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Thursday 21 August 2014

Legislation is sometimes difficult – but it is a politician's job

Published 18/11/2012 | 05:00

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As someone who was adopted, abortion is an issue that affects me deeply – but we can't ignore it, writes Averil Power

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As an adopted person, I've always been deeply conflicted on the issue of abortion.

For when people speak of unwanted pregnancies, I can't but reflect on the fact that I was one.

I was the unplanned daughter of a single woman for whom keeping me was never a real option in the Ireland of 1978. I'm grateful for the fact that adoption gave me a chance both to be part of another family and to get to know my birth mother and half-siblings later in life.

So when some on the pro-choice side speak of abortion as a simple women's rights issue, without a thought for the life of the unborn child, it upsets me greatly.

But so too does the utter lack of compassion that extreme pro-life groups show towards women in distress – particularly when that lack of compassion encompasses women whose own lives are at risk or victims of rape.

Abortion is never desirable but in some circumstances the consequences of it not being available are worse.

We don't yet know if the termination that Savita Halappanavar pleaded for would have saved her life. Maybe we'll never know with absolute certainty. But what is clear is that failure to legislate for the X Case has left doctors in an unacceptable legal limbo and women without the protection they deserve.

When I heard the news of Savita's tragic death, I felt a mixture of shock, sadness and incredible anger. Savita was my age. She could have been me, my sister or one of my friends. That she suffered such a horrific ordeal in an Irish hospital is truly frightening. And that there is even a slight chance that what she went through is a result of failure to legislate for X is an absolute disgrace.

I appreciate that abortion is an emotive and sensitive issue. Just as views differ among family members, they also vary among members of the same party. Some people have deeply held moral or religious reasons for opposing abortion in all cases. Others believe in a woman's absolute right to choose.

Many, myself included, come down in the middle, wishing that abortion was avoidable but believing that it should be an option where there is a threat to the life of the mother, in cases of rape and where the baby can't survive outside the womb.

I respect the views of others, even those that are very different to my own.

But what I can't respect and I won't support are attempts to avoid dealing with the issue. And what really angers me is the fact that the inaction of some TDs and senators is not driven by their personal opposition to legislating for the X Case, but rather by their fear of being targeted by certain extreme groups. Or their determination to avoid losing votes by being clear about their position.

Politicians are elected to legislate. Sometimes that's easy and sometimes it's not. But it's our job.

The circumstances of my own birth make this is an emotional issue for me. But as a member of the Oireachtas people are entitled to know where I stand on it.

I firmly believe that the Government should publish the report of the Expert Group without further delay. Legislation must then be brought forward to give effect to the protection for the mother's life that our Constitution declares and that the people have affirmed in successive referenda.

There may well be a case for allowing a free vote on such legislation to allow members to vote with their conscience while ultimately being accountable to their voters at the next election. But there is no excuse for further procrastination.

Nothing anyone can do will bring back Savita. But we can do some small justice to her memory by finally being willing to face up to an issue which – divisive, emotive and sensitive as it may be – has been ignored for far too long.

Sunday Independent

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