Photo Credit: William Hederman and Eilis Murphy

Photo Credit: William Hederman and Eilis Murphy

The Abortion Rights Campaign [ARC] regretfully announces that following extensive analysis, we find the ‘Protection of Life During Pregnancy’ Bill is not fit for purpose. This legislation does not establish safe and accessible abortion in Ireland as mandated by the X Case ruling. ARC is submitting amendments to this problematic legislation and unless significant changes are made, ARC cannot stand behind the so-called ‘Protection of Life During Pregnancy’ Bill.

The Bill is flawed in its criminalisation of abortion seekers and healthcare professionals. Other serious issues include the remaining lack of clarity, loose terms and provisions with respect to “conscientious objection,” and its non-medically supported definition of the term “unborn.” The proposed legislation currently allows for an unspecified fine or a jail sentence of up to fourteen years for the estimated thousands of women in Ireland who self-administer the abortion pill each year, during the early weeks of pregnancy. These women, and the people who assist them – friends, partners and families will be subject to penalties for accessing a procedure that the government has acknowledged the need for when it asked the people to guarantee the freedom to travel as long ago as 1992.

The UN and Council of Europe have warned that criminalisation creates a far more dangerous situation for these women- not only those attempting self abortion but those who access legal abortion abroad and suffer complications on return to Ireland (as demonstrated during the A B and C case). They  are less likely to seek urgent medical assistance as they fear punitive fines or prison time. This is legislation we can’t live with.”

The Irish Family Planning Association has drawn attention to the strong criticism of the European Court of Human Rights of the inclusion of harsh criminal sanctions in its judgement in the A, B and C v Ireland case. It concluded that criminalisation created a significant ‘chilling factor’ for both women and their doctors, dissuading healthcare professionals from suggesting a termination when the termination is medically necessary. When Doctors are forced to hesitate and check the law before providing treatment to a patient –  it is clear that the law protects neither the patient, nor the healthcare providers they interact with. The so-called Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill does not make Ireland a safer place for pregnant women. If anything, this Bill makes it worse.

Not only are the women and families who need access to abortions for fatal foetal abnormalities not included under this Bill – the definition of the unborn given specifically ensures that they can’t and won’t have access to the healthcare they need in Ireland. This is a terrible injustice to the women and families who are a part of the Termination For Medical Reasons (TFMR) group and those many thousands of others who have suffered the indignity of travel to access a necessary abortion.

The Bill is also deeply problematic for women facing emergency medical situations like those faced by Savita Halappanavar, as this legislation would most likely not have clarified procedure enough to save her life.  What are the people of Ireland and all over the world to think and feel, knowing that even after the passing of this law, she and others could still be left to die in the Ireland of 2013?

Unless the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is amended to remove the criminalisation and provisions are made to provide real access to abortion in Ireland, we are all no better off than before. This is legislation we simply can’t live with.