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The Protection of Human Life in Pregnancy Bill and Referendum Launch of NWCI VOTE NO leaflet and cam

Published: Monday, February 11, 2002

Thursday 21 February 2002, Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin

'The proposed bill and referendum are an attack on the lives, health and welfare of women' declared Ms. Gráinne Healy, Chairwoman of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI)

'There is widespread confusion about the forthcoming referendum as the proposed changes to the constitution are complicated' she continued. 'Lawyers have stated that there are many serious legal flaws in the Government proposals. Doctors and psychiatrists are deeply concerned about the implications for themselves as professionals and for the lives of women' she added. 'There is unanimous opposition to the forthcoming referendum among NWCI affiliates who participated in our consultation and alarm that under the referendum proposals the threat of suicide for a woman with a crisis pregnancy will no longer be grounds for termination' she declared.

'This referendum is not the way to deal with abortion and crisis pregnancies and will not address the fact that approximately 7,000 Irish women have abortions every year. However, it may well make women who do travel to the UK for abortion feel even more isolated and like criminals' she added.

Senator Mary Henry, M.D., stated that at present if a pregnant woman's life is in danger she can have the required medical treatment anywhere it is available. 'If this amendment is passed, even in an emergency situation such as a haemorrhage, a woman must go to an approved place for treatment' said Dr. Henry. 'The designation of approved places will be at the behest of the relevant Minister' she continued. 'Another disturbing aspect of the proposed amendment is that a doctor may claim to be a conscientious objector to performing life saving treatment for a pregnant woman in the event of the death of the foetus. A conscientious objector is not obliged to give any prior warning nor does anyone have to ensure that another doctor who is not a conscientious objector is available' she added. She went on to explain that the legality of the morning after pill under the proposed amendment is very unclear. 'If the amendment is passed, any Government Minister can ask to inspect the records of a doctor who has carried out a life saving procedure on a woman as a way of policing the Act. This is a major intrusion into doctor/patient confidentiality' asserted Dr. Henry.

Ms. Cliona Kimber, Barrister at Law, said that if the referendum is passed the threat of suicide in a pregnant girl or woman will no longer be grounds for termination of pregnancy. 'Equally disturbing is the fact that no state body or agency will have the right to assist a pregnant woman or girl to travel abroad for an abortion' she continued. 'The X and C cases will be reversed and there will very definitely be girls and women with crisis pregnancies before the courts over the next few years' she added. She went on to say that the insertion of the proposed Bill into the constitution is highly inappropriate.

'The women of Methodist Church in Ireland believe that this issue should be dealt with by legislation and not through the constitution' stated Ms. Edith Loane. 'Abortion on demand is inherently wrong; the foetus is not an appendage and as it evolves towards personhood should progressively be accorded rights' stated Ms. Loane. 'We believe that abortion is a permissible choice and a medical necessity in a small number of cases that may affect either mother or child, including the threat of suicide' she said. 'We support the right to travel for any citizen. We believe in a pluralist democratic society, where all shades of opinion are heard and respected with dignity afforded to every citizen' she concluded.