Briefing Document – December 2012

Briefing Document – December 2012

Briefing notes for visiting public representatives – December 2012

The current media climate in Ireland surrounding the abortion issue is very confused. There are three things which you need to do for your public representative:

(i)              Clarify the issues

(ii)             Explain your own position

(iii)            Ask what they will be doing to ensure Ireland remains safe for mothers and babies

(i) Clarifying the Issues

a) X Case 1992

The X Case judgement of 1992, which held that a pregnant woman who claimed to be suicidal could have an abortion under the law, can safely be regarded as flawed. The case heard no medical evidence and set no time limit on abortion. This means than a woman could get an abortion at any stage during pregnancy up until birth if she claimed to be suicidal. There is no medical evidence to suggest that abortion is helpful in the treatment of mental health conditions. Psychiatrists on both sides of the debate agree that abortion is not a solution to suicidal ideation. In fact many studies show that abortion is harmful to women’s mental health. Among such studies is the Finnish[1] study which showed that the incidence of suicide among women who had an abortion was six times that among women who had given birth to a baby.

Countries where abortion was introduced on mental health grounds have seen the development of very liberal abortion regimes over time. Furthermore the X-case set no time limits, so any legislation which offers restricted access to abortion, would be challengeable in the Supreme Court. 

b) Galway Case 2012

The Savita Halappanavar case may be influencing your public representatives thinking at present but it has nothing to do with abortion. Whilst we cannot comment on the facts of the case until they are known, we do know that the Irish Medical Council guidelines are very clear and allow for interventions to save the life of the mother even when that results in the unfortunate death of the unborn child.

What is needed from government is not abortion legislation but an affirmation of the two-patient care model which looks after the mother but includes a duty of care towards the unborn child.

c) European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) case in ABC v Ireland – 2010

In the ABC v Ireland judgment the ECHR directed us to clarify our laws in relation to medical care given to pregnant women. Only C's case was upheld. ‘C’ was a woman who had previously had cancer and wanted to know what medical treatment she was entitled to if she became pregnant and the cancer returned. After consulting the internet and her own doctor she couldn't find out what treatment she could get. What is necessary here is for us to provide clarity not legislation.  This can be done by developing clear guidelines in this regard.

d) Expert Group Report – November 2012

The report of the Government’s Expert Group on abortion issued recently. This report set out four options as to how this issue could be dealt with.  It has been interpreted as calling for legislation primarily because of its dismissal of non-statutory guidelines as a viable possibility. This dismissal of non-statutory guidelines however, is not properly explained or defended in the report and is open to serious criticism.  It is our view that the non-statutory guidelines option is the way to proceed.

(ii) Explain your own position

At the heart of our concern is the protection of human life, both mother and baby. We do not see it as either mother or baby. Both are treated as individuals. It is our view that Ireland should retain its protection of the unborn and that this has no bearing on the standards of maternal care in this country. This is borne out by the fact that Ireland is a consistent leader in safety in pregnancy and remains safer for pregnant women than Britain where a liberal abortion regime is in place. The introduction of any legislation will ultimately lead to abortion on demand. The flawed X case ruling makes any legislation too vulnerable.

(iii) Ask what they will do about it

It is important to remember that the ECHR does not require us to make legislative changes in line with the X Case. It only requires that clarity is given to women about what treatment they can get in pregnancy. We believe that the Government should return to the Council of Ministers in Europe and that the clarity required under ABC v Ireland be given by enhancing current guidelines in this area. At this point, we want clear guidelines for doctors to ensure that women receive all necessary medical treatments in pregnancy and that a duty of care towards the unborn child is maintained.   

We do not want legislation (however restrictive it may look) as we have seen in other countries how limited abortion progresses to become widespread over time. 

The X Case is flawed and ultimately will have to be reversed by a properly-worded constitutional amendment.  That remains our long term goal.


*The European Journal of Public Health 2005  15 (5): 459-463, Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland by Mika Gissler, Cynthia Berg, Marie Helene Bouvier-Colle and Pierre Buekens.

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