Legislating for X: blood, sweat and tears for almost nothing

The aim of the Bill introduced in the Dáil this week by Socialist Party TD Clare Daly is to legislate for the 1992 Supreme Court judgment in Attorney General v X, which ruled that abortion is legal in Ireland when the life of the woman is at risk, including the risk of suicide.

It states that it will be legal for a medical practitioner to provide any form of medical treatment to a pregnant woman, despite its consequences for the foetus she carries, if two medical practitioners conclude that there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman. Where there is a threat of suicide the Bill states that one of the medical practitioners should be a consultant psychiatrist or clinical psychologist, although there is room for manoeuvre where neither of these are available. The Bill also gives women the right to seek a second opinion and to make an appeal to the Medical Council. Some provisions are also made for the right of medical practitioners to conscientious objection, although this is only permissible when the woman can be referred to another practitioner. Conscientious objection is not permissible if termination of pregnancy is immediately necessary to save the life of a woman and no other practitioner is available to carry out the procedure.

The legislation outlined above does not go beyond the recommendations of the Supreme Court, meaning, if passed, abortion in Ireland will be available only in extremely limited circumstances. The vast majority of women will be unaffected by the legislation and an average of 12 women a day will continue to travel to the UK and elsewhere seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

Back at home pro-life campaigners continue to boast about keeping Ireland abortion free, referencing an irrelevant statistic that Ireland is the “safest country in the world for a mother to have a baby” whilst wilfully ignoring the reality staring them in the face – abortion is a reality for women in Ireland, it just doesn’t happen in Ireland (neither the government nor international human rights bodies have been able to find evidence of a single lawful abortion ever carried out in this country).

For those unable to go overseas due to financial constraints or asylum status among other reasons, a crisis pregnancy presents an extremely traumatic situation, and illustrates how the current regulation of abortion disproportionately affects the most vulnerable women, such as minors, undocumented women, and women in living in poverty. The voices of these women and those who make the journey overseas are largely absent from public debate on abortion.

The complete and utter failure of cowardly, self-obsessed politicians unwilling to stick their heads above the parapet has resulted in two decades of stalling and bouncing this issue from working group to committee to occasional referendum – both of which upheld the Supreme Court ruling – and then leaving reports and recommendations to gather dust.

By denying the most basic level of reproductive rights Irish governments continue to actively sabotage the health of women in Ireland. The continued export of this problem has allowed successive governments to abdicate responsibility, ignoring the financial and emotional burden placed upon women who choose to travel abroad for a termination, and disregarding the discriminatory ways in which current abortion regulation impacts upon the most vulnerable groups of women in our society – those who cannot leave the State. At the same time, funding cuts to organisations such as the Irish Family Planning Association are impairing service provision whilst growing numbers of women are finding themselves unable to afford sexual and reproductive health services.

Despite two referendums and the liberalisation of public opinion on this issue, attempts to get this legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas are likely to be met with bitter resistance from the pro-life movement for whom abortion is the last battleground following the legalisation of contraception and divorce in the 80s and 90s.

Labour TDs and Senators need to be forced into a corner – legislating for X has long been Labour Party policy and voting down legislation you agree with purely because it has been put forward by the opposition is a perfect example of the sham that is our parliamentary democracy. It will be difficult for Labour deputies such as Anne Ferris who have long campaigned on this issue to vote against this Bill and, if their hand is forced, they should do so on the back of a clear commitment by Cabinet to introduce the government’s own legislation within a specified time period.

It is 2012. At a minimum, a woman who is suicidal as a result of an unwanted pregnancy should be able to terminate that pregnancy in this State. A rape victim, unable to afford to travel to the UK, should not have to carry – for nine months – the physical evidence of being forced to have sexual intercourse against her will. A woman with an anencephalic pregnancy should not be forced to carry to full-term a baby that stands no chance of survival. This is Ireland in the 21st century. And it’s a disgrace. {jathumbnailoff}

Image top: mag3737.