Weekly Roundup: a week and a half (upon many) of waiting for the law to change

Welcome to another Weekly Roundup, where each week our MediaWatch team highlights how abortion is discussed in the media at home and abroad. Although this week we’re covering more than just a week’s worth of coverage, which saw the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill go from the Seanad to the president – and stall there before finally getting signed into law.

Seanad debate

Last Monday, the Seanad began debating the bill and Labour senator Ivan Bacik told TheJournal.ie that she was looking forward “to a respectful and reflective debate.”

Perhaps this was too much to ask for, as Fianna Fáil senator Jim Walsh’s graphic input on the debate was labelled “disgusting” and party colleague Brian Ó Domhnaill confused fatal foetal abnormalities with disabilities and claimed that abortions in these cases would deprive future Special Olympics athletes of being born.

Fine Gael senator Imelda Henry claimed the Pro-Life Campaign was contacting senators with an offer of votes to save the Seanad in exchange for a vote against the bill. Fianna Fáil senator Ned O’Sullivan also addressed what he deemed to be bullying tactics from the Pro-Life Campaign and the Catholic Church with its veiled threats of excommunication.

Labour senator John Gilroy, a former psychiatric nurse, criticised the dated attitudes towards mental health expressed by opponents to the suicide clause in the bill, particularly Fidelma Healy-Eames.

In the end, the bill passed the second stage in the upper house by 41 votes to 15. Opposition came from Fine Gael senators Healy-Eames (and her heavy heart) and Paul Bradford (husband of Lucinda Creighton), who lost the party whip as a result. The bill was also opposed by the majority of Fianna Fáil senators and some independents.

Online commentary

As the bill was debated in the Seanad, it was also weighed up by commenters online.

In an opinion piece in the Guardian, Laurie Penny discussed the ongoing battle for abortion rights in Ireland and the US and the rhetoric used by the anti-choice side, which purports to care for women yet does not allow them the right to decide what happens with their own bodies.

On HuffPost UK’s student portal, philosophy student Kathryn Langston reflected on the many ways an unwanted pregnancy can dramatically alter a woman’s life if she is not given the choice not to go through with it.

At home, Nick Beard – a phone volunteer, host and tweeter for the Abortion Support Network – wrote a passionate column for TheJournal.ie reminding the Government that restricting abortion in Ireland does not stop it from happening, it simply makes it an issue of economic inequality.

Brendan Kelly, consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer in psychiatry at University College Dublin, conveyed the facts about psychiatry and suicide in terms of the abortion debate, and Gerry Whyte, who teaches in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Law, listed five issues that could prompt referral of the bill to the Supreme Court.

Galway Pro-Choice continued to fight the good fight, writing a letter to the Galway Independent in response to a previously published letter from Prof Eamon O’Dwyer that was believed to have misled readers by presenting an opinion held by a small percentage of obstetricians and gynaecologists as medical fact.

We also had these interesting (and great-looking) statistics on abortion in Ireland published by GetBulb.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the debate, the Pope appealed for care for life from conception to its natural end, a message intended to coincide with the Seanad debate.

Ireland’s lack of care for women seeking abortions

We also had two high-profile abortion stories hitting the headlines over the past week and a half.

One concerned a man who, convinced that his girlfriend’s parents were forcing her to travel to the UK for an abortion, requested an injunction from the High Court to prevent her from doing so. This was reportedly supported by anti-abortion groups the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and Precious Life, who said they were willing to cover any costs involved.

The second story focused on the tragic death of a woman resident in Ireland following an abortion in the UK, a matter that shocked Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald.

The Irish Times spoke to Anna Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advice Service, and Mara Clarke, director of the Abortion Support Network in London, about the additional hardships faced by women travelling from Ireland to the UK for abortions – including financial costs, stress and the emotional toll – and the lengths some women go to just to afford the procedure.

“We’re concerned that this is now the fourth non-Irish woman that we know of in the last three years to die tragically while pregnant and under the care of an Irish maternity hospital. Of those four, it’s certain that two requested access to an abortion in the hospital responsible for their care and were denied it,” said Stephanie Fleming, ARC spokesperson.

The Irish Family Planning Association chief executive Niall Behan highlighted the stark contrast in care between Ireland and the UK, saying, “If they [the couple] were resident in the UK and there was a serious health issue the abortion would be available to them, free of charge on the NHS.”

The National Women’s Council of Ireland also weighed in on the matter, pointing to the need for safe and legal abortion services in Ireland and the “unworkable” distinction between a threat to the health and threat to the life of the mother, while Socialist Party councillor Ruth Coppinger said the incident raised questions about the care received by women forced to leave the jurisdiction for abortion services.

The Pro-Life Campaign’s Cora Sherlock believed the tragedy demonstrated the dangers of abortion to the mother.

It’s important to note that this woman died in January 2012 and her family are still waiting for an inquest. “I think if this was an Irish or a British woman, we would know what happened to her. But I am still waiting for answers,” her husband told The Irish Times. He also said he was frustrated at the lack of assistance from some Irish authorities in seeking an abortion for his wife.

In light of this and persistent claims that Ireland provides some of the best maternity care in the world, Jane Travers, a mum-of-one from Kildare, established the @maternityire Twitter account where women were invited to share their stories of pregnancy, birth and miscarriage in Irish hospitals. These stories demonstrate a lack of resources and compassion in Ireland’s maternity care, and continue to be shared via the hashtag #maternityire.

What next?

As we begin to look towards another week in abortion rights campaigning, President Michael D Higgins convened a meeting of the Council of State to consult on the legislation before he ultimately decided to sign it and not refer it to the Supreme Court.

Even as the bill was being debated in the Seanad, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte was already washing his hands of the abortion issue, claiming on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that it would not be revisited in the lifetime of this Government. The core issue he highlighted was the Attorney General’s advice that cases involving fatal foetal abnormalities, inevitable miscarriage, rape or incest could not be dealt with under the current constitution.

But the eighth amendment will be contested in the new Dáil term by abortion rights activists and several TDs, including United Left deputy Joan Collins and independent TD John Halligan, who intend to campaign for a referendum.

This week, why not check out ‘Against the Tide’, an exhibition of photographs from women’s protests in the eighties which opened on Friday in Avenue Road Gallery in Dublin and derive some inspiration from generations of campaigners that have gone before us. Remember to like Abortion Rights Campaign on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for regular updates.