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Conscience Magazine

Women in Ireland, Northern Ireland Advocating for Abortion Access in Cases of Fatal Fetal Abnormality

February 19, 2014

A woman known as Sarah spoke on BBC radio in October about a fetus with a fatal defect she was being “forced to carry” because the law in Northern Ireland prohibits her from having an abortion, BBC Radio Northern Ireland reported. After meeting with her and other women who were carrying fetuses with fatal abnormalities, Minister for Health Edwin Poots announced later that month that revised abortion guidelines were being prepared. Currently, Northern Ireland only allows abortion to preserve a woman’s life or her physical or mental health.

In Ireland, shortly before the July passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, which allowed abortion in cases of a threat to a woman’s life, Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter called for a referendum to broaden the law. He told the Irish Times, “I believe it is a great cruelty that our law creates a barrier to a woman in circumstances where she has a fatal fetal abnormality being able to have a pregnancy terminated … knowing it has no real prospect of survival following birth.” In June, more than two dozen legal experts wrote to the Irish Times citing precedents that gave the legislature “the power, and the duty,” to legislate for legalizing abortion for fatal fetal abnormality.

A push to reexamine Ireland’s abortion statutes is taking place at the United Nations. Irish resident Amanda Mellet was the first of three cases presented to the UN Human Rights Committee in November challenging the country’s prohibition on abortion for fatal fetal abnormality on the grounds that it is “cruel and inhumane.”

While Ireland is considering what to do about abortion in circumstances other than those threatening a woman’s life, bpas, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, took out an advertisement in the Irish Times reassuring women that it would still offer services to the 4,000 Irish women who travel to the UK for an abortion every year. “As if deciding to have an abortion wasn’t enough of a journey.… We’ll care for your women until your government does,” the ad said.

Tagged Abortion