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Abortion law 'cowardice' lashed

The Government is guilty of "political cowardice" for refusing to bring in abortion laws, says the Irish Family Planning Association.

While welcoming a slight reduction in the numbers of Irish women getting abortions in Britain, the association's chief executive said it was "high time" to legislate "for reality".

Chief executive Niall Behan told the Herald: "Unplanned pregnancies and abortions will always be a reality -- 12 Irish women a day travel to the UK for abortions. It is high time the Irish Government legislated for this reality.

"There appears to be a political cowardice on the part of the Government when it comes to legislating on the abortion issue.

"Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that the Irish people understands that abortion can be justified in certain circumstances.

"The Government is showing political cowardice for not responding to public opinion."

New figures by the UK department of health show that 4,422 of the women who received abortions in England and Wales last year provided Irish addresses. This was a drop of 178 on the previous year.

Mr Behan said: "While this trend is a step in the right direction, the harsh reality behind these statistics is that every day 12 women must make the journey to Britain to access safe and legal abortion services.

"These figures are compelling evidence of the need for domestic-based abortion services in Ireland. The criminalisation of abortion has little impact on abortion rates, it merely adds to the burden and stress suffered by women experiencing crisis pregnancies."

Ireland's abortion laws were put under scrutiny at the European Court of Human Rights last December when the Court's 17-judge grand chamber heard a challenge from three women living in Ireland.

All three had travelled to Britain to access termination services and argued that Ireland's laws jeopardised their health and wellbeing in violation of their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

A judgment on this case is expected later this year.