Following the story broken by the Irish Times on Thursday July 3rd, the Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) acknowledged the publishing of guidelines on the implementation of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013. However, these guidelines, coming seven months after the commencement of the Act, do little to lessen the impact of the onerous processes women seeking abortion in Ireland face. During the passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas, ARC stated that this was ‘Legislation We Can’t Live With’. Now with more clarity around the restrictions women will encounter, we repeat our call for real, practicable access to abortion in Ireland. Even for women who fit the criteria of a ‘real and substantial risk’ to life, these guidelines fall far short of genuinely safeguarding their lives, to say nothing of their health.
We object strongly to the additional burdens the guidelines force upon physicians for proof of risk to life and upon those who are already at risk of suicide. A process which requires the appraisal of multiple medical professionals can only add to the stigma which continues to surround mental health in Ireland. There are chilling parallels between these guidelines, and attitudes of the recent past, when the State was complicit in silencing and shaming people out of their rights and freedoms. The requirements erect insurmountable barriers to the ‘effective and accessible’ access to abortion demanded by the the European Court of Human Rights.
The publishing of these guidelines, coming seven months after they were required, echoes the 20 years we waited for X Case legislation in the first place. If these guidelines can help any woman access an abortion that will save her life, then we welcome their implementation. However the release of the guidelines serves as a reminder that if they are not adhered to there is now a threat of fourteen years’ imprisonment, we know that many women who should be entitled to an abortion could be denied one by doctors for fear of potential criminal sanction. As long as this “chilling factor” remains, any process of accessing abortion in Ireland will have the threat of criminalisation hanging over it, jeopardising standards of care and any entitlements in the legislation.’
ARC calls once more for real access to abortion for all people in Ireland including repeal of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which has been used to unnecessarily criminalise the procedure and keep the issue of abortion out of the domain of healthcare and in the penal code.