Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Think the 8th Amendment is only an abortion issue? Please read.


What does maternity rights have to do with the 8th Amendment?

AIMSI have been asked this many times over the last year. Further discussion has been ignited this week, following events in which an abortion was denied to a suicidal teen who became pregnant following a rape. Many consider repealing the 8th Amendment only in the context of reproductive health and abortion. But the 8th Amendment is a piece of legislation which directly affects every pregnant women, over-lapping on choices for contraception, abortion, and in continued pregnancy, labour, and birth.

With the 8th Amendment in place, pregnant women do not have the same rights as non-pregnant women. Pregnancy immediately reducing a woman's right to make informed decisions on her care and decisions which will affect her and her baby in pregnancy, labour, and birth.

AIMS Ireland strongly campaigns for recognition of informed choice in maternity care. The issue of informed consent/informed refusal and coercion (threats of legal/child protection orders) to obtain consent are prevalent in reporting to AIMSI by women accessing services and health care providers who offer witness accounts of consent violations. Many of the interventions performed without consent have implications for the health and welfare of the birthing woman and or baby.

The HSE's published National Consent Policy restricts informed consent and informed refusal of treatment for pregnant women. It is important that all women are aware of this Consent Policy and the legal ramifications of the 8th Amendment (Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution) on their right to informed decision making in their maternity care. See as follows:

Page 41: 7.7.1 Refusal of Treatment in Pregnancy

"The consent of a pregnant woman is required for all health and social care interventions. However, because of the constitutional provisions on the right to life of the "unborn" (12), there is significant legal uncertainty regarding the extent of a pregnant woman's right to refuse treatment in circumstances in which the refusal would put the life of a viable foetus at serious risk. In such circumstances, legal advice should be sought as to whether an application to the High Court is necessary.

Citation: (12) Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution (1937)

Relevant factors to be considered in this context may include whether the risk to the life of the unborn is established with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, and whether the imposition of treatment would place a disproportionate burden or risk of harm on the pregnant woman."

AIMS Ireland firmly believes that in order to offer full support to women and campaign for improvements in maternity services, we must recognise all women in their right to autonomy of choice. The 8th Amendment of the Constitution, Article 40.3.3, affects all pregnant women, their birth choices, their right to accept or refuse a test or treatment, their right to individual assessment, their right to be pregnant or not.

At the our 2013 AGM, the committee asked its members to ratify AIMS Ireland’s stance to support all women in their right to autonomy of choice and to call for the repeal of the 8th Amendment to ensure women’s human rights in childbirth in Ireland. The motion was unanimously carried by AIMS Ireland members.

We hope that the discussion around the 8th Amendment is broadened to include the rights of women in continued pregnancy, labour, and birth and practices which violate these rights within Irish maternity services.

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