Ireland: Sinn Féin pressing ahead with campaign to repeal 8th Amendment

Latest: Sinn Féin pressing ahead with campaign to repeal 8th Amendment
Monday, April 24, 2017

Update 3pm: Sinn Féin has said the Oireachtas should not be bound by the Citizens Assembly’s findings on abortion.

Health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly says TDs should still have discretion to put forward their own policies on the subject.

The Assembly wants a referendum to give the Oireachtas the power to legislate on the subject, and then for laws to allow abortion in any circumstances up to 12 weeks.

Continued at link:

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Ireland: Oireachtas committee to ponder changes to abortion ban

Oireachtas committee to ponder changes to abortion ban
The committee will spend months examining Citizens’ Assembly recommendations
Mon, Apr 3, 2017
Pat Leahy

A special Oireachtas committee is to be established this week to consider possible changes to the constitutional ban on abortion.

The committee will spend several months examining the issue and the recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly, which has been debating the topic since the autumn.

Continued at source: Irish Times:

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Ireland: Mahony warns of abortion legal risk

1 Dr Rhona Mahony, master of Holles Street Hospital.

by David Kearns

Published 06/09/2016, The Independent

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital has criticised the Eighth Amendment for forcing doctors to make medical decisions regarding abortion in a "criminal context".

Dr Rhona Mahony wants medical decisions on terminations in a "clinical context" to be free of legal considerations.

"For me, the Eighth Amendment causes difficulties in making sound medical decisions… [because] it asks doctors to make really complex medical decisions [involving terminations] in the context of criminal offences," she toldRTE's 'Claire Byrne Live'.

"This is where the Eighth Amendment really gives us difficulty - we've seen its ability to distort medical decisions."

[continued at link]

Source: The Independent

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Anne-Marie Rey, pioneer in the struggle for abortion rights in Switzerland, has died aged 78

IN MEMORIAM: Anne-Marie Rey
15 July 2016

3 September 1937 - 25 June 2016

Anne-Marie Rey, pioneer in the struggle for abortion rights in Switzerland, has died aged 78

Anne-Marie Rey, a socialist and supporter of the rights of women throughout her life, has died suddenly and unexpectedly of acute heart failure on 25 June at the age of 78. She was at the forefront of the struggle for the decriminalization of abortion in Switzerland for over 40 years.
She is best known as one of the founders of USPDA, l'Union suisse pour décriminaliser l'avortement (Swiss Union for the Decriminalization of Abortion), who made an enormous contribution to the legalization of abortion in Switzerland, which took place in 2002.

Anne-Marie grew up in Burgdorf, a small rural town in canton Bern, in the heart of rural Switzerland. Her commitment to abortion rights was first learned from her father, who was a gynaecologist. Abortion was not completely illegal in Switzerland and the law could be interpreted to allow some abortions, though interpretations differed. Anne-Marie's father's understanding of the law allowed him to welcome patients sent by colleagues who felt they could not take the responsibility to provide abortions, and he was known far beyond the canton's borders to terminate pregnancies.

Anne-Marie studied to be a translator/interpreter at the University of Geneva from 1962-65. While working for the Swiss federal government, she also studied dance. It was at that time that she found herself with an unwanted pregnancy. To her great relief, her father terminated the pregnancy for her.  A few years later she was a young mother with three children and began to develop her political commitment to abortion rights.

She became an avid reader of medical publications on clandestine abortions, where she learned of the numerous deaths arising from unsafe interventions, as well as the many criminal convictions under Swiss law. It was following the publication of an article she wrote in the journal Bund on clandestine abortions that she was contacted in 1970 by a lawyer, Fritz Dutler, who wanted to launch a popular initiative whose aim was the decriminalization of abortion. But they had to wait for women to get the right to vote (granted only in 1971 by a referendum among Swiss men) and a parliamentary motion by Maurice Favre, a member of the Radical Party from Neuchâtel. This came as the result of several indictments against doctors and two women in the canton of Neuchâtel, and was the start of the first initiative to repeal the clauses in the Swiss Penal Code which had threatened, since 1942, imprisonment for abortions not allowed under the law.

