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Labour calls for reform of abortion legislation
Irish Examiner 04/01/2008

by Shaun Connolly

LABOUR last night demanded reform of “hypocritical” abortion laws in light of a girl in the HSE's care travelling abroad for a termination.

The health service has been involved in at least one foreign abortion each year for the past number of years, while the 2007 “Miss D case” was the subject of a highly publicised court battle in the summer.

The legal wrangle again caused Ireland 's post-X Case status quo to be called into question.

If females in care have been victims of rape or incest, the HSE can make court applications to take them abroad, usually to Britain , for abortions.

The 2007 termination involved a foetus which would not have lived for long outside of the womb. The HSE challenged the 17-year-old girl's right to go to Britain , but the High Court ruled there was nothing to stop her travelling.

The Labour Party has renewed demands for the Government to “take tough decisions” and fulfil the promise it made in March 2002 to legislate for the Supreme Court X Case, after the abortion referendum it called failed to clarify the position. The party's health spokesperson, Jan O'Sullivan, said it was not acceptable for the Republic to continue to export the situation to England .

“There is a degree of hypocrisy in this attitude. We can't just continue sweeping this issue across to Britain forever. There has to be a decision taken here.

“The Government seems happy to let things slide. But that is not leadership. We need the political will to be shown so that we can sort this situation out once and for all,” she said.

The 1992 X Case provoked national soul-searching when a 14-year-old rape victim was initially prevented by the High Court from travelling to Britain for an abortion. Following the case, the Supreme Court ruled an expectant mother had a right to an abortion here, if there was a substantive risk to her life, including the threat of suicide.

The Government tried to have the threat of suicide eliminated as grounds for an abortion in the contentious 2002 referendum, but this was defeated.

The HSE also paid for one teenage girl to travel to Britain for a termination in 2005 and another in 2006. Before the HSE, health boards provided funds to allow two teenagers to travel to Britain for abortions between the 2002 referendum and March 2003.

A HSE spokesperson said the executive had an obligation to act in the best interest of minors in its care.

The Government indicated before the last referendum that the State would fund abortions for teenagers in care who were victims of rape or incest. At the time, then health minister Micheál Martin said people voted for the right to travel in 1992 and the State could not stop parents bringing their children abroad for abortions.

Pro-choice groups say more than 100,000 women have travelled to Britain for abortions since 1983.

A TNS MRBI poll in the wake of the Miss D case found four in five people agree with abortion if the woman's life is endangered, while nearly three-quarters agree with abortion in Ireland when the foetus can't survive outside the womb.

The survey showed that 43% support abortion if it's in a woman's “best interests”, but the majority (51%) remain against terminations in this country. The survey revealed those who support a more liberal abortion policy are 52% male, 48% female, most likely to be aged 25-34, and lower-middle class to working class. They are also most likely to live in Dublin or Munster .