Pro-choice activists in Ireland are risking up to 14 years in prison with a guerrilla-style information campaign designed to help the estimated 11 Irish women per day who travel to Britain for terminations.
They are targeting cafes, pubs, clubs, gym changing rooms and public toilets with thousands of leaflets giving contact details for British abortion clinics, as well as the price of terminations. The literature includes a Web site where Irish women can buy early abortion pills (effective up to nine weeks of pregnancy) online via womenonweb.org.
Organizers and supporters behind the campaign, which began after Indian national Savita Halappanavar died after being refused an abortion in Galway University Hospital in autumn last year, said they intend to intensify their leaflet blitz after the government approved a bill on Tuesday to allow for strictly limited abortions in Ireland.
Disseminating information on how to buy early abortion pills is illegal in the Republic and under the new legislation those helping to procure an illicit termination risk being jailed for up to 14 years.
The abortion information blitz is taking place as Irish politicians in parliament debate whether or not to support the Fine Gael-Labour coalition’s protection of life in pregnancy bill, which the Cabinet backed on Tuesday night.
One part of Ireland the pro-choice activists have targeted to distribute highly detailed information on abortion access is Galway, the city where Halappanavar died.
“We’ve only handed them out at public stalls on the main shopping street so far. A few people have taken them. There hasn’t been much of a reaction bar that; I would say that most people aren’t even aware that it’s illegal to hand out that sort of information,” Galway Pro-Choice member Sarah McCarthy said.
The new bill, which will have to be passed in both houses of the Irish parliament, will not include cases concerning rape, incest or fatal fetal abnormalities.
And a controversial measure in the new proposed law stating that a woman seeking an abortion because she is suicidal will have to be assessed by up to six doctors including psychiatrists has been condemned by pro-choice groups.
In the new bill, three consultants reviewing the case of a woman with suicidal thoughts while pregnant must all agree that a termination should proceed.
There is provision for an appeal by the woman where termination of pregnancy is not approved by the first three doctors. That final appeal would be to three other separate consultants.
The appeal panel of three doctors must also be unanimous in approval for a termination to be granted under law. The procedures mean that in the case of suicide threat, a woman could in effect have six doctors reviewing her application.
Pro-choice campaigners in Ireland and abroad have denounced the elements of the bill concerning a woman at risk of suicide due to pregnancy.
The Abortion Support Network (ASN), a charity that helps Irish women access abortion services in Britain, said that while it welcomed the new bill it would not stop thousands more traveling across the Irish Sea for terminations in Britain.
Mara Clarke, one of the founders of the ASN, also applauded the campaign giving Irish women information on how to terminate pregnancies including the costs of abortion clinics.
“The leaflet is a one-stop shop that tells women which local organizations can provide unbiased information about all their options, contact details for clinics in England and information on where to turn to for financial help or access to early medical abortion pills,” Clarke said. “This information needs to be put into the hands of women and I hope the leaflets find their way into every women’s toilet, changing room and pub in Ireland.”
Meanwhile, a group of women who had to travel for terminations in Britain because their babies would have died shortly after birth due to fatal fetal abnormalities said they have been left out and let down by the new legislation.
The basis of the new bill is an Irish supreme court judgment 21 years ago, which successive governments until the current coalition have failed to implement.