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Pro-Life campaigners need to get a grip - Irish women still have no choice over abortion

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Because of this, the threat of suicide as a ground for abortion is dominating the debate.  The pro-life lobby sees this as a potential loophole through which many more women might be able to get abortions here.

The Health Committee of the Dail is holding three days of hearings on the proposed legislation, and on Monday of this week the hearing was dominated by psychiatrists giving their views.  As you know, the proposed legislation will require three doctors -- including two psychiatrists -- to certify an abortion on suicidal grounds.

As with the population at large, there are psychiatrists who disagree on the issue. But what was very clear at the Health Committee hearings was that they don't like being put in the position where they might be seen as abortion deciders.

Their concern is to care for patients, including pregnant women who may be suicidal, and several of them emphasized the difficulty they face in making assessments of suicidal intent in a very short time frame.

Of course in all of this there is one forgotten part of the debate, one sector of our population who should be part of the debate but who have been virtually excluded.  That is the estimated 200,000 Irish women who have had abortions, mainly in the U.K. since more general legal abortion was introduced there in the 1960s.

While the religious zealots and medical and legal experts have been dancing on pins here teasing out convoluted hypothetical problems to do with the proposed legislation, these 200,000 Irish women, who know more about the subject than anyone else, have been almost silenced.  

A few have managed to get their voices heard on radio and some have been interviewed in a newspaper.  In contrast to the assumption being made by some of the pro-life lobbyists, none of these women took their decision easily or lightly.

It was a difficult choice for most, made even more problematic by the need to get to the U.K., to explain away their absence, to find the money for the trip, to find out where to go and so on.

Loose talk from the pro-life lobby about "floodgates" being opened is an insult to these women, the anguish of making their decision and what they went through.

Like women everywhere, there are as many reasons why Irish women have abortions as there are individuals, individual circumstances and situations.

What is clear from their voices is that a few of them do look back with a feeling of sadness, even of regret.  But the regret is usually that their circumstances did not allow them to continue the pregnancy, not that their decision was wrong at that time and in those circumstances.  

None of us can turn the clock back, no matter how much the so-called pro-lifers may try to exploit these feelings experienced years later by some women who have had abortions.

Readers of this column will by now have gathered that this writer is a total believer in a woman's absolute right to choose.  Yes, there is another potential life involved, but the responsibility for that potential life can lie only with the woman.  The moral responsibility for that potential life and whether to allow it to happen must lie with the woman, her conscience and her instinct about what is right.

The idea that one can create laws to control what a woman can do with her own body is a fundamental denial of a woman's human rights.  No man would tolerate such a restriction or removal of his bodily integrity and freedom.

Ireland's total denial of a woman's right to choose has been a shameful blot on our republican principles for too long, and sadly is going to continue indefinitely.

I believe passionately in a woman's right to choose. I also don't  want to be punched in the face by my daughter!

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