State of Isolation: abortion restrictions in Ireland

Human Rights Watch have released an in-depth report on access to abortion (or, rather, lack thereof) for women in Ireland, called State of Isolation. It highlights the Irish government’s wilful refusal to respect the human rights of women seeking abortion, evidenced by the lack of clarity surrounding abortion laws, the refusal to review laws that restrict women’s right to access information on abortion in Ireland or abroad and the failure to deal with anti-choice ‘rogue agencies’ claiming to provide advice and help for women considering an abortion.

An undercover investigator from a pro-choice organisation approached one of these agencies, telling them she was five weeks pregnant (at which point the embryo would be the size of a grain of rice):

…the first thing they did was to ask what I would do, and I said that I’d probably terminate…. So she pulled out this sheet that was ostensibly a consent form from Australia. It said that I understand that I most certainly will need a hysterectomy … that I might end up with the need for a colostomy bag…. That I won’t hold the doctor liable for the infection that I’d certainly get…. Next thing was a list of side-effects…. Breast cancer, cervical cancer … [it said] most women end up with infections, infertile.

She said … that I’d become promiscuous, or frigid, one of the two [after an abortion]…. That most relationships break up…. That is it likely to cause congenital depression, that is not only would I get depressed, but also my family…. That I would be at increased risk of abusing any other children I might have or get…. That it caused tearfulness and sighing…. Then she showed me a video of ultrasounds, and of a doctor explaining what I now know is a very late term abortion procedure … she showed me the instruments. Then she showed me a plastic fetus the size of a pen … and told me that’s what my baby looked like … the plastic fetus was sucking its thumb and had eyelashes

Needless to say, this is all bullshit. Other women reported being harassed by agency workers, receiving repeated phone calls asking them when they were going to “kill their baby”. It’s worth pointing out that anti-choice organisations in the UK also promote their “services” as impartial. These include Crisis and Care Confidential.

The authors of the report couldn’t find a single example of a legal abortion being performed in Ireland, despite the fact that it should be legal in cases where the woman’s life is at risk. Both women accessing abortion and service providers risk life imprisonment and this, combined with the lack of clarity surrounding the law, means no one is prepared to risk testing out the exception for life-threatening pregnancies. Instead, women are forced to access illegal abortions or travel abroad. Human Rights Watch believe that the Irish government use the proximity of countries such as the UK where abortion is legal to abdicate its responsibility to protect women’s human rights.

Meanwhile, the decision on women A, B and C’s challenge to Irish abortion law in the EU Court of Human Rights will be announced in the autumn.