- 21 Jun 18
The Director of the National Women’s Council was speaking this morning at a conference, Women Making History, opened by the Minister for Health, Simon Harris
The Director of the National Women’s Council Orla O’Connor has called for the creation of exclusion zones around maternity hospitals, which would prevent the intimidation of women accessing healthcare by anti-abortion forces. She set the call against the backdrop of what was one of the uglier and more bullying aspects of the recent ‘No’ campaign in the Referendum on the 8th Amendment.
“A major and distressing feature of the recent campaign,” Orla O’Connor stated, "was the graphic images prominently displayed outside maternity hospitals – and this has continued post referendum. We need to be clear that women and their healthcare providers should not have to walk past anti-abortion campaigners waving placards with graphic imagery, and handing out leaflets with fake or misleading medical information. Exclusion zones outside maternity hospitals and primary care centres are necessary to prevent protesters harassing women. This is a proportionate action to protect the privacy and dignity of women accessing healthcare.”
The repeal referendum has changed Ireland, she told NWCI’s ‘Women Making History’ event, which was opened by the Minister for Health Simon Harris, this morning.
Reflecting on the result of the Referendum, O’Connor pointed out that the resounding yes vote by over 1.4million people demonstrates that people in Ireland want women-centred abortion services. She reminded the Minister that it is important now to speedily progress legislation, so that women are no longer forced to travel abroad.
“The repeal referendum has changed Ireland,” Orla O’Connor stated. "This was a campaign run by women across the country, led by women, for women. A remarkable mobilisation for women’s health and equality on the ground and online, translated into a landslide win in the ballot box that no one predicted.
“The Irish electorate has once again looked past fake news, and overwhelmingly demonstrated support for equality. They listened to the voices and experiences of women at the centre of Together for Yes, and voted for change. There is a whole generation of new activists looking for the next campaign, daring to dream of greater equality and further change. Following on from the referendum, women-centred abortion legislation must be our priority.
“As discussion now focuses on the legislation,” she added, "there are important factors in ensuring women have timely access to the care they need. Cost cannot prevent a woman from accessing abortion. Services should be publicly-funded and available through our public health system, with appropriate funding. Recent reports of possible costs to women for the service (up to €300) are prohibitive and would likely mean continued use of medication ordered online.”
O’Connor also emphasised that the legislation must not encourage discrimination of any kind.
“The legislation must include a provision to guarantee entitlement to timely access to services,” she insisted, "and to ensure that women who seek abortion are not subject to discrimination on any grounds. This will require explicit guidance on how to ensure timely access for disadvantaged women, including migrant women, women experiencing intimate partner violence and women with disabilities.”
She also dealt with the contentious issue of conscientious objection, which is being seen by many ‘No’ campaigners and religious vested interests as the next battle-ground, on which the right to an abortion might be frustrated or denied to women.
“It is important to restate that conscientious objection must respect the rights of the pregnant woman,” she said, "and protect them from judgement from medical providers with objections. This means that there must be a referral system that comes under the guarantee of access, to ensure that a woman gets a safe and timely service and also that objections cannot apply to institutions.
“Other elements of reproductive healthcare now need to be progressed,” she concluded, “free contraception, maternity care, sexual health education that is representative of real life and age appropriate.”