Voices from countries with illegal abortion
Niall Behan, Chief Executive, Irish Family Planning Association, Dublin
Voices from countries where abortion is illegal are changing radically in Europe.
Traditionally those advocating a pro-choice approach to abortion have emphasised the
difficult circumstances in which women with unwanted pregnancies find themselves. It was
rare for women who have had an abortion be an advocate. Even if a woman was an
advocate she would not usually mention that she had had an abortion.
Over recent years pro-choice advocates have been very successful in raising awareness
of the clandestine abortions and the prosecution of doctors and nurses. Pro-choice
advocates have also been very successful in raising awareness of the difficult journeys
women from Ireland and Malta must make to access safe and legal abortion in other
European countries. As a result of this awareness raising opinion polls show there are very
strong pro-choice majorities in Portugal and Ireland.
This success has led to key changes in both pro-choice and anti-choice advocacy
The aggressive fear tactics which anti-choice advocates imported from the US have clearly
failed in Europe. They have slowly abandoned the aggressive picketing of family planning
clinics and the family homes of pro-choice politicians. The intimidation of pro-choice
activists although still happening, has also reduced significantly. And while anti-choice
organisation, still try to link breast cancer/infertility/traffic accidents and abortion, these
tactics have severely dented their credibility.
Increasingly anti-choice advocates have moved to what can best be referred to as “a
sweet stuff strategy”. They have tried to adopt human rights language which is focused on
the needs of women. For example, they are likely to say a woman with an unplanned
pregnancy has “ a right to better options than abortion”. They are increasingly drawing
parallels with the rights of ethnic minority groups and the rights of a foetus. They rarely
discuss contraception or religion.
There is an acknowledgement that they have lost ground in the moral or cultural debate
and they now want to focus on abortion as a danger to a womans health.
Bouyed by the increased support for the pro-choice perspectives, but faced with the
refusal of governments to act, pro-choice advocates are increasingly pursuing change
through human rights and legal instruments. We see this most clearly in Tysiac Vs Poland,
D. Vs Ireland and A.B.C. vs Ireland but also in the judicial review that UK Family Planning
Association have pursued in Northern Ireland.
Voices from countries where abortion is illegal are more optimistic than ever. Their voices
speak of the right to privacy, the woman’s right to life, equality and freedom from cruel and
inhumane treatment. In countries where abortion is illegal individual women who have
been denied their human rights are now more willing to pursue their Government through
the courts to vindicate their rights.