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 A 'Rats Out of the HSE' protest took place today outside the Department of Health's office in Dublin, following a leak of patient information.

The woman had legally obtained an abortion, but was then phoned and harassed by anti-abortion groups, according to TheJournal.ie

The protesters were calling for better protection of confidential patient information and for an external investigation to be launched after last week's data breaches.

Roughly 12 people took part in the protest at lunchtime, carrying placards and holding cut-out rat masks at Miesian Plaza.

A number of investigations were launched last week into the shocking claims.

A woman had an abortion at the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, otherwise known as Holles Street, and was later verbally abused over the phone by a man who had somehow obtained her personal information.

On Friday, anti-abortion protesters stated that they were given information on when abortions were scheduled to occur at Our Lady Of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Councillor Éilis Ryan of The Workers’ Party has said the HSE needed to clearly explain the steps it had taken to ensure that staff were providing abortion services in a trustworthy, fair and transparent manner.

"It doesn’t seem that any thought was put into how to change the culture of our hospitals to ensure people who might have anti-choice feelings themselves are not biased in how they carry out their healthcare provision”.

Her worry regarding the ability of our healthcare services to adapt without bias is felt by many.

Health Minister Simon Harris has admitted that an internal probe will take place, but “given the scale of scandals linking to the HSE in recent years we don’t feel that an internal investigation can be trusted or is sufficient”, according to Ryan.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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She feels that Gabriel Scally is trustworthy, after he carried out the Cervical Check screening programme review.

Simon Harris said on Friday  that it was “extraordinarily concerning and disturbing” that a patient’s details of her own abortion could possibly become public.

"The idea that anybody might leak a woman’s confidential information is reprehensible, it is grotesque, it’s disgusting and that is why I asked the HSE yesterday to investigate the matter and report back."

The HSE, the Dublin Well Woman Clinic, the National Maternity Hospital and the Data Protection Commissioner are apparently making inquiries regarding the apparent incident. 

Cover image: Twitter/@michelledevane

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The helpline which was set up by the HSE to offer information on unplanned pregnancies to women was reportedly "busy but not overwhelmed" on it's first day yesterday.

The HSE set up the MyOptions helpline in order to act as the main referral path for women seeking abortion services.

On the first day of operation services available nationwide, 20 women sought an abortion according to GPs who have agreed to carry out the services.

The exact level of demand will not be known yet for another number of weeks.

The Irish Times reports that it will be next week at least until the first terminations can be carried out, as a result of the three-day 'cooling-off' period.

The first cases which were referred to doctors ranged from upwards of four weeks' gestation.

In terms of cases which are close to the 12-week limit, they will be facilitated with same-day appointments at the nearest maternity unit.

The flow of Irish women who are travelling to the UK for abortion services is expected to continue, though at a reduced level, as abortions over 12 weeks are not permitted under Irish law except under highly limited circumstances.

The Minister for Health will be notified of the amount of terminations performed within 28 days. 

A number of minor teething issues have arisen involving blood testing procedures and ultrasound provision.

Simon Harris has said;

“The level of preparedness varies, but the initial experience with the HSE’s helpline has been very positive."

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Dr. Rhona Mahony has pledged that women whose unborn babies have fatal foetal abnormalities will be offered terminations from January at the National Maternity Hospital.

As the hospital's master, Mahony made the claim after it came to light that some maternity hospitals and GPs won't be ready to begin extended abortion services from January.

A spokesman has said that staff are "working to ensure we have a full, safe and compassionate service in place as quickly as possible".

Dr. Mahony's spokesman continued;

"Notwithstanding the outstanding logistical issues, we expect to provide termination of pregnancy in situations of fatal foetal anomaly from January 1."

Minister for Health Simon Harris rejected implications that the January target for abortion services was aligned with politics, and has commented that this claim was 'offensive'.

He added that the services will not be available everywhere straight away, and that it needed time to embed and evolve with the help of clinicians. 

Yesterday, the Seanad continued with their debate on the Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

Dr Sharon Sheehan, master of the Coombe hospital, has commented that her new system of service won't be ready by January.

She said; "To ensure the provision of "safe, high-quality, sensitive and compassionate care for women", it is essential to have the finalised legislation in place, an agreed model of care nationally and national clinical guidelines.

She continued;

"There has been extensive work, and that is continuing to proceed at a pace, but they are not ready and we now have only 20 days before this service is to be introduced.

"In my opinion, the country is not ready, and therefore the Coombe is not in a position to deliver these services from the January 1."

The Rotunda maternity hospitals spokeswoman commented that;

"Rotunda Hospital will be complying with enacted legislation providing the appropriate model of care, resources and funding is in place to enable a safe service provision to women".

