10 Jun 2015

Ireland criticised for abortion laws

The Irish government is being urged to update its abortion laws and stop exporting the procedure to England.

Women and girls who terminate their pregnancies in Ireland could face up to 14 years in jail, so as many as 12 girls and women from Ireland travel to England every day, Amnesty International says.

They are calling for the Irish parliament to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish constitution to remove the protection of the right to life of the foetus, in order to decriminalise the many thousands of Irish women who have accessed abortions.

They also criticised the methods of intimidation used by anti-choice groups, and applauded groups and individuals who spoke out for women’s rights against Ireland’s “draconian legal regime”.

Miss X

Abortion was illegal in Ireland under all circumstances until the case of “Miss X” in 1992 when a 14-year-old girl, who had been raped and was suicidal was prevented from leaving the country to have a termination.

The Irish High Court ruled there was a constitutional right to an abortion where there was a “real and substantial risk” to the mother’s life, but no legislation was introduced until 2013, after the international outcry that surrounded the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died after suffering a miscarriage and septicaemia in 2012.

In 2013, the Irish parliament passed The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (2013), described by Amnesty International as “one of the world’s most restrictive”, which stipulated that abortion was permissible only if the mother’s life was it risk, including at the risk of suicide.

The report criticised the application of this law, as it appears to have failed its first test case – that of Ms Y.

Ms Y

Ms Y is a young woman who arrived in Ireland in February 2014 as a refugee, having been raped and held against her will by a paramilitary in her country of origin.

She discovered she was pregnant once she arrived, to her distress, and immediately attempted to get an abortion.

Her lawyer Caoimhe Haughey told Channel 4 News: “The issue in this case is that my client was told she could not have an abortion in this country and that she would have to travel abroad. She was not advised of her rights under the protection of life during pregnancy act, more importantly was she referred for appropriate evaluation under the act, notwithstanding her very clear expression of suicidality.”

Ms Y faced with various obstacles that prevented her from travelling abroad – including having to obtain a visa and a temporary travel permit by filling out forms in English – a language that she did not speak, as well as pay the costs of estimated at 1,300 euros.

In July 2014, Ms Y arrived in England, but was detained and eventually sent back to Ireland, during which time she was hospitalised and made multiple suicide attempts.

She eventually went on hunger strike, refusing food and drink, the report details, and was only persuaded to come off when she was promised she would receive a “termination.”

Ms Haughey described what happened to the authors of the Amnesty report:

“The termination” (as it was described) was postponed and postponed again amidst legal wrangling, resulting in an emergency application to the High Court. In early August 2014, an order was obtained […] from the High Court to effectively force feed and hydrate Ms. Y; an order which was later abandoned. A number of days later, Ms. Y delivered Baby Y by caesarean section.”

Moral position

The case of Ms Y has inspired yet another generation of Irish women to campaign for their abortion rights, and activists are hoping the success of the campaign for marriage equality last month could be replicated in the movement to repeal the 8th Amendment.

Jan Ni Shuilleabhan was forced to travel to England to have a termination when she was 18-year-old.

She told Channel 4 News the process cost her eight hundred Irish punts at the time, and was one of the most stressful events of her life.

“It was incredibly hard to organise – back in 1993 there were no mobiles. Our contraception – which itself was illegal at the time – had failed, and I had no access to the morning after pill. The first time I was on airplane was the first time I went to have abortion. Every time I see an airplane seat belt buckle it reminds me that I had to leave the country.”

Ms Ni Shuilleabhain is now a mother of two children and an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, and has herself risked 14 years in jail by sharing vital information to other Irish women seeking terminations. She said she hoped the report by Amnesty International would make political parties act to reflect what she says is the changed mood of the country.

“I hope this report will change the misconception that being pro-life is a moral position. We can clearly see that is not the situation. Polls show again and again that people do support having the option, but none of the major parties, despite some posturing, have said they will definitely support a motion to Repeal the 8th.