Abortion Law and Policy News:
In the Courts and Parliaments

30 March 2016 


Asylum seeker refused abortion sues the State

by Ann O’Loughlin
20 March 2016     
Ms Y was an asylum seeker in Ireland who, after arriving in the country in 2014, found she was pregnant, as a result of rape. She was refused an abortion and was offered a caesarean section in the late second trimester of pregnancy as the only alternative to carrying the pregnancy to term. She has now launched a civil action against Ireland for damages.
The case went before the High Court on 19 March. The judge prohibited the publication or broadcast of any matter relating to the proceedings which would or would be likely to identify her, in response to her application for anonymity.
Her action against the State includes a claim for alleged trespass, assault and battery; alleged negligence; and the alleged reckless and intentional infliction of emotional harm and suffering. It also includes a claim for alleged breach of duty, alleged false imprisonment and alleged unlawful deprivation of liberty. She also claims there was alleged unjustified intentional negligent infringement of and wrongful interference with or failure to vindicate her constitutional rights and her rights under the European Convention of Human Rights.
We wish her well to win this case on every last count, including to expose the abuse of caesarean section as an unethical alternative to abortion. [Editor]

Tags: Ireland, law and policy, human rights abuses, denial of abortion
Guidance for Health and Social Care professionals on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland
24 March 2016

This long-awaited document opens as follows: This guidance aims to provide clarity on the law framing termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. It is imperative that health and social care
professionals understand their responsibilities under the law.

The guidance claims it does not change the law, but it does interpret the law differently from in the past in some ways. It also adds several new recommendations which, although falling short of being required, are insisted upon, even while acknowledging that they are not in the existing law. While the guidance offers a more liberal interpretation of the law in some areas, it also insists on the continued criminalisation of most abortions in Northern Ireland and stresses the punishments for breaking the law, especially by health professionals. In a few cases, it appears to accommodate more than one point of view, but this raises concern that eventually these might be open to legal challenge. The bottom line, however, as the guidance stresses, is that in any conflict, it is the law which takes precedence. 
The main points are as follows:
In Northern Ireland, under existing law, it is lawful to perform a termination of pregnancy only if:
  • it is necessary to preserve the life of the woman, or
  • there is a risk of real and serious adverse effect on her physical or mental health, which is either long term or permanent.
It is for a medical practitioner to assess, on a case by case basis, using their professional judgement as to whether the individual woman’s clinical circumstances meet the grounds for a termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. These laws are: sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (NI) 1945.
The guidance does not provide a list of medical conditions that would allow abortion, given the range and severity of any such condition. Instead, the document stresses again and again the need for clinical judgement on the part of health professionals, and requires them to show reasonable grounds with adequate knowledge, when reporting having carried out an abortion. In support of such judgement, it recommends seeking specialist support for any decision.
It states that fetal abnormality, including a fatal fetal abnormality, is not per se permitted under NI law. However, it would appear that the situation faced by
Sarah Ewart in 2013, has been resolved. She was refused an abortion even though the fetus was anencephalic, because at 20 weeks when this was discovered she was told it was too late. This guidance states that the impact of a fetal abnormality on a woman’s physical and/or mental health can be taken into account. As this issue has been the subject of increasing calls to reform the law itself, this section is extremely important and is likely to be seen as opening a door. However, later in the document, the guidance quotes a previous court judgement (Bourne 1939) in which the legality of an abortion “to save the woman’s life” in a case involving multiple rapes, was defined such that the continuance of the pregnancy would be to make the woman “a total physical or mental wreck”. If the bar remains that high, then perhaps no door has been opened after all. This may remain a contested area.
The guidance clarifies that where protecting the woman’s health and life may put the fetus at risk, health professionals must put the protection of the life and health of the woman first. At the same time, it states that if the fetus is considered capable of independent survival, steps must be taken to preserve its life. Yet the guidance notes that there is no upper time limit on abortion if the woman’s life and health are threatened. This is an important difference to the law in the south of Ireland.
The guidance goes beyond the law when it says that in deciding whether to allow an abortion: “While not a requirement of the law, it is recommended that two doctors with appropriate skills and expertise should undertake the clinical assessment.” This is in addition to the recommendation to seek specialist involvement.  And these recommendations are repeated and stressed even while acknowledging that this is not a legal requirement. Is this because there is concern that any abortion may be challenged in the courts and is a warning to doctors to have all their armour about them?
The guidance notes that the NI abortion law does not permit conscientious objection per se, and that related professional regulations restrict the extent of objection permitted. While the guidance says such objection should be accommodated where possible, it makes it clear this must not put the woman at risk, and that personal beliefs should not be expressed in inappropriate ways. The guidance puts the duty of care first, especially in emergency situations, where it says that such objection cannot justify failing in the duty of care to the patient.
Section 5 is an important one, in which the guidance goes further than might have been expected. It says:
“- Counselling must support women to come to their own decisions.
 - Support and advice must respect the personal views of the woman and enable her to make her own informed choices.
 - It is not unlawful to inform a woman of services available in other jurisdictions.”
Moreover, regardless of where a termination has taken place, the woman has a right to counselling, support services and after-care if requested. This is crucial for women using abortion pills at home as well as those returning from having an abortion abroad.
Section 6 discusses whether it is required to report a woman for having had an illegal abortion in Northern Ireland, given the importance of the duty of confidentiality. However, reporting another health professional for carrying out an abortion thought to be illegal does not get the same hesitation.
The guidance says:
“- Health and social care professionals have a duty of care to their patients.
 - Health and social care professionals working in clinical situations need to be assured that procedures they are involved in are lawful.
 - Health and social care professionals must balance the need for confidentiality of patients with the obligation to report unlawful terminations of pregnancy to the police and the need to protect others from risk of serious harm.”
It is highly significant that the guidance acknowledges that women in NI are using the abortion pill, and that the symptoms of such an abortion are the same as those of a natural miscarriage.
that the guidance may take the chill factor out of dealing with such circumstances if a woman who used the pills and then seeks post-abortion care, which she likens to recommending a “don’t ask‒don’t tell” situation for women and health professionals alike. She also thinks the language throughout the document is more measured and more in line with medical terminology.


