Speeches

Speech by Mr Micheál Martin, T.D., Minister for Health and Children, at the launch of the “Strategy to Address the Issue of Crisis Pregnancy”

Introduction

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to join you today at the launch of the “Strategy to Address the Issue of Crisis Pregnancy”, and I would like to thank the Crisis Pregnancy Agencymost sincerely for the invitation to attend.

Background

There is general agreement in society that, whatever one´s views on the substantive issue of abortion, we must make every effort to tackle the problem of crisis pregnancy in Ireland, which involves well over 6,000 women from this country having abortions abroad every year. The November 2000 Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, on the issue of abortion, stated that various Government Departments, state bodies and voluntary organisations have responsibilities for the issues which impact on this problem. The Report considered that the complexity of the programmes needed and the cohesion necessary for their success required a single planning focus. The Committee proposed the establishment of an agency which would have responsibility for drawing up a strategy to combat crisis pregnancies, to promote options (other than abortion) where a crisis pregnancy occurs and to provide for post crisis pregnancy services.

Having considered the Committee´s recommendation, and following All-Party agreement on the issue, the Government announced the establishment of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency in October 2001. The Government’s intention in establishing the Agency was that to ensure that any woman who finds herself in this situation will have available to her the widest possible range of assistance to help her deal with her situation.

Positive Options

I am pleased to say that since its establishment, the Agency has given new impetus to, and has begun to play a major role in, the development of coordinated, responsive and appropriate services for crisis pregnancy. For example, the Positive Options Campaign, developed by the Agency in 2002, is a major information programme, which has been promoting information on support services in crisis pregnancy. The focus of the campaign is to make women more aware of their options, should they have a crisis pregnancy, and to improve the supports and assistance available to women in this situation. Initiatives undertaken as part of the campaign have included a text message information service, an information leaflet, posters, a web page and in recent weeks, television advertisements. I understand that in crisis pregnancy situations a woman may often experience an overwhelming sense of isolation and confusion. However I am confident that this information campaign has already provided, and will continue to provide invaluable support to many women in this situation.

Strategy to Address the Issue of Crisis Pregnancy

The Strategy before us today is a comprehensive and ambitious document which encompasses all aspects of crisis pregnancy from prevention to post-crisis pregnancy support. It provides a blueprint to guide policy makers and service providers towards the delivery of co-ordinated programmes to prevent crisis pregnancy, and to provide a comprehensive and caring response to the needs of women with a crisis pregnancy. Some of the actions can be taken in the short to medium term; others, such as influencing cultural change will require longer, more sustained approaches.

With regard to prevention, the Strategy has emphasised that the number of crisis pregnancies, and hence abortions, could be reduced through the consistent and correct use of effective methods of contraception. In conjunction with health promotion initiatives surrounding the use of contraception, the Agency has called for measures to ensure that emergency contraception is more widely available on a national basis. Initiatives will include both the development of protocols for its prescription with the ICGP and the development of a promotional campaign in relation to the role and use of emergency contraception.

In relation to supports during crisis pregnancy, the Agency found that the decision to have an abortion can be made very quickly, and has reasoned that by slowing the decision making process down, a woman has more time to make an informed choice. Accordingly the Strategy has addressed the issue of quality assurance in relation to pregnancy counselling agencies. It is recommended that a standardised training programme for pregnancy counselling be developed, which is an initiative that I particularly welcome.

The area of post abortion medical check ups and counselling has also been considered. The Agency´s main objectives in this area are setting standards and ensuring that these services are available and accessible. This will involve, for example, the provision of further training for health professionals and consultations with the Agencies in the United Kingdom. In addition, I understand that the Agency has commissioned research into the needs of the post abortion woman. I should point out that this particular research project forms part of a much wider programme that has been embarked upon in the current year. It is hoped that all the research, which has been valued at approximately€900,000 in the current year, will feed into the development of policy and practice.

In the most ambitious section of the Strategy, it is reasoned that cultural change is an import aspect in reducing the number of crisis pregnancies. The Agency has envisioned a society where: crisis pregnancy is not glamorised or sensationalised; women are supported rather than being judged or having their actions condoned; responsibility for one’s actions is promoted and negative, damaging or misleading messages around sexual health and crisis pregnancy are challenged. Although realistically the Agency cannot hope to achieve a major cultural shift in Irish society, I hope that they will be able to plant the seeds for this change.

Conclusion

In conclusion I would like to thank the Board of the Agency, and in particular its Chairperson, Ms Olive Braiden, for the timely and thorough manner in which this strategy has been produced. I would also like to express my appreciation to the Director and staff of the Agency, to the Consultative Committee, and to all those organisations and individuals who contributed to the development of the strategy through the Agency´s extensive consultative process. I commend your work, and may I wish you every success in the future. Thank you again for you kind invitation to join you here today. I am very pleased to hereby launch this publication.