Ann Furedi: Seeking an 'illicit' solution carries an emotional cost

Thursday 10 December 2009 01:00 GMT

Irish women naturally expect to be able to lead modern lives. They expect to be educated and to have the chance to work; they expect to be able to plan their families; they expect to enjoy sex without fear of pregnancy. And, as contraception can't always be relied on, this means they need access to safe legal abortion, just as we do in Britain.

Something seems unfitting when the European Court challenges the right of a nation to set its own laws. Democracy and the right of nations to self-determination are principles that we abandon at our peril. But when a country fails to address issues that undermine the health and wellbeing of its own citizens, it needs to hear the voices of those beyond its boundaries.

The organisation that I work for, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, hears the voices of Irish women all the time. We see hundreds of women every year who have travelled over to end crisis pregnancies. Nothing obvious marks them from out from our English clients, except sometimes their accents. But, whether they acknowledge it or not (some do, some don't) they carry an additional burden of knowing that, in their own homeland, abortion is illegal.

The illegality of abortion at home has consequences even for those women wealthy enough, organised enough and informed enough to travel. It means they have limited opportunity for advice and counselling before they come here, and little access to support and aftercare when they return home. They carry the emotional burden of seeking an "illicit" solution, and the financial cost. The practical arrangements often means their treatment is delayed. Many suffer needless anxiety because, when abortion is unlawful, it can be hard to know facts from myths.

The truth needs to be heard. Legal abortion is safe and benefits society. And Ireland can only exist as a modern society because of abortion clinics in England. We are the safe, civilised alternative to clandestine, illegal abortion treatments, to abandoned infants and the burdens of forced motherhood.

Women in Ireland have abortions but they have them here, while politicians turn away.

Abortion is a fact of life for women in Ireland. And the Irish Government needs to face that fact.

Ann Furedi is chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service

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