The first initiative for a referendum was launched by Anne-Marie and four other women at the end of 1971, without the support of any political parties, and attracted opposition in Catholic and conservative circles. "Although we were only five at the beginning, the word spread like wildfire and many groups joined us, such as the Movement for the Liberation of Women (MLF), who collected a large part of the signatures for the initiative." USPDA was founded in 1973 and quickly gained 4,000 supporters. In 1976, a second motion was tabled in Parliament, but only two members of the Socialists, Jean Ziegler and Arthur Villard, spoke in support of it. Considered too radical, even by its initiators, the motion was withdrawn, and a more moderate version developed that called for legal abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Anne-Marie said: "It was a strategic choice. We feared that if we got a massive rejection, it would be harder to win later." The initiative was rejected by the people in a referendum in 1977, but by only 51.7% of the votes. "Our opponents spent millions on the campaign. In comparison, our means were laughable."

After that, the USPDA decided to keep a low profile for ten years, not wanting to lose another vote, but in Anne-Marie's house, where the USPDA was based, they remained active and engaged in discreet lobbying of parliamentarians with medical and scientific facts.

As it turned out, the lack of a victory was only partial. The law on abortion did begin to be liberalised in several cantons. Then, an initiative called "For the right to life" by anti-abortionists was rejected in a national referendum in 1985.

From 1987 to 1995, Anne-Marie served as a representative of the Social Democratic Party (SP) in the Bernese Cantonal Parliament. She also remained the driving force of the abortion rights movement. It took another three decades after the 1971 initiative before the USPDA achieved its aims. On 2 June 2002, the Swiss people voted to approve abortion on request up to 12 weeks, by a 72.2% majority. The same day, they rejected the initiative "Pour la mère et l’enfant" (For the mother and child) proposed by conservative circles, with a vote of 81.7% against.

Their task accomplished, they thought at the time, the members of the USPDA decided in 2003 to dissolve the association. "We believed we would never have to revisit this major achievement. We were wrong."

Translator, writer, political activist
In her memoirs, published in 2007, Anne-Marie recalled the experiences and destinies of the last Swiss women who died from illegal abortions and others who were convicted of illegal abortions during the 1980s. She also wrote about the fact that her father had been convicted twice for doing illegal abortions himself. She describes her despair, helplessness and anger over her own unintended pregnancy and from it, how she understood the importance of the struggle for the liberalisation of abortion. The book's title, Die Erzengelmacherin (which has beene translated as the archangel-maker or the Pope of abortionists) originated from a dismissive comment by a hostile member of the Swiss Parliament, which she took as a compliment and adopted with pride.

In 2014, at the age of 76, she was still actively working for abortion rights and maintaining a database and sharing information on abortion. Her steadfast support up to the days before her death for Dr Carlos Morín in Spain, who has also been prosecuted for abortions he believed were justified under the law, must have been spurred by memories of the prosecution of her father when she was young.

Le Courrier published the story of her life's work in her own words:

"I am still not tired and when I rebel, I do not do it by half."

"I owe my commitment to my father… Clandestine abortions in Switzerland stood between 20,000 and 50,000 per year in the 1960s. But it was especially the recurring injustices that served as the breeding ground for my activism. There were deaths as a result of clandestine abortions and convictions. There was no sex education nor suitable means of contraception. The pill, which had just come on the market, was high dosage, and my father refused to prescribe it for me."

"It was the personal trauma that transformed my indignation into political activism. I was 24 years old, well-informed and protected, but contraceptive failure caused an unintended pregnancy. I had major life projects and all of it was going to be ruined by a faulty diaphragm. I cried, I was angry, my whole body was in revolt against this pregnancy. I was in great psychological distress…  After the abortion, I felt relieved. The anti-abortion movement endlessly invokes the physical and psychological injury from an abortion, but this is false in most cases. An unwanted pregnancy is a much heavier trauma for a woman."

If she is now a bit in retreat, it is "because we must leave the struggle to the younger generations to fight for their rights". But her anger is still there: "An embryo of a few millimeters, as a potential life in gestation, is not the equivalent of a baby. It may not be prioritised to the detriment of a woman of flesh and bones, who has a history, life plans and an existence. Abortion is not a choice against life but a means of its defence."

Anne-Marie's legacy
Dr Christian Fiala, Specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Gynmed Clinic, Vienna, writes:

"As far as women's rights are concerned, Anne-Marie realised that one may never assume that a once gained right would apply forever. In 2014, a referendum entitled "Financing abortion is a private matter" called for removing state payment for abortion from the basic health insurance list and said "Those who make up their minds in favour of abortion should bear the costs themselves." The initiative was widely rejected in the vote.

