Sunday, 6 May 2007

Abortion limbo

The Republic of Ireland may be rushing into the future at breakneck speed and shedding its insular past with gusto, but when it comes to abortion, attitudes are still remarkably strait-laced.

Miss D, who is 17 and four months pregnant, is asking the Irish High Court to restrain the Health Service Executive from stopping her going to Britain for an abortion.

She has been told her baby has a medical condition which means it won't survive for more than three days after birth.

Her mother supports her wish for an abortion, but the HSE has opposed it, informed the Gardai (police) and actually prevented a passport being issued so she is unable to travel abroad.

The reason she wants to travel to Britain, like many other pregnant women before her, is because abortion is still illegal in the Republic, except when the mother's life is at risk or she is suicidal.

As Breda O'Brien writes in the Irish Times: "A police state where women suspected of being pregnant could be prevented from leaving the country would be utterly repugnant."

It is still not accepted in the Republic that it is up to women to decide whether they want to continue a pregnancy or not. The State and the Church still insist on getting involved, despite the widespread opposition of women who have increasing autonomy in virtually every other area of life but not in this one.

It may well be the case that some women who have had an abortion later regret the fact and feel profound grief and remorse. They may also suffer medical complications that mean they cannot conceive again. But the risk of traumatic consequences is no reason to take away a woman's right to control her own pregnancy and decide whether or not she wants her baby.

The High Court is due to make a decision sometime this week. I sincerely hope they decide in Miss D's favour. But how absurd that this issue is on their agenda in the first place.

PS: Here in Northern Ireland the law on abortion is so confused the Department of Health is about to issue detailed guidelines on provision for it. This follows pressure from the Family Planning Association which is working to increase women's reproductive rights.


  1. The whole thing is incredible. My heart goes out to the young woman. I just can't imagine how she can cope with all this.
    It's like living in a super strict communist state.

  2. Indeed, how does she cope? The abortion issue on its own is agonising enough, without having to deal with all the busybody authorities telling her what's best for her.

  3. Apart from the tragedy of such thinking being visited upon this unfortunate young woman, my mind goes back to Monty Python and the "Every sperm is sacred" song.

    I sure wish my country of birth would grow up and stop treating women like helpless children in need of protection from their own infantile decisions.

  4. I think it's the Church in particular that wants people to see themselves as helpless children needing constant guidance from wiser (i.e. religious) individuals. The idea of an omniscient Divine Authority still appeals to an awful lot of people.

  5. Strange how religious myopes can be so unwavering when it supports the life of the unborn child, and yet the same bunch of "moral guardians" have no qualms about bombing Iraqui/palestinian women and children.
    It is not the welfare of the people that they hold sacred, but the pleasure and perversions of their own power.

  6. So true. How easily the slippery attractions of power take over from altruism and sincerity.