The Irish Family Planning Association has also said that an exact date of availability for abortion services cannot yet be offered;

"We are still working on a number of outstanding issues. We're working to resolve them as quickly as possible and we're making good progress. We won't delay in providing abortion care once that's done".

The Irish College of General Practitioners and the Institute of Obstetricians are set to meet today for the discussion of clinical guidelines which are seen as essential for doctors.

A 24/7 helpline will hopefully be advertised by the HSE once the legislation is passed for guiding women, GPs and hospitals.

Feature image: BusinessPost.ie

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Police in the North have confiscated abortion pills from pro-choice campaigners after a number of women ingested the prohibited drug outside a Belfast court. 

A number of demonstrators gathered outside Laganside Courthouse on Thursday afternoon to protest against Northern Ireland's strict abortion laws. 

The PSNI seized a remote controlled robot that was designed to distribute abortion pills with the support of two providers, Women on Web and Women on Waves. 

According to the Belfast Telegraph, Eleanor Crossey Malone, from socialist feminist movement Rosa, was one of those who took the pill in front of television cameras.

She said: "I have taken this in defiance of the extremely outdated, mediaeval, anti-choice laws that exist in Northern Ireland.

"We are not willing in the wake of the repeal referendum to be left behind any longer.

"Northern Ireland after repeal will be one of only two jurisdictions remaining in Europe to criminalise women effectively for having abortions.

"We are not willing to accept it any more."

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Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of reports of people being abused verbally and physically for their public support of voting Yes or No in the upcoming referendum. 

Anna Cosgrave, founder of the Repeal Project and vocal activist for women's rights, gave her online followers an example of this abuse. 

Uploading a video to her Instagram and Twitter, the Repeal founder highlighted some of the narrative surrounding the opinions of one particular No voter. 

Anna maintained the anonymity of the person in the video who hurls abuse at Anna on the street by not showing the woman's face. 

'God will punish you, you're the Anti Christ. Tiny little gifts from God ye want to see murdered,'  the woman yelled. 

'You dont punish a little child for the sin that the mother couldn't keep the legs closed.'

'We have created a society that advocates this mentality,' Anna wrote when uploading the video.

'It’s not our fault. It’s those that have refused to engage with reality. “ don’t punish the baby when the mother couldn’t keep her legs closed”'

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The referendum to repeal the eighth amendment is shaping up to be the most divisive vote in a generation. 

With about 30% of voters still undecided which box to tick on the 25th of May, we ask two Irish millennials which way they're voting and why. 

Clare, 23, is an Arts student and advocate for the no vote. Aura, 23, is a journalist and volunteer for Migrants and Ethnic Minorities for Reproductive Justice (MERJ). 

Why are you pro-life/pro-choice?

Clare: The conversations I have with my pro-choice friends usually boil down to one question: Is this a life or not?

I recently watched a video of my cousin’s 11 week scan. It really was the most adorable thing! The little baby is stretching, waving their little hand and wiggling around. We found out at just 9 weeks the baby’s eyes have colour in them, and it’s mouth has tiny taste-buds, and at 10 weeks the little baby’s heart is already beating at 180 beats a minute – that’s three times faster than your own heart!

If we are voting to legalise abortion in Ireland, we really must evaluate what it is we are choosing. Most countries legalised abortion before ultrasounds were widely available. Abortion sadly targets a baby that is most definitely alive before an abortion and is not alive afterwards.

This time yes is a step backwards.

 

Aura: I am pro-choice; we must start trusting women in Ireland to make decisions over their body and lives by making abortion accessible here.

The 8th amendment hasn't stopped abortions from taking place, it has made them more difficult to obtain and adds unintended consequences in maternity services.

Activists who secure pills, doctors abroad that perform abortions and ordinary citizens who give women support following a termination are doing the job of our health service.

Some of us cannot travel due to legal status, finances or commitments at home – this means that the 8th amendment disproportionately affects migrant women and women that cannot afford to or who cannot arrange childcare.

As an Irish citizen I am privileged to vote in this referendum, something that many migrant and ethnic women cannot do, despite making up to 39% of maternal deaths in Ireland.

Savita, Miss Y and now Aisha Chithira are the most well-known examples of migrant women who received appalling healthcare, due to the 8th.

What do you think about termination in cases of fatal fetal abnormality, rape and incest or when the mother's life is at risk?

Clare: Would it surprise you to know that we already have legal termination in Ireland? And I agree with it? In 2016, 25 legal terminations were carried out, all because the mothers’ lives were at risk. The 8th Amendment allows for women to receive the best treatment during pregnancy, for their lives and for their babies’ lives to be looked after ‘as far as is practicable’. Therefore a legal termination can be carried out if the woman’s life is in danger.

My heart goes out to anyone who has ever experienced anything like this. They are what people call the ‘hard cases’ and they constitute a very small percentage of all abortions. In the referendum on the 25th May however, we are not being asked to vote to allow abortion in these circumstances. This vote on abortion goes much further.

