Abortion and the referendum in Ireland
Maura Leahy, Director of Counselling, IFPA
I have been the IFPA Director of Counselling in Crisis Pregnancy since May 2017. For 25 years I have worked with children in care, early school leavers, and women at risk of crisis pregnancy. The IFPA counsellors have been counselling women in crisis pregnancy for decades.
Until now in Ireland we had to work within the context of the Information Act which meant we could talk to women about accessing abortion services outside of Ireland, but only if we also talked to them about parenting and adoption even if they had already decided to terminate. Regardless of the circumstances we still had to outline to them that there were three options or risk falling foul of the law. The Information Act was a layer of bureaucracy but with a menacing kind of tone.
There were many times when you were counselling women just thinking ‘oh this is ridiculous’ because this might be a serious case of fetal abnormality, it’s clear this woman isn't going to have this child, or have it adopted. Why do I have to say this? I'm not helping her by being forced to say this. There was a sense of the absurd.
Women were often fearful. They knew there is something illegal about abortion or they weren't sure if it was okay to talk about it. Some women also had experience of rogue agencies where they thought they were speaking to a counsellor, but they were tricked by a pro-life group trying to influence their decision and prevent them accessing abortion services. These rogue clinics had different tactics like setting an appointment for next week and then ringing and postponing, to create time delays in terms of women accessing services. Or they’d show graphic images of a fetus. That's exploitative and manipulative, taking advantage of women in a vulnerable situation.
So, when we said, whatever your decision is we'll work with you to achieve that, there was often a sigh of relief, a feeling of: ‘Oh, we've come to somewhere where we can actually be supported.’ The way the laws were framed were suspicious of women, forcing them to justify their decision making.