The Blanket

Index: Current Articles

The problems that exist in the world can't be solved by the same type of thinking that caused them.
- Albert Einstein



Abortion - The Human Right to Kill

Aine Fox


We in the North of Ireland are continually led to believe by the Westminster Government that we are not a part of the south, why then do we share their laws?

Abortion is legal in Great Britain with the exception of the North of Ireland. In the South of Ireland abortion is illegal under the same premise as in the north. The 1862 Offences against the person act still applies to Northern Ireland unlike the current UK government legislation. This means that legally life imprisonment can be a consequence for anyone found guilty of " performing, attempting to perform or assisting in an abortion" In 1929 the Infant life (preservation) act was extended to Northern Ireland which permits abortions " for the purpose of preserving life".

So therefore abortions are illegal, but if there is a risk that the mother will die as a direct consequence of the pregnancy and / or childbirth it is legal to carry out an abortion. In the North of Ireland a review of abortion law in 1993 concluded that most political parties would be content to see abortion available under some circumstances. All with the exception of Catholic parties and Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterians. (Well at least there’s something Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley had in common)

In the South of Ireland there was a referendum held on March 6th, in regards to Abortion Legislation. A huge campaign to vote no to the referendum was successful and pressure is mounting for a campaign for legalisation of abortion has picked up pace and support all over the country.

The main reasoning behind this is the high numbers of Irish women travelling to Britain for abortions. Since the Abortion Act in England and Wales in 1967 at least 95, 000 Irish women have sought the freedom to travel across the water to have abortions. According to the Irish family planning association 39.5 % of these women have not availed of counselling services. By region Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow are most highly represented being responsible for 54% of all cases. The highest level in age groups was the 20-24 age group in parallel with British women. The majority of abortions being carried out within the 12-week gestation period.

According to some the proposed Fianna Fàil policies could subsequently have made the abortion law a draconian one like in Portugal where recently 17 women and nurses were arrested and accused of taking part in or having abortion. Over 40,000 women in Portugal use clandestine abortion clinics, which result in deaths, suicide and illnesses. Are these problems ones that could be faced here in Ireland if abortion remains illegal?

Those in opposition to Ahern’s beliefs state that not allowing those who have been raped or are victim to incestuous abuse no longer legally avail of abortions is wrong. This main factor why some parties, like Sinn Fein are, also took part in the NO VOTE campaign. The people however ultimately decided what was to happen and that is one of the benefits of living in a democracy.

What therefore will happen to legislation in the North of Ireland - will we still be stuck with legislation that’s been around from the beginning of the last century?

Abortion is an issue that legislators in the north need to address. Abortion appears legally a grey area. The issue is often left to the subjectivity of medical professionals. However since the 1967 Act, it is estimated that 40,000 women from the north have travelled to the UK to have abortions.

These statistics are thought to be higher as Ann Furedi - Director of communication for the British Advisory Services states that many Irish women that come to clinics will not give their correct identities and addresses.

"Irish women are made more desperate by the lack of legal abortion". They have three times the average UK rate of late abortions- (20wks+ gestation) this is a direct result of having to travel. The women that attend the UK clinics range from teenagers to married women with children they love who are fearful that they cannot provide for another.In conclusion therefore Irish women have a definite need for care in their own country.

The Abortion issue is often viewed as a moral debate. It calls into question the value of life and when one is entitled to have such rights. Gregory Koulk, a pro-life writer suggests to us that the abortion debate is one of human rights issue.

When people argue for or against abortion they have basic principles that form their attitudes and values. Each holding a diversity of convictions neither has debated the issue completely and publicly. It is an area that a lot of people are emotional about - pro life campaigners cry out loudly that abortions are killing human beings; the pro choice campaigners on the other end are crying for a women’s right to choose what happens to their bodies.

It is generally accepted that while in gestation ‘the foetus’ is a living being although not yet a person it holds the potential of being a person. (Just as an egg has the potential to be a chick or an acorn an oak tree) So does the right of a woman to choose what happens to her body override the potential of the foetus to become a person?

It is fact however that a woman cannot do to her body that which she wishes and therefore nonsensical to place this argument in the centre of pro-choice campaigns. Prostitution is illegal, an anorexic or bulimic woman can be held under the mental health act and treatment forced. If a woman uses her body as a weapon on others she will be prosecuted.

The sensitive issues of rape and incest are emotive for both pro-life and pro-choice activists. Each stating their moral standpoint on termination of pregnancy because of rape or incestuous abuse. Pro-life campaigners see termination under such circumstances as not aiding the pregnant female but causing more pain and need for medical treatment.

Pro-choice campaigners believe that in such cases the woman has the right to terminate the already conceived foetus. The problem here is actually focusing on the morality and legality of such a scenario. The woman can end the life of an unborn child who did not choose its conception. Would the law permit the woman terminating the rapist or perpetrator of incest? If the woman were to be faced with her offender she would not legally be permitted to physically harm the person let alone end his existence.

The right of a woman to end a pregnancy solely on the basis that it is her body is not a conclusive argument. Pro life campaigner Eileen Mc Donagh in " Breaking the Abortion deadlock : From choice to consent" goes as far to state that the foetus is a trespasser in the females body so therefore termination is well within a woman’s right. The definition however of a trespasser is one whom is not in their rightful place. Where else is a foetus supposed to go upon conception? Is the fault of the conceived foetus that it is unwanted by its host? Would the law facilitate and legalise the termination of trespassers elsewhere?

In a scenario that a female was pregnant and wanted an abortion yet the male wants his baby to be given the right to life and his choice was to raise and provide for the child the female should not be legally permitted to have an abortion. The irony presented, is that current legislation states absent fathers be traced and made to pay for the upkeep of their children via the CSA (Child Support Agency) subsequently if a woman has a child and the man wishes not to participate in the raising or providing for the child why should the government be able to force the person to contribute via structured compulsory wage deductions.

There are many angles to the abortion debate and it is a debate that is much needed within our communities. The referendum recently in the south was unsuccessful in bringing into the public domain all sides and facets of the abortion issue. The need for abortion services for the population of Ireland both north and south is clearly presented by statistics alone. This needs to be addressed by legislators.

It is time that our politicians focused on issues seen as sensitive apart from the forever ongoing decommissioning debate that appears to be used by some to mask all the other problems and issues that our community currently faces.

We are intent on riding our society of violence and death yet we ignore the silent scream of our unborn children.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives