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Talking Heads: Should abortion be legalised in Ireland?

Yes – Sinéad Ahern, Choice Ireland

I first became involved in campaigning for women living in Ireland to have access to abortion services in 2007. My involvement was spurred by hearing the stories of Irish women who had secretly crossed the Irish Sea to terminate their pregnancies. All of these stories were very different, but had one common theme: all of these women were trying to make the best decision they could in difficult circumstances. Crisis Pregnancy and abortion are a reality in Ireland. A study by the ESRI in June of this year reported that a third of women experience a crisis pregnancy at some point in their lives. 12 women a day provide Irish addresses in abortion clinics in the UK. We have no idea how many women use false UK addresses for fear of the stigma back home.


Since the 1992 abortion referendums, we have allowed women the right to information on abortion and the right to travel. They access this service and we pretend not to know about it. Meanwhile Irish women are less likely to access counselling and aftercare than women in the UK, and they terminate pregnancies later. The so-called “pro-life” referendum hasn’t stopped crisis pregnancy or abortion from happening. In fact, the number of Irish women accessing abortion services in the UK rose year on year following the introduction of the 8th amendment and only began to fall with the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. Abortion is a reality and we can’t hide behind the UK any longer.

The 8th amendment, like me, is approaching its 30th birthday and over both my lifetime, and the lifetime of the amendment, Ireland has changed significantly. Just one of the changes is access to the internet. Now, with the click of a button, women can order abortifacient drugs over the net – we don’t know what’s in them, or where they come from. Women who take them are less likely to seek medical attention if something goes wrong. Irish customs seized over 1000 such drugs in 2010 alone. We cannot allow a rise in backstreet abortions in this country. We cannot allow Irish women to join the 70,000 women a year estimated to die due to backstreet abortion.

In 2007, when I first became involved in the campaign, I remember getting a phone call from a journalist late one Sunday evening as I came out of the cinema. He was asking me to comment on a story that was breaking: a story about a 17 year old girl, in the care of the state, pregnant with a much wanted child who found that the foetus she was carrying was not going to survive. She wanted to terminate the pregnancy, but the state would not let her. Miss D, as this woman became
known, is just one of the many hard cases that have come before the courts as a direct result of our failure to grasp the issue of abortion and legislate for it.
The most famous of these cases is probably X, a young girl who was raped by a neighbour, fell pregnant and became suicidal as a result. She was ordered by the High Court to remain in the  state for 9 months to block her from having a termination. The Supreme Court later ruled that she had the right to a termination in Ireland as her life was at risk. The state has since held two referenda seeking to overturn this verdict: both have failed.

More recently, “C”, a woman in remission from cancer who feared the pregnancy would cause her cancer to reoccur, brought her case before the European Court of Human Rights. Ruling on C’s case earlier this year, the ECHR told Ireland that we cannot continue to have a situation where our Supreme Court and our Constitution say that where life is in jeopardy a woman has a right to an abortion, when in practice, they must travel or face a lengthy court battle. There have been too many women, too many legal battles and too many referenda on this issue. The issue cannot be left anymore to judges presented with hard cases; we simply must legislate before any more such cases come before the court.

No – Dr Ruth Cullen, Pro Life Campaign

The campaign for legal abortion achieved its aim in Britain with the introduction of the Abortion Act in 1967. At the time, it was heralded by many as a tremendous breakthrough for women’s rights and the claim was made that access to abortion would lead to a situation where “every child would be a wanted child”. Almost 45 years later, both claims have proven to be manifestly false. Most early studies of the effects of abortion on women were limited to the immediate post-abortion period. Now long-term studies are giving a clearer picture. One such study was published in 2008 in the British Journal of Psychiatry. It is a 25-year longitudinal study that shows that women having an abortion have elevated rates of subsequent mental health problems including depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviours and substance-use disorders. The main author of this study, Professor David Fergusson, admitted: “I’m pro-choice but I’ve produced results which, if anything, favour a pro-life viewpoint”.

Professor Stuart Campbell, from King’s College School of Medicine in London, commented recently: “There is something deeply moving about the image of a baby cocooned inside the womb. At 11 weeks we can see them yawn, and even take steps. Understandably, these incredible images have influenced the debate on abortion. I pioneered the 4-D scanning technique in the UK and it has certainly caused me to question my own opinions.” Those campaigning for abortion to be made legal in Ireland are trying hard to create the impression that Ireland is obliged to legislate for abortion following the recent European court ruling in A, B and C v. Ireland.
It is important to note the judgment in no way forces Ireland to legalise abortion. In fact, the judgment fully respects the entitlement of the Irish people to determine legal policy on protecting the lives of unborn children. The suggestion that because of this country’s pro-life ethos pregnant women are denied necessary medical treatments is simply not true. In fact, Ireland is a world leader in safety for pregnant mothers. The latest UN report on the safety of mothers during pregnancy found that, of all 172 countries for which data are given, Ireland leads the world when it comes to safety for pregnant women. Women are safer in Ireland when pregnant than in countries like Britain and Holland, which permit abortion on demand. Given our record in maternal care, the question has to be asked, why are some people proposing to blur the time-honoured distinction between necessary medical treatments in pregnancy and the deliberate targeting of the baby in the womb with the aim of ending its life?
In Britain, a total of 66 infants survived NHS abortion attempts in one year alone. These findings were published in 2008 as part of the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health, commissioned by the UK Government. Rather than dying during the abortion procedure as intended, the babies in question were able to breathe unaided. About half were alive for an hour, while one survived ten hours. None of the babies were resuscitated or given basic medical care. This is the brutal reality of legal abortion that is rarely if ever discussed.
Groups such as Silent No More are starting to lift the veil of secrecy around the abortion industry, as women come forward to reveal the full horror of their abortion experiences. It is helping to expose the hopelessly inadequate justifications offered by pro-abortion advocates for the routine taking of innocent human life. The fundamental basis of our society and its laws must be rooted in the principle that every human life has intrinsic value irrespective of age, sex, health, race, creed or any other factor that differentiates one from another. Proponents of abortion want the unborn child to be an exception to this rule. Instead of introducing an abortion regime in Ireland, we need to work together to build a more welcoming society for expectant mothers and their unborn children.

 

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