"Anne-Marie regarded the right to decide for abortion as an important step towards equality between men and women: ”As long as women may not choose their motherhood freely, equality between the sexes will remain a dream.“ Decade after decade, Anne-Marie Rey continued her intense lobbying work while continuing to work as translator and raising three children.

"Due to the efforts of Anne-Marie and her fellow activists, Switzerland today ranks high among the countries with very low abortion rates. Currently, only one in ten pregnancies ends in induced abortion, while it used to be one in every three in the 1960s."

Dr André Seidenberg, Specialist in General Medicine, Zürich, writes:

"After the victory in 2002, while others withdrew from loss of interest, Anne-Marie remained active in the field. Nobody knew more about the history of abortion and facts on abortion. She gathered crucial information and data on the practice of abortion in Switzerland and resolutely collected statistical data from nearly every hospital in Switzerland. Based on this, she argued for improved services and methods of termination of pregnancy. With continuing disbelief, she had to face the fact that in Switzerland today, it is still not possible to offer a late abortion to every woman who needs it.

"Up to her last day she was a tireless fighter for the rights, needs and dignity of women and of all people. Even during her last weeks she was giving essential aid to women in emotional distress. The last update of her website was only one week before her death, and her last e-mail only one day before.

"Nobody can replace her. We miss her every day."

Her husband and three children survive her. She leaves behind many people working for abortion rights who were proud to be able to work with her, learned a huge amount from her, enjoyed her company and her wit, and respected and cared deeply for her.

Translated and edited by Marge Berer

Photograph: Hans Jakob Rey/Christian Fiala
Text in memoriam: Christian Fiala, Newsletter, Museum of Contraception and Abortion, Vienna, July 2016
Text in memoriam, by André Seidenberg, Zurich, 13 July 2016
Le Courrier, 28 juin 2016
Wikipedia, Anne-Marie Rey
Le Courrier, by Matteo Maillard, 20 janvier 2014

Source: International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion

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Ireland: Public support for greater abortion access is overwhelming

The apology from Minister for Health Simon Harris to Amanda Mellet (centre) was an important moment. Hopefully it indicates that the Government fully accepts the UN committee’s decision, and will act upon it without equivocation. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The Eighth Amendment needs to go, and a legal and healthcare framework put in place that respects women’s and girls’ rights

Thu, Jul 7, 2016, 01:00

Colm O'Gorman

In 2011, Amanda Mellet was denied an abortion in Ireland after learning her pregnancy had a fatal foetal impairment. She travelled to the UK to undergo the procedure. She endured 36 hours of labour and, because she couldn’t afford to stay overnight, travelled home still bleeding. A few weeks later she received her daughter’s ashes by courier.

Represented by the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, Amanda filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee arguing that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws violated her human rights.

In a damning decision, the committee found that Ireland’s laws prohibiting abortion subjected Amanda to “intense physical and mental suffering”; that Ireland’s criminalisation of abortion caused her shame and stigma, and her suffering was intensified by the barriers preventing access to information about her healthcare options; that Amanda had been subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; and that her right to privacy had been violated.

The committee found that women in Ireland who continue with their pregnancies after a fatal foetal impairment diagnosis receive public healthcare and health insurance cover. In contrast, women such as Amanda who decide not to continue with their pregnancies must bear the full financial, emotional and physical burden of Ireland’s abortion ban. This, the UN committee found, is discriminatory. It called on the Irish Government to act promptly and effectively to redress the harm she suffered, and to reform its laws so no other woman would ever have to face a similar ordeal.

Last week Mick Wallace TD introduced a Bill to permit abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. During a debate on that Bill, Minister for Health Simon Harris made a heartfelt apology to Amanda Mellet. It was an important moment. We hope it indicates that the Government fully accepts the UN decision, and will act upon it without equivocation.

It should go without saying that Amanda deserved better than to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; that women living in Ireland must be treated with dignity and respect. And yet for some, albeit a tiny minority, the treatment imposed on Amanda by this State is acceptable. They stand over laws that violate the human rights of women and girls, which brutalise and criminalise them. Some even celebrate them.

Human rights law

I accept that many of those opposed to abortion do so because of deeply held principle, and I respect their right to voice their objection. Many believe that life begins at the point of conception and from that point forward, the foetus is entitled to the same protection as a born woman. However, that view has no basis in international human rights law. Yet it is enshrined in our Constitution.

