Legislation forcing rape victims to prove that a crime had occurred before they could have an abortion would be unworkable, Rape Crisis Network Ireland has warned.
The victim’s support group said that women should not be forced to endure a judgmental process to prove they have been raped to access a safe and legal termination if the Eighth Amendment was repealed.
The government set up a citizens’ assembly to consider potential changes to Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws, particularly in cases of rape.
Almost a quarter of victims who became pregnant after being raped terminated the pregnancy, new research has shown.
The RCNI annual report, which was launched yesterday by Clíona Saidléar, the executive director, and its secretary Claire Gledhill, said that 5 per cent of the 1,060 female rape victims who attended rape crisis centres last year became pregnant as a result of the crime. Some 24 per cent terminated the pregnancy. More than 10 per cent chose adoption or fostering, while 37 per cent continued with the pregnancy.
Pregnancies resulting from rape ended in a stillbirth or a miscarriage in 28 per cent of cases. The RCNI said it was possible that women who terminated a pregnancy themselves with pills bought online would have claimed it was a natural miscarriage, because of a fear of being arrested.
The citizens’ assembly was set up to recommend whether or not to repeal the Eighth Amendment will report by next June. Polling has indicated that some of the strongest support is for access to abortion in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and for victims of rape and incest.
In its submission to the citizens’ assembly, the RCNI warned that a law which would grant access to abortion in cases of sexual crime would fail. Ms Saidléar said that access to abortion had to be made available on health grounds, including mental health.
“You have to bear in mind that trauma will impact; the trauma response may mean that they [rape victims] have left it late,” she said. “There will be a range of impacts on them in terms of their capacity to make a choice, which is to get a termination, because in Ireland that involves having to travel. If you look at it in terms of trauma that a survivor experiences and how you support trauma, you are then putting them into a process where they are judged and assessed and maybe fail.
“When we looked at it from all those sides, we just don’t think a rape clause is workable. So we have said it must be under health grounds because a survivor shouldn’t have to prove and be judged to access a choice. A choice that they’re making already; 24 per cent of them already choose [to terminate].”
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act sought to clarify the law and make abortion available on grounds where a woman’s life was at risk, including a risk of suicide. A woman must convince three physicians that she is suicidal before she can access the termination. The Irish Family Planning Association had said that all of the women it counselled who qualified for abortion under the PLDPA chose to travel to terminate instead of going through the process of proving their mental health problems to a panel of doctors.
The RCNI has said that the burden of proof would be too great on the rape victim, and would encourage suspicion that women were pretending to be raped to access abortion.
“Look at what we’ve done in terms of suicidal ideation; the idea of having a sort of panel for rape, with someone assessing and judging if you’ve been raped or if you’re simply trying to get an abortion by just lying and saying she was raped [is wrong]. And also, it feeds into that myth about people lying about rape,” Ms Saidléar said.
Northern Ireland, similar to the Republic, enforces a near-ban on abortion. Last year, the Belfast High Court ruled that restricting access to abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities was a breach of human rights.
David Ford, the former Northern Ireland justice minister, refused to consider legislating for access to terminations for sexual crime victims because he said it would be too legally difficult without the woman securing a rape conviction first.
On the Isle Of Man, a rape victim must report the crime and sign an affidavit before she can access a legal termination.
Katherine Zappone, the children and youth affairs minister, said she believed the Irish public strongly supported access to abortion for rape and incest victims. The minister said she was against any laws that would force a victim to report a crime to access an abortion.
Source: The Times UK