@All4Choice, Northern Ireland

Tags: Northern Ireland, law and policy, guidance 

Christian Democrats’ attempted abortion restriction met by protests

21 March 2016
The Christian Democratic party once again met strong objections from most other parties in Parliament in Norway, after tabling a proposal requiring women to undergo a mandatory waiting period before having an abortion, supposedly to give women more time to “reflect” on their decision.
There was a storm of controversy in both the media and social media over the proposal, which was immediately rejected by, among others, the Labour Party and the Socialist Left Party. Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives opted to take some time to reflect on the proposal herself, but said just before the weekend that she agreed with the opposition: “…that we shall not do anything regarding women’s right to an abortion.”
The Christian Democrats put the government in an awkward position during their first winter in office in 2014, when they unsuccessfully sought to allow doctors the right to refuse to refer women for an abortion. That led to
massive protests and demonstration marches that drew tends of thousands of people.
Dagrun Eriksen, who proposed the new restriction, was harshly criticised for failing to acknowledge that women already wait at least a week for an abortion in Norway, and for suggesting that they hadn’t already thought through their decision.

Norway: 100th International Women’s Day March

Tags: Norway, law and policy, mandatory waiting period

Politician’s claims about abortion following rape are myths

19 March 2016

Following a debate over abortion in the case of rape, Peruvian Alianza Popular congresswoman Luciana Leon claimed in an interview that other alternatives exist aside from therapeutic abortion following rape and that a vaginal wash is more effective than abortion when a woman has been raped.

“To talk about abortion many stages have to pass … if there has been sexual violence you can go and do a vaginal wash,” Leon said, much to the surprise of her debate opponent, Frente Amplio member Isabel Cedano. To give her some credit, she also said women can take emergency contraception as a first step.

Susana Chavez, executive director of Promsex in Peru and coordinator of LA Consortium against Unsafe Abortion, commented: 

“It is very embarrassing, but such arguments have been used by opponents who do not want there to be any debate on abortion. Another false argument was also put forward which is untrue, that during rape, no lubrication occurs, therefore pregnancy cannot take place. If the woman becomes pregnant, then it is proof that she had enjoyed the rape. This ignores the terrible experience of rape that in most cases occurs in the homes of women and girls, with victims who are are minors and male perpetrators who are known to them.”