In May, we are voting to allow for abortion on-demand up to 3 months and abortion up to 6 months on vague mental health grounds (it’s in the bill).

 

Aura: A person who has been raped has been denied their consent. They find out they are pregnant and their consent is then taken again under the 8th amendment. There is no compassion in denying a person the right to end a pregnancy they did not want.

It is unthinkable for people experiencing a fatal fetal abnormality (FFA) to travel abroad for a necessary healthcare service and then figure out the logistics of bringing their child’s remains back to Ireland.

I think the conversation should be expanded a bit too. 

Issues with legal status, housing and financial uncertainty are legitimate reasons for not wanting to continue a pregnancy. Can we not have the same compassion for the asylum seeker in Direct Provision, the college student or the woman facing homelessness?

Why do women need to be brutalised or deathly ill before we give them bodily autonomy?

How do you think the pro-life/pro-choice campaign has been doing in the run up to referendum?

Clare: The word on the doors all over Ireland is that the extreme abortion laws the government are pushing do not sit well with the Irish people. We can take nothing for granted, but I am confident the Irish people will come out and Vote No in May.

In the UK, 98% of abortions happen because of social reasons. The top two reasons given as to why a woman seeks an abortion are because 1. she was not supported and 2. she was not financially able. Knowing this, if we as a society offer abortion as a solution instead of real positive social supports, then surely the fault lies with us.

I truly believe the Irish people are a compassionate and caring people. Positive options exist for women in crisis pregnancies, but they are underfunded and under-discussed. I hope that after the referendum, more attention and focus is given by the government to these services.

Now is an opportunity to build an ever more supportive society for women and children.
 

Aura: Their claim of abortion up to six months is a fallacy. The proposed legislation is for 12 weeks. Because of the similarity of the wording with UK law, they are saying that late term abortions will take place here as they do in the UK.

Abortions at 24 weeks or later are 1/1,000 and happen for devastating reasons, such as a FFA diagnosis. We need to stop punishing tragedy.

Love Both (Pro-life Campaign) are calling for the provision of access to free contraception, improvements to counselling and support services and more sexual education in schools as an alternative to abortion. This group has been around since 1992 – where is the evidence of their work on this?

Youth Defence, or Save the 8th, have cropped up over the decades to rally against divorce, contraception, same-sex marriage, women’s liberation, benefits for unmarried mothers and whose past members have associations with European far-right groups.

They do not have compassion for most living humans I would know.

For impartial and independent information on the referendum see the Referendum Commission website here

 

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Calling all dog lovers!

The referendum is a mere four weeks away, and some initiatives are aiming to incorporate a promotion of repealing the 8th into their day to day activities – and those of their dogs. 

There are two Walkies For Choice happening over the next two weekends, the first of which kicks off courtesy of Drogheda Together For Yes.  

'We’ve been working hard to get tongues wagging about the repeal referendum; Now it’s time to get tails wagging.'

'On Sunday 6th of May, Dogs for Choice and Drogheda Together for Yes invites you to join us for the Drogheda Dog Walk for Repeal.'

'Humans will have the opportunity to walk and talk about the referendum and our faithful canine companions, while the dogs can enjoy the sights and sniffs of St. Dominic’s Park. It will be a howl.'

The second is happening on Sunday May 13th, organised by Dogs For Choice on Sandymount Strand

If you fancy donning your Yes badge and getting your daily steps in with your doggo, you can join either of the event pages on Facebook. 

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Over the course of the last week, Twitter users have been circulating a series of tweets composed by writer Patrick S. Tomlinson, which addresses President Trump's intentions around women's reproductive rights in the United States.

With pro-choice / pro-life discussion intensifying amid the President's recent attempts to halt funding to Planned Parenthood, Patrick decided to add his voice to the conversation by posing a question which he feels stumps most ant-abortionists.

The series of tweets, which presents a 'simple scenario' to his followers has amassed tens of thousands of likes so far, but, unsurprisingly, it hasn't been without its critics.

Patrick begins: "Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I've been asking for ten years now of the "Life begins at Conception" crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly."

"It's a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question," he continued.

"Here it is. You're in a fertility clinic. Why isn't important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help."

"They're in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labelled "1000 Viable Human Embryos." The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one."

Posing a question to the public, he continued: " Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no "C." "C" means you all die. In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will."

Providing an insight into his past experience when posing the question,  Patrick explained: "They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is "A." A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically."

"This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true. No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you".(sic)

"They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency. No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who claim to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women."

"Don't let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don't, slap that big ol' Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them. The end."

Like most discussions around this highly contentious issue, opinion is divided, with many pouring scorn on the proposed scenario.

