Welcome to another ARC Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. In this week’s “can’t miss” news we see the effects of reproductive health actions and legislation falling far short of the needs and calls for change in Ireland and the US.
The Heads of Bill of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy (reported in some places as having originally been “Protection of Maternal Life During Pregnancy”) was published this week to disappointment on a variety of fronts; with FG TD “vowing to change the legislation” and some TDs supporting it, women’s health groups. The ARC calls for a response to real concerns about women who are not covered by the Heads of Bill and the bureaucratic burden placed on physicians and the privacy of women seeking terminations.
The Irish Family Planning Association reported an increase in the use of Mifepristone and Misoprostol–also known as the Abortion Pill–in Ireland and leveled criticism that the Heads of Bill will not respond to the economic reasons that such a method are chosen. Indeed, acquiring and using the abortion pill could possibly carry a 14 year sentence as covered in Head 19 of the Heads of Bill according to
Only a week after vowing to support reproductive health and freedom, the Obama administration is undertaking to appeal a move to allow the “morning-after pill” be available over the counter to women 15 and over in the US. With bill after bill aiming to reduce access to abortion and reproductive freedom, sexual and reproductive health advocates found the challenge to contraceptive access to be yet another betrayal of the promises made to women’s health groups.
And in an act of solidarity, Deirdre Collins revealed her identity as “D” the women who took the legal case against the state after being forced to travel to access an abortion in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities over a decade ago.
A major confrontation between church and state appears inevitable, as Ireland’s clergy voiced strong opposition to draft X-case legislation, which was published last week. The UK Independent reported that the Church is restating its implacable opposition to abortion, despite a majority of the public supporting new measures to allow abortion in certain tightly-defined circumstances. (The Independent) Roman Catholic leaders have appealed to the public to lobby lawmakers to reject the bill that would permit abortions deemed necessary where there is a real and substantive threat to the life of the woman, including threat to life from suicide.
Cardinal Seán Brady has said the provisions proposed in the Heads of the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill, if passed, would permit the direct intentional killing of an innocent life. He said that is morally unacceptable. (RTE) He has also indicated that the Catholic Church may launch a legal challenge to the Government’s proposed abortion legislation, as the bill does not give institutions – such as Catholic hospitals – the option to refuse performing abortions on conscientious grounds. (Irish Independent) Politicians, he said, “have an obligation to oppose the laws that are attacking something so fundamental as the right to life and they would have to follow their own conscience.”
In response, Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore said the bishops were entitled to express their opinion, but that the legislation was intended to bring clarity to existing Irish law. (NewYork Times) The Taoiseach has told Cardinal Sean Brady that politicians have a duty and responsibility to legislate for limited abortion. (Irish Times)
There has been mixed reaction to the protection of life in pregnancy bill, which the Irish cabinet approved on 30th April 2013, with the fears of neither side in the abortion debate being assuaged by the proposed legislation.(Sides on abortion debate give blunt views – Irish Times) It has drawn outright condemnation from anti-abortion activists, while eliciting frank disappointment from those who support a more liberal regime. (Omissions guarantee divisive abortion issue will return – Irish Times)
Journalists for both the Guardian and the Irish Times used the word misogynistic in their coverage of the proposed legislation. Henry McDonald, writing in The Guardian said that an international pro-choice organisation described Ireland’s draft abortion legislation as offensive and misogynistic when it comes to dealing with women seeking terminations because they are suicidal (The Guardian) While Jacky Jones in the Irish Times claimed that the current abortion debate exposes deep-rooted misogynistic and sexist attitudes to Irish women’s reproductive health and rights. (Irish Times) Gene Kerrigan in the Irish Independent expressed the view that we cherish life so much that the wishes of a pregnant woman count for nothing. (The Irish Independent)
The Associated Press reported that pro choice activists particularly oppose the bill’s provisions for women who threaten to kill themselves if they are denied a termination. The bill specifies that three doctors — the woman’s obstetrician and two psychologists — must determine that the suicide risk is substantial. If denied, the woman would have a right of appeal to a panel of three other doctors. (NPR) The Guardian quoted, Johanna Westeson, regional director for Europe at the Centre for Reproductive Rights as saying “The more barriers Ireland creates for women seeking legal abortion, the more likely women in crisis situations will opt to travel abroad than subject themselves to this humiliating process that the bill sets forth. This means that Ireland will continue to be in violation of its human rights obligation to make legal abortion accessible in practice.” (The Guardian)
The bill would set a maximum 14-year prison sentence for anyone involved in an illegal abortion, whether doctor or patient. This means that since disseminating information on how to buy early abortion pills is illegal in the Republic, under the new legislation those helping to procure an illicit termination could risk being jailed for up to 14 years. (The Guardian)
Under the proposed legislation abortion in Ireland will still be illegal in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. Many women who have had to travel abroad or believed that they might have to shared their personal stories in media over the last week. (Irish Independent) (Irish Examiner) The Irish Times has reported that Independent Waterford TD John Halligan said he defied any member of the Dáil to look in the eye of a pregnant rape victim, or a woman carrying a baby certain to die, and say the Oireachtas had a greater entitlement to control her body. (Irish Times)
Finally, the proposed bill would have no effect on the vast majority of the estimated 4,000 Irish women annually who travel to England to seek abortions.