Abortion in Ireland by xit6H7


									Briefing Document - Abortion in Ireland
February 2012

The Reality
Although abortion is a criminal offence in Ireland, this does not mean that women
living in Ireland do not have abortions. Every day, 12 women travel from Ireland to
the UK to access abortion services abroad - since 1980 at least 150,000 women and
girls have made this journey.
In addition, women for whom travel is impossible, because of financial hardship or
immigration reasons, are increasingly ordering medication online to self-induce
Women and girls in Ireland who require abortion services experience stigma and
discrimination, lack of information and lack of information from the State.
Statistics show that women travelling from Ireland tend to have abortions later. This
is only one aspect of the significant psychological, physical and financial burdens
placed on women because they cannot avail of appropriate services in Ireland.
These burdens were highlighted by the judges of the European Court of Human
Rights in the case of A, B and C v Ireland.
When pregnant women choose to travel for an abortion, they are forced to do so
without a referral letter from their doctor outlining their medical history. A doctor
would not expect any patient to access any other medical treatment in this way, in
particular in the case of a patient with a life-threatening illness.
Those who experience most difficulty and delay are those who are already
marginalised and disadvantaged, those who most depend on the State, those who
are young, those who are undocumented and those who are living in poverty.

The Law
Abortion is legal in Ireland only where the woman’s life is at risk. In all other
circumstances abortion is criminalised, punishable by life imprisonment.
Irish law does not allow for termination of pregnancy when the woman’s health is at
risk, where the pregnancy is a result of rape and/or incest, where the foetus will not
survive outside the womb or where the pregnant woman decides that continuation of
the pregnancy is not in her or her family’s best interests.
It is not against the law for women to travel abroad to access abortion services or to
access information on safe and legal abortion services in other countries from an
Irish service provider.
Abortion is criminalised by the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. In 1983, Article
40.3.3 was inserted into the Irish Constitution. It states that “the State acknowledges
the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the
mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to
defend and vindicate that right." In 1992, the Supreme Court in the X Case judgment
ruled that abortion is lawful in Ireland when there is a real and substantial risk to the
life of the woman. This includes the risk of suicide.
However, lack of legislation or medical guidelines means that in practice, abortion is
inaccessible in all circumstances for all women, even when a woman’s life is at risk.
In 2010, in the case of A, B & C v Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights
unanimously found that Ireland’s failure to give effect to the existing constitutional
right to a lawful abortion in Ireland when a woman’s life is at risk violates Article 8 of
the European Convention on Human Rights. To give effect to this judgment the court
told the Irish Government that it must resolve:
o   the lack of legislative criteria or procedures that allow for a practical assessment
    by doctors and women of a “real and substantial risk to the life of the pregnant
o   the absence of a framework to examine and resolve differences of opinion
    between a woman and her doctor or between doctors;
o   the chilling effect of the severe criminal penalties for having or assisting an
    unlawful abortion which can interfere with medical consultations between a
    woman and her doctor.

Expert Group
In response to the ruling the Government, in January 2012, established an expert
group to recommend a “series of options” on how to implement the judgment. The
expert group is to report within six months.
Three government committees have already submitted reports on abortion and
outlined options: the 1996 Constitutional Review Group, the 1999 Cabinet Committee
which oversaw the drafting of a Green Paper on Abortion, and the 2000 All Party
Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution. The European Court of Human Rights
was especially critical of Ireland’s failure to implement any of the recommendations of
these committees. It is unlikely that the Court will be satisfied with a further menu of
options in the absence of political commitment to action.
To give effect to the Court’s judgment the expert group must now propose legislation
to provide for lawful medical treatment and medical guidelines so that doctors can
make a practical assessment of what constitutes a “real and substantial risk” to the
life of a pregnant woman.

Public Opinion
Since 1992 referendums inserting guarantees of the right to information and to travel
in relation to abortion have been passed, while proposals to further restrict the legal
right established in the X case have been rejected on two occasions.
Opinion polls and research consistently show increased support for access to legal
abortion within Ireland. A 2004 Crisis Pregnancy Agency study found that 90% of 18-
45 year olds support abortion in certain circumstances, with 51% stating that women
should always have to right to choose an abortion. In 2010, an Irish Examiner/Red C
Poll found that 60% of people supported legal abortion. Also in 2010, a Marie
Stopes/YouGov opinion poll indicated that 79% of those questioned were in favour of
liberalisation of Irish abortion laws in certain circumstances.

International Context
Ireland’s restrictive laws on abortion are totally out of step with those of its European
neighbours. Forty four out of 47 European countries provide for abortion to protect
women’s health. The overwhelming consensus throughout Europe allows for some
access to legal abortion to protect a woman’s health and well-being, applying a more
effective, less punitive approach than that which is in force in Ireland.
A number of UN treaty bodies have made trenchant criticisms of Ireland’s restrictive
abortion laws and have urged Ireland to undertake reform. In 2008, the UN Human
Rights Committee recommended that Ireland bring the law into line with the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The UN Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the UN Committee Against Torture and
the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights have also urged Ireland to
take action.
Abortion and mental health

The relationship between abortion and mental health has been the subject of much
debate and research. During the past decade, the highest quality and most
methodologically sound international evidence shows that abortion does not increase
the risk of mental health problems. Most recently, a major 2011 study by the National
Collaborating Centre for Mental Health, Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK found that
rates of mental health problems for women experiencing a crisis pregnancy are the
same whether women have an abortion or continue with the pregnancy.

Women’s experiences of abortion, however, are diverse and complex and the
decision is not one that women take lightly. Women’s reasons for choosing abortion,
such as financial worries, concern about the well-being of other children, diagnosis of
serious foetal abnormality, pre-existing health problems, including mental health
problems, and relationship issues can all be extremely stressful.

For women in Ireland, the stress involved in making the decision is exacerbated by
having to travel to another country to access abortion services, by the expense
involved, by feelings of fear and stigma, by secrecy, by a sense of isolation or by lack
of support. However, research conducted by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency found that
abortion “rarely causes immediate or lasting negative psychological consequences in
healthy women.” And the experience of our counselling centres is that while most
women who have abortions experience a range of emotions, the primary emotion is

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