Making a drama out of a
Irish Medical Times,
16th February 2011
Responding to news of
the seizure of more than 1,000 abortion pills by the IMB, Dr
Juliet Bressan examines the issue from the perspective of those
facing into a crisis pregnancy.
Last year, the Irish
Medicines Board (IMB) seized more than 1,200 abortion pills that had
been imported into Ireland illegally. On January 10 this year, they
successfully prosecuted a woman who had imported Mifepristone to sell to
other women. What does this mean? Who are these 1,200-plus women whose
parcels and packages have been steamed open by customs, in a giant
Stasi-like operation to bust the importation of reproductive products
into Ireland? They are our sisters, daughters, mothers, cousins,
neighbours, colleagues, friends. They are our wives, our students, our
lovers, our grannies, our bosses, our partners, our patients.
Up until the 1980s,
many Irish doctors were afraid to provide contraception illegally.
Gynaecologists certainly did not. Patients sneaked around backstreets to
Family Planning Clinics where doctors worked illegally to provide
contraceptive pills to women who weren’t married, women who didn’t
want more kids, women who were suffering the indignity of complete
powerlessness in reproductive health.
Dr Andrew Rynne was one of these doctors. In 1978 he
performed 414 illegal vasectomies. The local parish priest called to his
house to tell him about the mutilating effects of vasectomy, and of the
immorality of his behaviour.
Pioneer: Dr Rynne
wrote to the DPP to admit he was breaking the law
In 1983, Dr Rynne wrote
to the DPP and told him that he was breaking the law and selling condoms
directly to his patients at weekends, when the local pharmacist was
closed. The DPP sent the police around. A Garda Sergeant arrived at Dr
Rynne’s surgery, so he handed over samples of condoms and receipts and
anything else that the police needed to secure a conviction. Dr Rynne
was then fined £500.
I have no doubt that
the Irish Medicines Board believes that it must do whatever is necessary
to protect the citizens of Ireland from the mutilation of self-induced
abortion, and from any possible side-effects that an abortion might
cause: heavy vaginal bleeding, cramping pains, dizziness, weakness,
nausea or infection.
And I have no doubt
that in the not-too-distant future we will regard the ban on abortion in
Ireland and the punishing effect that it has on women in the same light
that we regard our shameful history of a ban on contraception, on
divorce, on homosexuality and on the movie The Life Of Brian as an
extraordinarily reactionary and regressive law that creates nothing but
hardship and embarrassment.
Ireland has already
been found guilty in the European Court of Human Rights of neglecting
women’s reproductive health. I have no doubt that in the future we
will regard the current abortion law and those who defend it in the same
light in which we now regard the Magdalene Laundries.
I feel ashamed that the Irish State is still treating women as
criminals, marching them through the courts rather than providing legal
reproductive healthcare here. Abortion pills aren’t lethal, bizarre,
illegal drugs that cause horrendous side effects: they are legally
available in the country just next door to us.
Misoprostol are internationally regarded as the treatment of choice, the
first-line remedy for first trimester abortion as they are safer in all
studies than surgical intervention. These pills are licensed drugs and
used widely here for other indications. They are used in Irish maternity
In a country where
erectile dysfunction seems to have become a national emergency, these
abortion pills have a large demand. If the IMB seized 1,216 of them last
year, that means 1,216 women who were sitting, desperately waiting for
their package to arrive, were left waiting while the gestation of her
crisis pregnancy was made later and later.
What did those women do
instead? What did 1,216 women do when their pills never arr-ived? What
follow-up did they receive?
Doing its job
I’m just this one writer and I have no argument with the IMB. The
Board is doing its job. But many good doctors and nurses and counsellors
up and down the country are holding women by the hand, offering sound
medical advice, making themselves available by phone in case of
emergencies — in other words, supporting women who have chosen illegal
abortion — because they care about their patients and what
happens to them after the pills arrive.
They are compassionate
professionals and they are not going to push these women away and into a
situation where they receive no medical care at all.
Most of the women who
are ordering on-line abortions are poor: they do not have the money to
pay for an abortion abroad.
Many are illegal
immigrants with no ability to travel.
Others are drug
addicts, students, homeless women, women with no money, no means, no
hope. They are all in utter despair. One day, we will look back and
cringe, and ask ourselves, what kind of country were we in 2011, that a
woman had no other choice than to sit down, on her own, in front of a
computer, desperately praying that the customs officials didn’t get to
here to return to the news page