Abortion information law goes to Irish court
By Kath Gelber
The Irish Supreme Court is to review a new "abortion information bill" allowing doctors and other professionals to give women the names and addresses of abortion clinics outside Ireland. The bill has been approved by the Dail (parliament) and the Senate.
The bill requires doctors to counsel pregnant women on all options, including keeping the child and adoption, and gives individual doctors the right to refuse to offer abortion-clinic information. Doctors will be able to advise women of the names and addresses of clinics providing abortion services, but will not be permitted to arrange the abortions themselves.
The bill places restrictions on advertisements for English clinics in public places, and pro-choice campaigners who spread contact numbers via leaflets in public places will face stiff fines.
The bill has been criticised women's organisations and civil rights groups. Ursula Barry of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties said the bill explicitly denies freedom of expression by putting unacceptable limits on the kind of abortion information permitted, including banning "advocacy" of abortion.
"Will this make it illegal to argue that women have the right to choose whether to bring a pregnancy to term? Does it mean that it will be unlawful to argue in print or on television that abortion services should be provided within this state?", she asked.
Following the 1983 "pro-life" amendment to the Irish constitution, in 1988 the Supreme Court prevented two Dublin women's clinics from providing information on abortion. In 1992 the European Court of Justice said this restriction was illegal under EU law.
In 1992 a 14-year-old rape victim was prevented from travelling to England for an abortion. This forced questions of right to information and travel on to the public agenda.
In November 1992 an amendment to the constitutional ban on abortion was approved overwhelmingly by referendum, which made it possible to provide information about services outside Ireland.
It is estimated 4500 Irish women travel to Britain every year for abortions. Proportional to population, more Irish women have abortions than women of any other European country.