Abortion debate was a sham, nothing has changed for Irish women


Another member was so addled by what was going on that he voted the wrong way "by accident." The night was almost comical, except that it was so tiresome -- and so tragic since it affects the lives of thousands of Irish women.  

The most contentious point in the bill for the troubled members of the house was, of course, the proposal to allow a suicide threat as grounds for an abortion.  But as we pointed out here already, this is circumscribed by an extremely tight framework. 

There will be no question of a woman simply declaring that she is feeling suicidal and then being allowed an abortion.  Her declaration will be tested in interviews by a panel of two psychiatrists and one obstetrician in a process that will be very demanding for her.

The assessment may continue for hours or even days.  If the panel decision is not unanimous she will not be allowed an abortion.  

In no circumstances is the law that passed in the Dail last week supportive of a woman's right to choose. 

In all cases, whether it is a woman who is seriously suicidal or a woman facing difficult cancer treatment, the decision on whether an abortion is permissible under this law will be taken by the medical professionals.  They will listen to the woman.   But they will decide. 

Savita Halappanavar, the young woman who died of septic shock last October in Galway after being refused an abortion, was mentioned several times during the debate.  It was claimed by those opposing the bill that if this law had been in place it would not have made any difference to her.  

Those supporting the bill said repeatedly that the new legislation would bring "clarity" for medical practitioners and this might have saved her because it might have given her doctors the confidence to act earlier.

But despite all of the guff about "clarity," the fact is that the situation for women in Irish hospitals who face such difficult medical situations is still as clear as muddy water.  As in the Savita case, knowing when the risk to a mother's life becomes substantial enough to allow an abortion is far from easy.

Some doctors may tolerate a higher level of risk than others.  Even though it is the woman's body and the woman's life, the decision will remain out of her hands.

And unless the situation is an extreme and immediate life-threatening crisis for the woman the decision will be taken by two senior doctors, not one.

In the case of a woman who is suicidal, again there is no right for the woman to be in on decision. She will put her case and be assessed. 

But the doctors (three of them) will decide.  If they say no she can appeal to another panel of three doctors which is likely to take days.

This very restrictive regime does not sit well with the decision taken years ago by the Irish people in a referendum to uphold a woman's right to travel.  This decision was taken by the Irish people so that women could continue to travel to the U.K. and elsewhere to procure abortions.  

In many such cases abortion is allowed on the basis of a possible suicide risk declared by the woman.   When the Irish people passed the referendum in question they were well aware of this. 

It seems clear that the Irish people then were saying that a woman who says she is suicidal has the right not only to travel but also has the right to be at least a major part of a decision to allow her to have an abortion because of the suicide risk.  Yet the legislation fails completely to recognize that.

It is yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem, that problem being our inability to deal with reality, the reality that thousands of Irish women have abortions every year.