By Catherine Brown
Irish women denied access to abortion in their own country are still being denied information about abortion services in Britain. Fourteen students have been threatened with criminal prosecution defying a court injunction not to print this information in student guides.
Ireland is the only European Community country in which all abortions are illegal. In 1983 an anti-abortion constitutional amendment was carried by a two-thirds majority. No form of contraception is available without prescription.
Since 1983 there have been escalating attacks on Irish women's right to information about abortion services in Britain and in some cases the right to travel. It is estimated that around 8000 Irish women a year "take the boat" (go to Britain for an abortion).
British women's magazines circulated in the south of Ireland, carrying addresses and telephone numbers of abortion clinics, were censored. Everywoman's Guide and The New Our Body, Ourselves were removed from public libraries, and even an Irish edition of the British Medical Journal was censored.
Thousands of women marched in the streets of Dublin earlier this year, as the Irish courts tried to prevent a 14-year-old rape victim from having an abortion in England. When they chanted the telephone number of a pregnancy advisory service, they were committing an illegal act.
Though the government forced the court to back off and allow the young woman to go to Britain, it appears the attorney general still has the right to issue an injunction against any woman wishing to
use foreign abortion services.
Pro-choice groups and women's organisations have come together to form Irish Abortion Solidarity Campaign. IASC is building support for women in Ireland by raising awareness of the situation in Britain and organising actions in solidarity with the Campaign for Freedom and Women's Lives, the umbrella group in Ireland.
One action was a fax-in. "A message to Irish women" was faxed to major workplaces throughout the south of Ireland with details of where abortion information is available.
On August 7 the High Court reaffirmed its decision to ban all distribution of information about abortion services. The ruling was the latest development in what has become a legal battle by an Irish student union to be able to supply this information to its members.
Maxine Brady, one of the students, told Green Left Weekly she was confident they would not be prosecuted. Regardless, Brady pledged, "We will be doing the same again next term. I feel and my colleagues feel we have no other option."
The government has proposed a referendum around the issue of abortion in November. Public opinion is starting to shift, Brady stated. "It is unclear what the referendum will be asking people to vote on. If it was held around travel and information rights for women, I think it would be a very positive result."