C: Anja Teraz/ Scopio

JIM STACK: The State’s attitude to abortion

Do we, as a society, prefer abortions to births (in which case State policy would encourage abortions), or births to abortions (in which case State policy would encourage births), or is the State entirely neutral on the issue?

(a) The obvious place to start answering this question is with the financial arrangements set up in 2018. The State pays €450 per medical abortion to GP’s (and other providers of early abortions). The number of GP visits involved is 3-4:  an initial consultation, a return visit where the first of the two abortion pills is dispensed, and one or two check-up visits some weeks after the second abortion pill has been taken by the woman (on the day following the dispensing of the first pill). The payment per visit by the State works out at somewhere between €110 and €150 per visit. In contrast, the State pays €250 to a GP to manage a pregnancy to birth, which works out at €25 to €30 per visit, because the number of visits is usually 8-10 in the course of the pregnancy. Financially, therefore, the State clearly favours abortions over births.

(b) Abortion payments are made in two stages. There is a payment to the GP of €150 for the initial consultation. If the woman proceeds with the abortion, the GP is paid the balance of €300 afterward. At the initial consultation, the GP is supposed to explain to the woman all her options, and to outline the possible consequences of an abortion, but the GP does not get paid the balance of €300 if the woman changes her mind, and so it is not obvious that the GP will in all cases give disinterested, impartial advice. It would have been much more sensible, if the State were even neutral on the abortion issue, for the initial consultation to be with an impartial, trained therapist rather than with the GP who will gain financially if the woman proceeds with the abortion. Here, too, the State clearly shows a preference for abortion.

(c) The same conclusion follows from the failure of the State to provide any funding whatsoever to voluntary organisations which assist women in crisis pregnancies to continue with their pregnancies. Organisations like Gianna Care and Every Life Counts are funded entirely by private donations; the State is not interested.

(d) The provision of abortion information by the State also follows the same pattern. On the HSE website, women can access a helpline which directs them to abortion providers, but there is no such helpline directing them to organisations which will assist them to continue with their pregnancy. If a woman instead contacts her own GP, that GP is legally required to refer her to an abortion provider, but an abortion provider is not legally required to refer her to anyone offering alternatives to abortion.

(e) The same pattern applies to counselling arrangements. There is no provision in the abortion legislation for pre-abortion counselling – counselling which might lead the woman to change her mind about the abortion – but there is a post-abortion HSE support helpline.

So far in this analysis, therefore, the State’s position is surprisingly clear – it clearly favours abortions over births. That same conclusion would follow from the State’s support in 2018 for legalising abortion in the first place – there was ample evidence from other European countries that legalising abortion increases the number of abortions (and that is what actually happened here too).

How about evidence to the contrary? There is, firstly, the payment, by the State, of  monthly children’s allowances, but the purpose of these, so often, seems to be to fund childcare provision and enable mothers to continue in the workforce. Tax individualisation, and scrapping of tax reliefs for children, are both State policies that are actually anti-children. The State announced in the recent Budget that it will be allocating €10m next year for free contraception for women aged 17-25. Not much evidence, in short, that the State welcomes children.

As for our new abortion legislation – yes, it does have a mandatory three-day reflection period, and a ban on most abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation. These restrictions had been promised to the electorate during the 2018 referendum campaign, and those promises were honoured in the actual legislation. There is clear statistical evidence that the three-day reflection period, in particular, worked to restrict the number of abortions here in the first two years of the new regime; upwards of 2000 women, in the first two years, appear to have changed their minds during the reflection period.

The State’s attitude to these restrictions, in the forthcoming abortion review, will certainly clarify matters. But it is fair to say that the State, to this point, has not been forthcoming in defending these restrictions. In three years, has a single government Minister ever drawn attention to the success of these restrictions in limiting abortion numbers? The over-riding impression is that the State introduced these restrictions at the time, so as to make sure the abortion referendum was carried, but is not committed to them.

The available evidence to date, in short, is that the State favours abortions over births.  A very strange position for the State to take, in a country with a birth rate that was falling alarmingly even before we legalised abortion here. But it might be a mistake to simply regard this as a triumph for pro-choice ideology over common sense. It is not at all clear that recent governments here have been capable of even having an ideological position.

No, the simple and chilling explanation might well be that the State has this attitude to abortion because the media here have this attitude to abortion. The same media routinely criticise the likes of Poland and Hungary which have pro-life, pro-family policies, and simultaneously argue for further extensions to our abortion regime, while routinely suppressing anything that might put our abortion regime in a bad light. The worst offender here is probably RTE, the State broadcaster. Instead of standing up to this media propaganda, the State capitulates completely.

To sum up: We have 6500 abortions a year currently, and will likely have even more in the future, because the State is afraid of alienating the media. That is pathetic.

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