European report calls for Irish abortion law change

The Council of Europe, including Irish parliamentarians, will this week debate a report calling for the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.

The Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) published the report last month, calling on member states that had not already decriminalised abortion to do so.

‘‘Women must be allowed freedom of choice and offered the conditions of a free and enlightened choice,” said Austrian socialist Gisela Wurm, the committee rapporteur.

‘‘Abortion on request is, in theory, available in all Council of Europe member states, except Andorra, Malta, Ireland and Poland,” said the report, but ‘‘even in member states where abortion is legal, conditions are not always such as to guarantee women effective access to this right’’.

Wurm said the absence of local healthcare facilities, lack of doctors willing to carry out abortions, repeated medical consultations, time allowed for a woman to change her mind and waiting time for abortions could all make access more difficult, or even impossible.

The report, which was approved by a large majority of the committee, calls on all 47 Council of Europe member states to guarantee ‘‘women’s effective exercise of their right to abortion and to lift restrictions which hinder access to safe abortion . . . by creating the appropriate conditions for health, medical and psychological care and offering suitable financial cover’’.

This first PACE report on abortion said that making contraception available was not enough to prevent abortions.

‘‘A recent study in France, which has the highest contraception rate in the world, provided a reminder that almost two of every three unplanned pregnancies occurred in women who claimed to be using a means of contraception when they fell pregnant,” it said.

The report also called for the introduction of ‘‘compulsory sex education’’ for schoolchildren to avoid ‘‘as many unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions) as possible’’.

Among those debating the report on Wednesday morning will be Irish parliamentarians Frank Fahey, Cecilia Keaveney, Peter Kelly and Terry Leyden of Fianna Fáil, Pat Breen and Joe O’Reilly of Fine Gael, Labour’s Joe Costello and independent Tony Gregory. The debate will be webcast live via the Council of Europe website.

Leyden voted against the report’s conclusions at a meeting in Strasbourg in January, after being appointed as the only Irish parliamentarian on the committee the previous month.

‘‘I never thought I would be landed in the middle of a committee calling for abortion in Ireland,” he told The Sunday Business Post. Leyden said he would cooperate with delegates from Malta and Poland to table amendments rejecting the report. ‘‘On a personal basis, I am not a zealot, but I am opposed to abortion,” he said. Leyden said the Lisbon Reform Treaty did not include any provision for interfering with Ireland’s position on abortion, but added: ‘‘This report is not helpful to our position.”

MEP Kathy Sinnott said: ‘‘The Council of Europe is not the EU and its resolutions do not have the force of law in Ireland that EU law does. Nonetheless, it is recognised as a moral authority in Europe and its deliberations can be used to pressure us in areas where we have taken an independent path.

‘‘If this resolution passes, it will be more pressure on Ireland to change its abortion laws.”

See also: “The bishops of Malta and Gozo insisted in a statement today that abortion is not a choice but murder, and it is not a right


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