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Abortion Advice Scandal

 

James Reilly

James Reilly

There were widespread calls in the Seanad on Wednesday for Health Minister James Reilly and Justice Minister Alan Shatter to answer questions on revelations that state-funded agencies, as well as employees of the Health Service Executive (HSE), had been giving women illegal and potentially life-threatening advice in relation to abortion. Fine Gael Senator Paul Bradford called it a “possible national scandal”.

The HSE has launched an investigation, and gardai in Store Street, Dublin, are also examining recordings obtained during an undercover investigation. “I am not interested in the HSE being the investigator,” Senator Bradford said. “I want to see the HSE investigated. I want the HSE before the Oireachtas committee. I want the Irish Family Planning Association and other clinics before the Oireachtas committee to answer questions. We cannot run away from this possible national scandal.”

Senator Bradford suggested there would be outrage if pro-life groups were alleged to be giving possible life-threatening information to Irish women. “What would the situation be in the Irish media if pro-life groups were alleged to be offering illegal information to Irish women?” he asked. “What would the response be in the House and in the media in general if pro-life groups were instructing Irish women to falsify their medical records? Rightly, there would be a national outcry. I am disturbed at the lack of media response to the recent allegations about possible illegal activities by the Irish Family Planning Association and other family planning clinics. It is important.”

In all, over a dozen senators raised the issue. Senator Labhras O’Murchu (FF), said he was concerned about the “low-profile, internal type of inquiry” being carried out and called for an independent investigation.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said the investigation had uncovered “appalling malpractice in State-funded crisis pregnancy counselling agencies, and in particular the Irish Family Planning Association”. What was at issue, he said, was the endangering of women’s lives. Counsellors had been shown to have acted illegally and with gross disregard to the safety of women in their care.

“I believe we owe a debt of gratitude to [journalist] Gemma O’Doherty, to the Irish Independent and to the women who carried out this investigation, who have done the State some service,” Senator Mullen said. He said it was inappropriate that Minister Reilly had made no comment on the scandal since it was a matter of the utmost public interest and urgency.

“I hope we can have the Minister in the House to make an overdue statement and I hope the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children will see fit to ask the most probing of questions,” he said. “This raises further questions since the HSE itself is implicated in the malpractice in some cases and in the illegal activities.”

“There is also the complicating fact that the newly appointed head of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, is a former chief executive of the IFPA,” he added.

Senator Ivana Bacik (Lab), a former board member of the Irish Family Planning Association, objected to Senator Mullen’s remarks, accusing him of impugning the reputation of the IFPA.

Senator Mullen said he was concerned that there were certain people who did not appear to want the truth to be properly dealt with.

Senator Feargal Quinn (Ind) said the appropriate minister to answer questions was Minister for Justice Alan Shatter ,”if a state-sponsored body is accused of breaking the law”.

Other senators calling for the situation to be addressed further included Fidelma Healy-Eames (FG), Marc MacSharry (FF), Catherine Noone (FG), Jim D’Arcy (FG), Paschal Mooney (FF), and Michael Mullins (FG), who expressed concern that his own town of Ballinasloe had been mentioned as one of the places in which dangerous or illegal information was being dispensed.

Senator Paschal Mooney echoed concerns about the suitability of the HSE to investigate the matter. He said the groups involved had “decided to break the law to advance their own particular opinions surreptitiously.” He also said that the current abortion law, based on the 1992 X case was unsustainable. “It is hard to believe that as a consequence of the X case there might be a situation where up-to-term abortions were performed in this country,” he said. “That has to be addressed.”

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