Concern as research for Abortion Review led by Repeal campaigner 

Pro-life groups and TDs have expressed concern that research which will inform an important review of the 2018 abortion legislation is being led by a campaigner for Repeal of the 8th amendment. 

Yesterday, the Department of Health announced that research to “inform” the review in regard to the experiences of women who had undergone abortions would be carried out by an Associate Professor at Trinity College, Dr Catherine Conlon.

Dr Conlon took part in the 2018 campaign to have abortion legalised in Ireland, speaking at events supporting repeal of the 8th amendment which protected the right to life of the unborn child.

One such event was self-described as “TARTs for Repeal” – a series where “Trinity Academics for Repeal Talks”  drew “on their research to support the case for Repeal of the 8th Amendment”.

Tampere University, where Dr Conlon spoke about repeal of the 8th in 2019, described her as a “convenor of Trinity for Yes during the 2018 referendum”. She was also co-editor of Abortion Papers Ireland II in 2015.

Dr Conlon’s assistant in the research commissioned by the Department is Dr. Kate Antosik-Parsons, who describes herself on her website as a “reproductive rights activist and a co-convener of the Research Working Group, Dublin Bay North Repeal the 8th”.

The Life Institute said that they now had “serious concerns” about the independence of the research on abortion being undertaken for the Department of Health on women’s abortion experiences.

“This research – which we are told will inform the government on possible changes to abortion provision – is being conducted by activists for abortion. The independence of this research is seriously called into question, and the Minister has questions to answer,” the pro-life group said.

“We know that in the past three years many women have felt traumatised and unsupported by the abortion regime. Will their voices be heard, and can this research be held to be free of conflicting interests when it is being carried out by people who actively campaigned for abortion to be legalised.”

“Can women trust the research and the review process when activists who support abortion are tasked with carrying out what is supposed to be neutral research,” Jennifer Wheldon of the Life Institute asked?

“There are already serious misgivings about whether the government will try to whitewash the negative outcomes of the legislation, such as the sharp rise in the number of abortions and the tragic case of Baby Christopher, who was aborted after a misdiagnosis in the National Maternity Hospital. These are issues the Review must address,” the Institute said.

The Department of Health says that “research to inform the service user strand is being carried out by Dr Catherine Conlon, Associate Professor, Trinity College, who is progressing a large qualitative study to analyse unplanned pregnancy and abortion care. The study, which was commissioned by the HSE’s Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme, will generate an in-depth understanding of the experiences of women who have accessed abortion care services since the commencement of the Act.”

Gript has asked the Department if it took any steps to ensure research bias did not become an issue in the commission of the research on women’s abortion experiences.

Carol Nolan TD said that the Review process “has been subjected to political handling, manipulation and outright inconsistency right from the outset.”

In fact, Minister Donnelly has gone out of his way to ignore and exclude those of us who have sought to bring a semblance of balance to the process and to the Review itself.

Indeed, there is a political view out there that the likes of the National Women’s Council or the Irish Family Planning Assocation and other pro-abortion campaigners have some sort of intellectual copyright on how the abortion narrative in this state is to be shaped.

That is just not on. It is undemocratic, unfair, and demonstrably cruel to all those women who continue to feel betrayed and duped by the ‘official’ rhetoric on abortion.

The review was an opportunity to reassess and re-evaluate in a broad and inclusive way the reality of what abortion is really like in Ireland.

Instead, it has degenerated into a vehicle for abortion NGOs to advance and indeed, almost intimidate the political process into submission. This reeks of political cowardice, and I for one am almost embarrassed for them.”

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