Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Why can't we sort out abortion issue ourselves?

The rank hypocrisy of politicians here exporting abortion to England has made Northern Ireland a laughing stock, says Anna Lo

Life choices: Protesters vent their feelings over the death of Savita Halappanavar (inset); Health Minister Edwin Poots (bottom)

Abortion has become one of the most talked about issues in Northern Ireland over the course of recent weeks.

The opening of the first Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast has sparked a debate about what abortion services women should be able to access in Northern Ireland.

There has been a large measure of criticism directed towards Marie Stopes, which I believe to be unwarranted, as they have confirmed that they will be operating within the current laws here.

Statistics show that about 1,000 women each year with Northern Ireland addresses travel to England to have an abortion.

But this is not the true figure, as some women, instead of giving their home addresses, provide addresses of relatives, or friends, in England.

Some women also travel to continental European countries, such as Holland, for easy access to a termination.

It is total hypocrisy of our politicians to ignore the fact that unwanted pregnancies happen in this society and to believe that, as long as we can continue to export the problem, we don't need to deal with it.

The ability to obtain an abortion is also a class issue. Middle-class women have better access to contraception and, in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, to access abortion services in England and other parts of continental Europe.

It could be a lot more difficult for a working-class woman with a low-paid job, or on benefits, to find the money, which could be up to £2,000, to obtain an abortion in a private clinic abroad.

The Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk poll clearly shows that the Assembly does not accurately reflect the differing views of the public.

All of the other major parties, apart from Alliance, are opposed to a change in the status quo; indeed, I believe that some would oppose abortion in all cases.

My party allows its politicians to make their own decision - something that I believe other parties should also do. Then, perhaps, the Assembly would more closely reflect public opinion, where more than 25% of those polled supported the policy of legalising abortion under 24 weeks.

It is clear that, while the other political parties wish to maintain the status quo, the public does not accept this. It is also interesting that the poll has shown that while 2% of those surveyed will not accept an abortion in any circumstance, none of them were women.

The death in Galway last month of Savita Halappanavar, in spite of her repeated requests for a termination and her showing signs of miscarrying, also raises the issue of abortions when the mother's life is at risk.

Ireland is a Catholic country; therefore is it opposed to abortion under any circumstances? Spain and Italy are both Catholic states, but yet they have liberalised abortion law, with Spain allowing abortion on demand up to 14 weeks.

The Irish Republic and Northern Ireland are out of step with the UK and most other countries in the EU. We are seen as the backward country dominated by misguided religious dogma.

The dated views of some of our politicians about abortion have become a laughing-stock across the water and certainly would not be acceptable by the public there.

While there have been some moves to tighten the laws in some European countries, the public there have stated their opposition to these plans and so the laws have remained relaxed. Yet here the politicians do not want to listen to will of the public.

A woman should have the right to decide what to do with her body when faced with an unwanted pregnancy and the mother's health must take precedent over the unborn baby. In Savita's case, if she had been allowed an abortion, she would have lived and gone on to have other children.

Medical professionals, such as doctors, midwives and psychiatrists, are crying out for legal guidance to clarify under what circumstances and to what extent these health conditions could be sufficient to qualify for a termination. There is uncertainty and ambiguity about what's allowed and what's not.

There is a chill factor amongst health professionals regarding making decisions on termination. This could cause unnecessary deaths, such as that of Savita, who was in the prime of her life.

The health ministers, both north and south, should stop dragging their feet and publish the guidelines that are so urgently needed. I do not know what the problem is with having these guidelines.

The law does allow for an abortion in circumstances where the mother's life is at risk. Why are the health ministers unwilling to follow the law?

This is obviously a complicated and sensitive issue and I hope that people - whatever their opinion - discuss it with the respect that it deserves.

The abusive language that is sometimes used when discussing abortion helps no one. It only further entrenches opinions on both sides. It is about time we have a serious discussion about the law here. The Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk poll shows that more women and young people favour a relaxation in the law.

Will all of them want to stay here if the rules are not changed?

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