Marcy Bloom, long-time pro-choice activist in the USA, commented:

“A few years ago, a right-wing US Senatorial candidate stated that pregnancy cannot occur from rape because the woman’s body shuts down and ovulation cannot occur. This ignorance and misogyny re: rape, violence against women, how pregnancy occurs, etc. are all truly unbelievable.” 

The rights of women are being trampled on

Tags: Peru, law and policy, rape and sexual abuse

Mifepristone debated in NT Parliament, Health Minister's concerns criticised as 'incorrect'

by Katherine Gregory
17 March 2016

The Northern Territory bill to liberalise access to abortion medication mifepristone (still called RU486 in Australia) was adjourned until April because Minister for Health John Elferink argued against remote access to the drug. Women parliamentarians slammed his concerns as "incorrect" and called on the NT Health Minister to listen to the advice of his department and medical experts over an amendment to the RU486 abortion drug bill.
The private member's bill, which would allow Territory women liberal access to the medical abortion drug, was debated in Parliament on Wednesday night, but adjourned until April for further discussion.

Independent Delia Lawrie said she rejected Elferink's late amendments to the bill, which would still restrict Territory women's access to the drug. "He wants to arbitrarily have powers to determine which clinics [have access] and which [do] not, and I don't think that's appropriate," Ms Lawrie told Parliament.
Mr Elferink said his amendments still liberalised access to the drug, but not to the extent Ms Lawrie would like. He argued it would be irresponsible to allow women in remote and regional areas of the Northern Territory access to the pills and claimed incorrectly that expert advice says women have to be close to emergency medical treatment should something go wrong. His amendments would mean the pills could only be taken in hospital and in a clinic environment with oversight from specialists such as gynaecologists and obstetricians, which was not available in many communities. He conceded other jurisdictions in Australia had allowed freer access to the drug, but said they had more accessible emergency medical facilities.

Health Minister 'needs serious briefings'

Speaker of the House and Independent Kezia Purick introduced the bill last year, and said she believed Mr Elferink's concerns were incorrect. She echoed the arguments of Ms Lawrie and Labor's Lynne Walker, who said there were appropriately trained and qualified doctors in remote communities who could deal with side-effects from the drugs. She said she was surprised the Minister for Health did not know what sort of medical professionals and services were permanently based in remote communities. "[Mr Elferink] needs to get some serious briefings from his own department as well as from the AMA, as well as from doctors who are familiar with dealing with this medication," Ms Purick said.

Women's health specialist and head of lobby group What RU for NT Dr Suzanne Belton agreed Mr Elferink needed to listen to expert medical advice. She said doctors in remote areas managed early miscarriages on a monthly basis, and even unexpected births when necessary. Dr Belton also said the concerns were incorrect on the basis the medication was specifically designed to be taken by women at home, guided by their GP.
Dr Belton said it was disingenuous for Mr Elferink to have brought his amendments to Parliament so late, and criticised his decision to designate where in the Northern Territory the drug could be used. "This is something that the health department is quite capable of deciding and not one specific person," she said. "People in Australia don't like ministers for health having control of scientific and professional questions when they are not scientists or professionals themselves."

Dr Suzanne Belton

Tags: Australia, law and policy, abortion pills

Jail for man who tried to give abortion pills to girl aged 15 he had sex with

The Straits Times | Elena Chong |  20 February 2016
A young man who obtained abortion pills for a 15-year-old girl after getting her pregnant was jailed for 20 months. The man, aged 24, was arrested before he could give her the tablets. The two had had a relationship for several months, which he ended in July last year. When she found out she was pregnant in August, he asked her to go for an abortion. He enlisted the help of his sister to buy abortion pills but he was arrested before he could hand them to her.
The man pleaded guilty to three counts of underage sex with the girl in May and July last year. Seven other charges were taken into consideration.
According to the newspaper, the Director of Public Prosecutions highlighted the trauma the victim had to go through with an unwanted pregnancy. She said: "His callous treatment of the victim and his assistance in providing these 'abortion pills'... must be taken as a reflection of his attitude towards the victim, and how little he was concerned about her welfare." However, the girl did have an abortion of her own accord, making the DPP's accusations seem unclear.
Tags: Singapore, abortion pills, court case



Editor: Marge Berer

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