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Ireland and abortion
   
  Abortion in Ireland
Update and comment
14/06/01

1. fpaNI granted leave for judicial review

Yesterday, the Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland was granted leave for a judicial review at the High Court in Belfast. This could lead to a change in the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. According to Audrey Simpson, director of fpaNI, the law on abortion is confused and unclear. Although the 1967 Abortion Act does not extend to Northern Ireland, 71 abortions were performed there in 1999, mainly for fetal abnormality. Most women seeking abortion however, travel from Northern Ireland to England; around 2, 000 do so each year.

'No one is clear about the guidelines so the decisions are being left up to individual doctors' said Simpson. 'We are taking this case on behalf of women who are entitled to the same access to reproductive healthcare services as the rest of the UK."

Lord Lester QC, a human-rights lawyer who is representing the fpaNI, said it was not within the court's remit to seek a change in the law. But he argued the Stormont department of health, headed by Sinn Fein minister Bairbre de Brun, must issue guidance to ease the burden on women facing unwanted pregnancies. 'The department can't shelter behind legal uncertainty as a justification for taking no action,' he said.

Predictably, anti-abortion campaigners have condemned the actions of the fpaNI. Betty Gibson, Northern Ireland spokeswoman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: 'The fpa is part of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, which is committed to introducing abortion on demand throughout the world by all possible means.'

Mr Justice Kerr gave anti-abortion organisations and the Catholic bishops three weeks to make written submissions, detailing why they should be allowed to participate in the judicial review. The fpaNI will then have three weeks to reply. The department of health will have this six week period to submit its statement, and the court will reconvene on September 12 to set a date for the hearing.

References
Rosie Cowan Ulster faces court challenge over abortion, The Guardian, June 14, 2001

2. Women on Waves

Extensive media debate has followed the launch of a ship, by the Dutch organisation Women on Waves. The ship, staffed by medically trained crew, is equipped to perform abortions early in pregnancy, and seeks to highlight the problem of illegal abortion. It first stopping point will be Dublin. The following statement is from BPAS.

Statement in support of Women on Waves from British Pregnancy Advisory Service

BPAS, Britain's largest provider of abortion services, welcomes the Women on Waves initiative to highlight the problems caused to women when abortion is illegal. In 2000 6,381 women travelled from Ireland to have abortions in Britain.

Abortion is a fact of life for women in Ireland, just as it is in Britain. In modern society, we expect to decide if and when to have children. We expect to enjoy sex without the fear of pregnancy. But we cannot regulate our fertility by contraception alone. Even when contraception is used carefully it can fail and so, if we are to plan our families, women need access to safe, legal abortion services.

Women in Ireland need access to abortion just as much as women in the rest of Europe. Because Irish women cannot find a solution to their crisis pregnancies in their home country they endure the indignity and expense of travelling abroad. At BPAS, we are proud to provide an affordable, high quality abortion service, but women from Ireland should be able to come to our clinics in Britain out of choice and not out of necessity because they are denied abortion in their home country.

Irish laws are a matter for Irish people - but no one can deny the need for abortion in Ireland. Irish women use abortion services, just as British women use abortion services. Our Irish clients are much the same as our British clients. The difference is that they have to travel hundreds of miles for the basic reproductive health care that most women throughout Europe and North America take for granted.

Most of the women we see are not 'sad victims'. They are normal women who feel that they should be able to make reproductive decisions for themselves. We see teenagers who arrive, sometimes alone, but more usually with their mum or aunt. We see married women who love their existing children but feel unable or willing to add to their family. We see professional women who have other priorities. We see women who were at one time happy to be pregnant but for whom a change in circumstances means they now feel unable to have the child they once wanted. We see women who have been unable to obtain contraception and women whose contraception has failed them.

Laws prohibiting abortion do not prevent it. They simply punish women by making it more difficult to obtain.

Statistics

Residents of Irish Republic having abortions in England and Wales 1996 to 2000*

Year Total
<2000 <6381
<1999 <6226
<1998 <5891
<1997 <5340
<1996 <4894
<* figures for 2000 are provisional

Gestation at time of abortion for BPAS clients in 2000

<Residence <<9 weeks <9-12 weeks <13-14 weeks <15-16 weeks <17-19 weeks <20+ weeks
<Republic of Ireland <30.4% <48.5% <7.8% <4.5% <4.4% <4.4%
<England and Wales <45.8% <36.2% <5.9% <4.4% <4.3% <3.4%

Age at time of abortion for BPAS clients in 2000

Residence <16
Republic of Ireland <0.4% <16% <37.5% <23.5% <12.4% <9.9% <0.3%
England & Wales <2% <19.2% <26.7% <21.6% <16.6% <13.6% <0.3%

To make an appointment with BPAS call +44 121 450 7700. Abortion care at BPAS costs from 345 to 720 depending on gestation.

 
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