The 2nd Medical Treatment Bill 2012 came before the Dail last night, Wednesday November 28th. The Bill was defeated by 101 votes to 27 and means that X case legislation will likely not be passed for at least six more months. In his speech, Mick calls on the Government to provide women in Ireland with this basic human right immediately. You can watch his contribution here.
For the past three weeks, crowds have gathered outside the Dáil each Wednesday evening to express their anger. On Saturday, November 17th, they marched through the streets of Dublin in their thousands, and they will do so again this Saturday, in Galway. It is clear, as it has been clear for two decades, that the majority of people of this country want action on abortion.
It is often difficult for individuals in Ireland to be openly pro-choice, and, for too long, women in this country who have had abortions, and those who advocate for reproductive rights, have been stigmatised, shamed and silenced.
The point has been rightly made over the last few weeks, that the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar should not be seen in isolation, but as the latest example of how problems within the maternity services and policies concerning reproductive rights in Ireland, continue to fail women.
This Bill is just a first step. It will not stop the misery that persists for so many women who are faced with crisis pregnancies and are left with little alternative but pack a bag and leave the country for a medical procedure which isn’t available on our ‘island of Saints and Scholars’.
During last night’s debate, Minister Shatter, to his credit, was strong on the issue, when he said – “Whatever decision is taken by Government, we cannot provide in this State for the termination of a pregnancy resulting from rape in the absence of the victim being suicidal. Neither can we provide for the termination of a pregnancy where there is a foetal abnormality which will, as a certainty, result in the birth of a baby unable to survive.” I would like to remind the Minister that the government are, in fact, in a position to call a referendum on the repeal of the 8th amendment of the Constitution. And if such a referendum were called, I believe it would pass with the support of a significant majority of the Irish people.
A crisis pregnancy can have an adverse effect on the ability of a woman to enjoy a range of human rights. An adolescent who becomes pregnant, is often forced to drop out of school, and is thus deprived of her right to an education. An unintended pregnancy can endanger a woman’s health, undermine her opportunities to earn a living, and trap her, and her entire family, in a cycle of poverty and exclusion.
A recent interim report by Anand Grover, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, examines, among other things, how laws and other legal restrictions are used to regulate abortion, the negative impact that such criminal laws and other legal restrictions may have on healthcare, on the freedom and human dignity of affected persons, particularly women, and on public health outcomes – he takes a general look at how these laws may violate the right to health.
Abortion is a health issue and a human right – and the report notes that women’s right to health requires the removal of all barriers interfering with access to health services, and mandates that women be provided the right to decide freely, and responsibly, on the number and spacing of their children.
Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality, and is not just confined to the absence of disease, or illness.
Criminal laws are enacted by countries to regulate conduct perceived as threatening, dangerous, or harmful to an individual or society – but where criminal law is used as a tool by government, to regulate the conduct and decision-making of individuals, in the context of the right to sexual and reproductive health, the government substitutes its will for that of the individual. This amounts to an interference with human dignity. Respect for dignity is fundamental to the realisation of all human rights. Dignity requires that individuals are free to make personal decisions without interference from the State.
Women often experience infringements of their right to sexual and reproductive health – persistent stereotyping of women’s roles within society and the family, establish and fuel societal norms. Many of these norms are based on the belief that the freedom of a woman, especially with regard to her sexual identity, should be curtailed and regulated – the same thinking seeks to justify State control over women’s lives, such as forcing women to continue unwanted, or unplanned, pregnancies.
Criminalisation generates and perpetuates stigma – laws and other legal restrictions disempower women, who may be deterred from taking steps to protect their health, in order to avoid liability, and out of fear of stigmatisation. These laws can also have a discriminatory effect, as they disproportionately affect women, and particularly those who are under 18, or from less well-off backgrounds, or whose immigration status may be uncertain.
Governments sometime try to justify these laws on the grounds of public morality – public morality cannot serve as a justification for enactment, or enforcement, of laws that may result in human rights violations – such as the deprivation of dignity and autonomy.
Ireland’s ban on abortion is a clear expression of State interference with a woman’s sexual and reproductive health because it restricts a woman’s control over her body, possibly subjecting her to unnecessary health risks, including a severe impact on her mental health. In some cases, women have committed suicide because of accumulated pressures and stigma related to unwanted pregnancy, and having to face the option of carrying the pregnancy to term, or having to seek an illegal abortion.As legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure that all our people have a right to all forms of health, and a right to human dignity. This Bill can be a start to that process, it should be viewed as the interim measure to prevent any further unnecessary loss of life for pregnant women – an interim measure until we can address all the issues relating to, a woman’s right to health and dignity, a woman’s right to control her own body, a woman’s right to choose.