The Eighth Amendment is the root cause of Amanda’s brutal treatment and the human rights violations experienced by women and girls in Ireland every day.

The purpose of international human rights law – a system of treaties and supervisory committees created by states, including Ireland – is to ensure that all people are afforded a minimum level of protection of a defined set of human rights. These human rights supersede domestic laws, which are often based on ideologies and prejudices. Therefore, respect for human rights can never be subject to the vagaries of public opinion or politics. And a state’s constitution can never be an excuse for human rights abuses.

At it happens though, abortion is no longer a divisive issue in Ireland. In February, we conducted a national Red C poll on attitudes to abortion. It found 87 per cent of people want expanded access to abortion. Across all regions, demographics and social groups, people in Ireland want change. Just 5 per cent are personally opposed to abortion in all circumstances, and of those, half would still vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

Sadly we don’t see this level of consensus reflected in the media discourse. Too often discussion of abortion is derailed by aggressive and personalised condemnation of those seeking progress. This approach serves only those who want to close down public discussion and maintain the status quo. It also does real damage.

Imagine you are journalist trying to do your job, objectively and responsibly, but you know that every word is pored over looking for an opportunity to charge bias, and the inevitable deluge of abuse. Imagine you are a politician, wanting to navigate this issue and legislate effectively, while fearing abuse or even pickets outside your home.

Most importantly, imagine you are a woman or girl who has had an abortion, or who needs one. Imagine that, in the media’s telling of a story much like yours, space is given to groups asserting that you should be forced to continue with that pregnancy. Imagine hearing an endless back-and-forth over the binding nature of UN decisions, rather than an emphatic demand that the human rights violations found must be ended.

Political support for change

Today the Dáil will vote on Mick Wallace’s Bill. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain. There is now very considerable political support for change. The international human rights framework Ireland helped create is also clear. The Eighth Amendment needs to go, and a legal and healthcare framework put in its place that respects women’s and girls’ rights.

The Government has decided to convene a citizens’ assembly to consider the Eighth Amendment. We are not convinced this is necessary. However, if the Government proceeds with this plan, it must mandate the assembly to expand access to abortion, not maintain the status quo. It must ensure that women’s human rights, health and medical best practice are key benchmarks and guiding principles for the assembly. It must reassure many who are rightly cynical about this move, given the failure to progress important recommendations made by the last constitutional convention.

Last week Minister Simon Harris said, “Ireland’s history shows that it has been in the past a cold and uncaring place for women.” Now he and his colleagues in Government must act to ensure that we finally consign that shameful fact to history.

Colm O’Gorman is executive director of Amnesty International Ireland

Source: Irish Times

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Irish parliament rejects limited abortion bill

AFP • July 7, 2016

Dublin (AFP) - The Irish parliament on Thursday rejected proposed legislation to allow abortion in Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny had instructed his Fine Gael party members to vote against the bill as the state's top legal adviser believed it contravened the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution, which recognises the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.

"The bill is bad for women and medically inadequate," the prime minister said earlier this week.

Fine Gael deputies were joined by members of Fianna Fail, the other main centre-right party, and the bill was defeated in a vote of 95 to 45.

Speaking ahead of the vote, the bill's proponent Mick Wallace said he wanted to see the proposals tested in the country's Supreme Court.

"It will add urgency to the fact that there's at least four or five women every week in Ireland having to travel out of the country to have a fatal foetal abnormality dealt with," he said.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland unless there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, and a woman convicted of having an illegal termination faces 14 years imprisonment.

However, women are free to travel abroad for abortions and thousands do so every year, mainly to England.

Defeat for the proposed legislation does not mark an end to the controversy over an issue that has polarised Irish society for generations.

Parliament is due to debate a separate bill seeking a referendum on the repeal of the Eighth Amendment within the next three months.

It will also top the agenda for discussion at a Citizens' Assembly composed of a random sample of the adult population, which the government has pledged to create before the end of the year.

The Eighth Amendment was passed overwhelmingly in 1983, with 67 percent voting in favour and 33 percent against.

However, opinion polls over the last few years have consistently indicated strong support for reform and Ireland is now also coming under increased international pressure over its current stance.

Last month the UN Human Rights Committee found Ireland's abortion laws "cruel, inhuman and degrading".


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