Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pro-Choice Activists In Ireland Risk Prison To Educate Women About Their Reproductive Options

After the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, the 31-year-old woman who died after being denied an abortion in an Irish Catholic hospital, the fight for reproductive rights has taken on a new fervor in Ireland. Activists flooded the streets to declare that Savita’s death won’t be in vain, demanding a policy shift in the socially conservative country’s stringent abortion laws. And now, inspired by the momentum sparked by Savita’s case, pro-choice activists are risking up to 14 years in prison to spread the word about how Irish women can safely travel to Great Britain to obtain an abortion.

Under Ireland’s total abortion ban, women aren’t able to legally terminate a pregnancy unless their lives depend on it — but, as Savita’s case illustrates, doctors in the deeply Catholic country are often wary to provide abortion care even in cases of medical emergency. The rest of Europe allows for much greater reproductive freedom. On average, about 11 Irish women travel to Britain each day to terminate a pregnancy. Activists are risking jail time to disseminate information to those women, giving them more resources to help them access the care they need either abroad or online:

They are targeting cafes, pubs, clubs, gym changing rooms and public toilets with thousands of leaflets giving contact details for British abortion clinics as well as the price of terminations. The literature includes a website where Irish women can buy early abortion pills (effective up to nine weeks of pregnancy) online via womenonweb.org.

Organisers and supporters behind the campaign, which began after Savita Halappanavar’s death in Galway University Hospital last autumn, say they intend to intensify their leaflet blitz after the government approved a bill on Tuesday to allow for strictly limited abortions in Ireland.

Disseminating information on how to buy early abortion pills is illegal in the Republic and under the new legislation those helping to procure an illicit termination risk being jailed for up to 14 years.

The Abortion Support Network (ASN), a Irish charity that helps women access abortion services in Britain, applauded the guerrilla campaign. “The leaflet is a one-stop shop that tells women which local organisations can provide unbiased information about all their options, contact details for clinics in England and information on where to turn to for financial help or access to early medical abortion pills,” one of ASN’s founders, Mara Clarke, told the Guardian. “This information needs to be put into the hands of women and I hope the leaflets find their way into every women’s toilet, changing room and pub in Ireland.”

Ireland is considering legislation that would include clarifying guidelines to help doctors navigate the abortion ban, in an attempt to prevent more women like Savita from being denied the abortion care that could save their lives. But pro-choice activists say that the new bill is an impossibly small step toward greater reproductive rights. It would require a panel of three doctors to unanimously approve a termination for a life-threatening situation. For women who have suicidal thoughts, up to six doctors could end up reviewing her case to ensure she is not somehow cheating the system to obtain an abortion.

The proposed measure also doesn’t include any exceptions for rape, incest, or fatal fetal defects. A group of women who were forced to travel to Britain to obtain an abortion because their fetuses had fatal abnormalities, and therefore would have died shortly after birth, told the Guardian they have been “left out and let down” by the new legislative push.

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