The IFPA elephant in the room

There is a problem with the proposed plans to regulate crisis pregnancy agencies in Ireland but it’s not the one that prochoice/anti-freedom campaigners would have you think.

Contrary to their claims, prolife supporters don’t have any issue with guidance being given so that women who find themselves in vulnerable situations receive accurate information and good advice at the time when they most need it. The difficulty arises with the trust factor. Trust is hard won in a society, but it’s easily lost. The most objective onlooker can see that there is a difference in terms of how certain agencies are treated.

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This law is being promoted as coming hot on the heels of an investigation by the Irish edition of the London Times, which reported on information that was being given out by an agency in Dublin that is seen as having a “prolife” ethos.
When the report unfolded on the newspaper’s website, politicians and media alike swung into action. News programmes were dedicated to discussing this latest development in Ireland’s abortion debate, a protest was swiftly organised outside the clinic, a staff member spoke on national radio and Minister for Health Simon Harris even got involved to say that he would be considering “every possible option” to ensure that women got reliable pregnancy counselling information.

This remains a worthy intention, but therein lies the difficulty. Because all of these efforts should really have been actioned a few years earlier – some 4 years earlier in fact when counsellors in the Irish Family Planning Association were found to be distributing what was described as “life-endangering” advice to the women who attended their clinics. Women were told they could lie to their doctors and tell them they’d had a miscarriage instead of an abortion in the future (so preventing their doctors from treating them properly), and were coached on how to illegally import the abortion pill.

The reaction? Tumbleweed.

No “Prime Time investigates”.

No national radio shows.

No comments from politicians, worrying that women’s lives might be at risk from this advice.

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Most disgracefully of all, no comment, explanation or even acknowledgement from the head of the IFPA, Niall Behan who refused to offer any explanation to the women who had attended IFPA clinics, or to the tax payers who cover the costs of running them.

So what was the problem? Why were the life-endangering practices of the IFPA ignored? Lately, much has been made of the fact that the DPP chose not to prosecute those responsible for these shoddy practices – despite the fact that (a) the DPP can choose not to prosecute for any number of reasons, (b) the mere fact that the case made it as far as the DPP shows the seriousness of the charges and (c) the DPP only made his decision in December 2014, some 2 years after the revelations – giving the IFPA a full 2 years to make a statement which never materialised.

Of course, the fact that the IFPA is tax funded means that it always owed an explanation to the tax payer, not to mention the women who received the life-endangering advice in the first place.

These days, IFPA Chief Executive Niall Behan moving back way back into the public arena to push for the repeal of the Eighth Amendment. No journalist since Gemma O’Doherty (who broke the original story) has yet had the chutzpah to actually challenge him on the scandal that was essentially swept under the carpet, but we live in hope that it won’t always be ignored as something so far in the past (a MASSIVE 4 years ago) and that journalists seeking genuine transparency will address this matter.

The issue now concerns the proposed bill and the faith the public should have in it. It’s fair enough for Simon Harris to say that he wasn’t the Minister for Health when this scandal broke and so was not in a position to request transparency from the IFPA. At this stage though, he must insist that Niall Behan provides an explanation to the women of Ireland. To refuse to do so would be to suggest that the IFPA is above explanation, above transparency and above regulation. If that is the case, then the phrase “(excluding the Irish Family Planning Association)” should be included in the title of any new Bill. We won’t be living in a free society, but at least we’d know where we stand.