesday, 13 February to mark the tenth anniversary of the 'X' case and to launch their Five Reasons to Vote NO campaign. Cherish, Well Woman and Women's Aid joined the ANV in their condemnation of the government's Referendum. All three organisations, including the National Women's Council and the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, endorsed the ANV's five reasons to Vote No.

Karen Kiernan of Cherish, speaking out against the Referendum said: "By voting No the Irish people will be protecting a woman's life who is suicidal because she is pregnant."

The National Women's Council supported the ANV's call for a No vote said in a statement: "Because we never again want to see a girl or a woman before the High Court with a crisis pregnancy, we urge everyone to vote No to this proposed Bill."

Spokeswoman for the Alliance for a No Vote, Cathleen O'Neill, added: "Bertie Ahern is giving false assurances to women by saying that this Referendum will protect the morning-after pill and IUD. The Referendum gives no explicit protection and will leave the morning-after pill and IUD open to legal challenge. The judicial review of the morning-after pill by SPUC in Britain shows exactly what could happen.

The only thing this Referendum will do is endanger the lives and health of Irish women. We call on all Irish women's, social, community and voluntary organisations to join our call for a No vote."

Five Reasons to Vote No

This Referendum will deny women who are suicidal as a result of a crisis pregnancy the right to have an abortion in Ireland. The 'x' case of 1992 - allowing a suicidal rape victim to have an abortion - will be overturned.

This Referendum will criminalise women who try to perform an abortion on themselves - and anybody who helps a woman get an abortion in Ireland. They will face twelve years in prison.

This Referendum will restrict existing medical practice by preventing doctors perform life-saving terminations, which will only be allowed: in a limited number of 'approved places' where there is an immediate risk the woman may die with no provision for emergencies

This Referendum will not protect the morning-after pill or the IUD from legal challenge

This Referendum will endanger the lives of women and girls by denying Health Boards the power to take a suicidal rape victim, like the girl in the 1997 'C' case, abroad for an abortion.

The Mother and Child Campaign

The Government's Constitutional Amendment states in clarification of the obligation on the State in Article 40.3,3 to "defend and vindicate" by law the right to life of the unborn, that "In particular, the life of the unborn in the womb shall be protected in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Act, 2002." The Act is to become copperfastened within the Constitution and cannot be changed without recourse to another referendum.

There are many flaws which, if unchanged, would make the proposal insupportable The Act gives a flawed legal definition of abortion. "In this Act, 'abortion' means the intentional destruction by any means of unborn human life after implantation in the womb of a woman." This will become the only definition of abortion that exists in Irish law. The Act is the only protection allowed to the unborn child after it enters the womb, in accordance with the proposed amendment, and so the definition of abortion as occurring only after implantation creates a clear gap in protection just prior to implantation. The purpose, and the government have stated it, is to pave the way for legalising the so-called "Morning-After" pill and the IUD, which often act as abortafacients. All genuine Pro-Lifers recognise that anything which prevents the child post-conception from implanting in the womb is an early abortion.

Although previously the availability of the "Morning-After" pill was something that the government was imposing and allowing, now we are being asked to vote for it and quite clearly its recognisable abortafacient effect.

Another flaw is the failure to define the term "unborn". It takes no great leap of the imagination to foresee a Supreme Court announcing that "unborn" refers only to the post-implantation child.

Our vote for this proposal would pave the way for a massive extension of IVF in Ireland, as well as allowing for embryo research and indeed foetal research so long as the foetus has never been implanted at any stage.

The Act allows for unspecified 'medical procedures' that may be necessary to save the life of the mother. On the face of it, this would appear to be no different than current medical practice which allows for all medical treatment necessary to save the life of the mother. However, the medical procedure that is allowed here includes one "in the course of which, or as a result of which unborn human life is ended". This is essentially the same as the 1992 wording, since it may allow the child to be directly attacked, indeed that may be the medical procedure.

The Act also refers to an "approved place" where the medical procedures may be carried out. It is entirely at the behest of the Minister of Health to decide what places are approved. We have no guarantee that clinics will not at some future date be approved.

The procedures may be carried out by a "medical practitioner", which is to say any doctor, not just a specialist. This may create situations in which untrained persons are dealing with problems in the pregnancy and thus make instances where their reasonable opinion in good faith may end the life of the unborn child unnecessarily but legally.

The Act copperfastens the right to travel for an abortion and the right to information on abortion services, which means abortion referral. The Irish people were confused enough in 1992 to be less than fully conscious of what they were voting for. The same cannot be said ten years later, following the Noonan Act and the C Case. Crucially, even though we lost the vote in 1992 as such, at least we didn't vote for them ourselves as we are being asked to do here, albeit within the context of a package.

The Act provides that the punishment for performing an unlawful abortion as understood by the Act shall be "imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 years or a fine or both". This substantially reduces the gravity of the crime of abortion. In the UK the punishment for performing an illegal abortion remains life imprisonment.

For all of these reasons, the referendum the government proposes to hold is not a Pro-Life referendum, it is not the referendum that the Irish people have demanded nor the one which we have all worked so hard for over the last decade. The Mother and Child Campaign would be negligent in its duty to the Irish people, and most importantly to the unborn child if we recommended its acceptance.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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