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Ireland’s Victorian abortion laws highlighted at St. Patrick’s Day event in Washington

March 17, 2011

Catholics for Choice sponsors a briefing on Capitol Hill this morning for a reproductive rights delegation from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to raise awareness about Ireland’s draconian abortion laws.

Abortion is criminalized in almost all circumstances in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. A law from 1861, which is still in force today, imposes a penalty of life imprisonment for any woman or girl who has an illegal abortion on the island of Ireland.

Members of the Irish delegation included Dawn Purvis, Member of the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland; Liz McManus, Former Deputy Leader of the Labour Party in the Republic of Ireland; Niall Behan, Chief Executive of the Irish Family Planning Association; and Audrey Simpson, Director of the Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland.

The event, which was hosted by Representative Louise Slaughter and Representative Diana DeGette and organized by Catholics for Choice, aimed to inform Senators, Members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations about how 150 year old laws are applied to deny women and girls access to safe and legal abortion services even in the most extreme circumstances. Attendees learned that the archaic laws in Ireland force over 6,000 women and girls each year to travel abroad for safe abortion services causing severe physical, emotional and financial hardship.

Speaking at the event, Audrey Simpson, Director of the Family Planning Association in Northern Ireland said: “We are delighted with the support we have received from politicians, NGOs and activists. Yet another step forward in securing access to abortion services for women on the island of Ireland.”

Also speaking at the event Niall Behan, Chief Executive of the Irish Family Planning Association said: “Today, when all eyes are on Ireland, we wish to remind Americans of the historic commitments to equality and human rights made in 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement and highlight the urgent need to apply these principles to women’s reproductive rights.”

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, said, “The situation in Ireland has got to change. For too long the conservative forces in the Catholic hierarchy have dictated abortion policy to the Irish government. As a result, Irish women, North and South, have been forced to leave the country to access basic reproductive healthcare services. The new Irish government should rid itself of its clerical shackles and remedy this situation immediately.”

Press Contacts

Meghan Doherty
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David J Nolan
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UK & Northern Ireland
Rebecca Findlay
Tel: +44 (0) 207 608 5265.

Notes for Editors:

About Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA)
The IFPA is Ireland’s leading sexual health charity and has worked to promote and protect human rights in relation to sexual and reproductive health since 1969. We deliver sexual health clinical services, pregnancy counselling and education and training to over 30,000 people each year. In addition, we are regularly called upon by stakeholders to provide expert opinions on a wide range of policy issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

About FPA
The Family Planning Association (FPA) is the leading sexual health charity in the UK. We provide a sexual health information helpline, personal development sexual health programmes for young people, parents and people with learning disability, training and consultancy for professional and community workers whose work involves sexual health and the only non-directive, non-judgmental unplanned pregnancy counselling, information and support service in Northern Ireland.