"Oh don't be silly. Nobody is asking anybody to kill a child in place of an embryo. They're asking you to allow the embryo become a child," wrote one

Another added: "You are asking a question like Sophie's Choice. Both are life, both are worth saving. I don't see your question as defining when life begins."

What are your thoughts?

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The move to secure reproductive rights for Irish women has been a major social and political issue in Ireland in recent years, as the call to repeal the 8th amendment has gained major traction.

One Instagram page popped up recently and caught our eye in a big way, as it shared a number of harrowing quotes from women who have faced the daunting issue in Ireland.

Not At Home is an art campaign which aims to make visible the experience of Irish women who have travelled abroad to procure safe terminations.

 

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The collective want to make the lived experiences of women who travel visible to the public.

'We want to make visible the Irish women travelling to access safe abortion services,' reads the project description.

'We are inviting women to contribute confidentially or otherwise.'

 

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The collective are also selling jumpers carrying their slogan – 'Not not at all, just not at home.'

They can be found online or in store at Nine Crows from either their Dublin or Galway locations. 

All proceeds from the sales of these jumpers go to covering the costs of the Not At Home production in this year's Dublin Fringe Festival

 

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The production, called Not at Home, will be free, and will depict the awful extents that Irish women are forced to go to in order to have a safe abortion. 

'Since April 2016, we have been collecting anonymous testimonies from women online.'

'We now have a crowd-sourced text of these women’s experiences of travelling abroad.'

'In June 2017, we visited BPAS Merseyside in Liverpool.'

'From these texts and our experience of recreating this journey, we are creating a durational art work featuring video, sound installation and live performance.'

The performance will take place at NCAD as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival. 

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The Citizens' Assembly is hosting a formal debate between pro-life and pro-choice speakers this afternoon, as the assembly continues to reconsider Ireland's controversial constitutional restrictions on abortion.

Today's meeting is the second of four that will focus on how the 100 randomly selected members should advise government legislators later this year, on the future of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution.

The randomly selected members will hear talks from academics and medical, legal and ethical practitioners on various topics including fatal foetal abnormalities.

Ireland’s Catholic Bishops and the pro-life side have both criticised the assembly's use of the term "fatal foetal abnormalities" in its agenda for the meeting.

A bishops' spokesperson told RTÉ that the term normalises abortion and de-personalises the life of the foetus. 

Individual case studies will also be discussed, including that of Amanda Mellet who received €30,000 in compensation from the Irish Government, after the United Nation's Human Rights Committee ruled that Ireland's ban on abortion was "cruel and inhuman". 

Over 13,000 public submissions were made to the Citizens' Assembly ahead of the meetings, after online campaigns from both sides encourage the public to get involved. 

The proceedings will be streamed on citizensassembly.ie.

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Girls writer and actress Lena Dunham is known for her staunch feminist stance and relatable humour.

However, the star recently made a comment about abortion that didn't go down too well.

Speaking on her podcast Women Of The Hour, she said: "I can say that I still haven’t had an abortion, but I wish I had.”

On the podcast segment, Lena was discussing time when she went to a Planned Parenthood clinic and was asked to share her experiences on abortion.

“I sort of jumped. ‘I haven’t had an abortion,’ I told her. I wanted to make it really clear to her that, as much as I was going out and fighting for other women’s options, I myself had never had an abortion,” she recalled.

“And I realised then that even I was carrying within myself stigma around this issue. Even I, the woman who cares as much as anybody about a woman’s right to choose, felt that it was important that people know that I was unblemished in this department.”

Listeners were quick to criticise the obvious offensiveness of the comedian's statements, which could be perceived as very hurtful to women who have gone through an abortion.

Twitter users also slated the star for aligning herself with the pro-choice movement, as her comments do not represent their views.

 

"Please don't mistake Lena Dunham's comment as pro-choice. What she said was pro-abortion which, until she said it, was not an actual thing," said one.

Her comments were branded "insensitive and ignorant" by others.

 

A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

The writer then took to Instagram to apologise for her comments.

"I would never, ever intentionally trivialise the emotional and physical challenges of terminating a pregnancy. My only goal is to increase awareness and decrease stigma."

The star admitted that she had "messed up" and in attempt to make up for it, gave a "sizeable donation" to a pro-choice fund.

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Thousands of people have flooded to Dublin City Centre today to attend the fourth annual pro-choice march.

The demonstration began at the Garden of Remembrance at 2pm before moving towards Merrion Square.

Several politicians also took part in the march, including TD Aodhán O Ríordáin.

Speaking to RTE, Labour junior minister Aodhán said he believed a referendum on repealing the 8th Amendment “would be trounced” if it was held tomorrow, continuing: “It would be 20 years before we can return to it.”

Holding a referendum on repealing the amendment is likely to be on the agenda for the next government.

A recent opinion poll found that 28% of people will decide how they will vote at the next election based on what a political party or candidate says about abortion.

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