“A New Vision for Ireland”
Supports for women and unborn children in pregnancy and beyond
A “No” vote in the referendum on 25th of May will be a vote to recognise the life-affirming power of the 8th Amendment. It will be a clear message for our Government to better support the tens of thousands of pregnant women who avail of maternal health services in Ireland each year.
This document proposes real and actionable solutions to help women with unplanned or difficult pregnancies. Our message is that the Irish State needs to do much more to support pregnant women.
We are convinced that investment in life is always a better way forward for any society. In this document, and in our previous budget submissions and policy proposals, we outline effective ways to provide financial and personal resources for women across Ireland. This includes radically improved medical, nursing and psychological maternal health services, in addition to significantly more generous direct financial support.
The time has come for the healthcare needs of women and unborn children to be recognised and fulfilled. In summary, our main points include:
- No pregnant woman should ever have to endure homelessness.
- Medical services for women and their unborn children need massive investment- especially to help women with difficult pregnancies and for children with life limiting conditions.
- Substantial financial support for women in pregnancy and on giving birth- to help ease the burden on families.
- Life-affirming counselling services need to be better financed and resourced. Abortion regret needs to be recognised as a significant phenomenon and comprehensive psychological support needs to be provided for pregnant women.
An increasingly important issue in this referendum campaign is what will happen after a “No” vote. This document aims to answer that question. It presents an alternative vision of how Ireland, through its government and State services, will care for pregnant women and their unborn children- in a mother-and-child-centred society that continues to find solutions for those women with difficult and unplanned pregnancies. Despite ongoing efforts by voluntary groups since the 8th amendment was passed, the Irish State has failed to embrace the life-affirming nature of this amendment and has left thousands of women without the necessary supports. We have consistently advocated for such solutions in the past and in this short document we advocate for these again. A No vote will be a clear mandate for government to introduce life-affirming change.
Although at least 100,000 lives have been saved since the 8th amendment was passed, much more could have been done to reduce even further the number of women who feel they need to abort their unborn children. The Irish State needs to do a great deal more to research and find out why women have difficult pregnancies and feel unsupported in giving birth to their children.
Successive governments have under-funded the Irish health services and childcare sectors. Should abortion be introduced in Ireland it will effectively be abortion on demand, adding further strain to currently overstretched services. A significantly better and more humane use of scarce funding is to have a properly funded healthcare system which helps women to cope with the physical, emotional and economic challenges of being pregnant.
Here we present an alternative vision for the future of women’s healthcare during pregnancy- one that recognises the difficulties faced by women. We propose realistic solutions that help women to deliver and raise children in loving and supporting homes if that is their choice, or to allow their children to be adopted. The following policy proposals have women and their children, born and unborn, at the centre of our society. These form the basis for a credible means of reducing the number of difficult pregnancies faced by women in Ireland today.
The Irish government and social partners need to work together to address the circumstances which create difficulties for pregnant women. This is an ongoing piece of work and is not solved by providing abortion on an ever increasing scale – as inevitably happens when abortion is legalised. Women in Ireland need much better support in every respect with their pregnancies. The ideas and principles outlined here should form the basis for future government action.
Many members in the pro-life movement, especially medical professionals, are happy to participate and advise on this as they have always put mothers and their unborn children at the forefront of their work. The women of Ireland need to know that they can raise their children in happy and supportive homes. We call on the government to implement our proposals. We and many others are there to help them.
As world-leaders in protecting the unborn child and their mothers, we Irish know that this is a record worth keeping and building upon. As we approach the centenary of our independence this is something we truly want for all the children of the nation as well as for those who come to settle here.
Where support for women and their unborn children is needed
One area of agreement between both sides of the referendum campaign is that the Irish health services are grossly underfunded and have been mismanaged by successive governments. Is it any wonder then that pregnant women, along with so many other groups, often feel unsupported and find pregnancy to be a large financial burden?
Medical services (for example ultrasounds and ante-natal visits) need to be easily available, supports are needed especially for those with difficult pregnancies (if their child has a life-limiting condition and if they feel that cannot cope with a pregnancy for example) and pregnancy needs to become less of a financial burden.
Dr Peter Boylan, former Master of the National Maternity Hospital, has said:
“Abortion can have a major effect on you and the memory of it will stay with you for the rest of your life. The physical strains it will place on you are minor but the emotional ones can be huge. For this reason it is terribly important that you get adequate counselling from someone who has been trained to deal with the emotional issues specific to abortion” [Boylan, P. (2008) The Irish Pregnancy Book. Dublin: VHI Healthcare, p.146]
Abortion is not a solution. It is obviously better for a woman to have her child in a caring, supporting environment rather than running the risk of profound emotional damage for the rest of her life.
01 – Life-Limiting Conditions
Perinatal palliative care is care provided for families where the baby is expected to have limited life expectancy after birth. Such palliative care provides an environment in which the child and the child’s parents are supported in what can be very emotional and challenging circumstances. The child is supported in its life in this world and the parents’ family and friends also have a chance to celebrate the birth of the child, even though there may be limited time with them. Through what can be a very difficult time, the provision of perinatal palliative services can help many parents to achieve greater closure on the death of their child. Pregnant women must have access to perinatal palliative care in an institutional setting led by specifically trained professionals plus home-based support before and after birth, based on the needs of the child and their parents. Unfortunately, very little perinatal palliative care exists at present in Ireland. Palliative care, such as the Laura Lynn homes, do exist but they are often for older children, receive low State support and they have to rely on a large amount of voluntary donations. The State needs to enable at least the following:
- International best practice provision of perinatal palliative care for families of children with life limiting conditions including counselling and emotional support for parents.
- Innovative schemes, properly funded and resourced, for parents whose children have life-limiting conditions such as a version of the MacMillan Nurse scheme in Britain which supports cancer patients in their final journey.
The focus in our health services needs to be on supporting parents and children with life-limiting conditions to live as happy and fulfilled lives as they can given their circumstances. The State does not do this at present and so is failing many parents and their children, born and unborn.
02 – Financial support for women & unborn children
The physical challenges of pregnancy are made more difficult by personal and financial pressures. These financial pressures can affect all women and have, effectively, been ignored by successive Irish governments. To see this we only have to consider the highly expensive cost of childcare and the lack of support for those who wish to stay at home to mind their children. International research shows that children raised in homes without large financial pressures are more likely to be happier and well adjusted.
The prospect of parenthood without adequate financial support is a daunting one for many pregnant women and their partners. That is compounded when the woman is unsupported by a partner, does not have a partner, is unemployed, is in poorly funded training or is in education. In all these cases proper and adequate financial support is the correct approach. It is a gross dereliction of the State’s responsibility that it does not adequately do so.
Nowhere is this dereliction more obvious than the sight of homeless pregnant women in our current homelessness crisis, as RTE has pointed out.
The government should be ashamed to see such women, who need significant medical, financial and emotional support, being treated in this way. Instead of addressing this profound crisis the government is, shockingly, putting an enormous amount of time and money into introducing abortion to Ireland. All pregnant women in Ireland need to be better supported financially, according to need. The trend internationally is to have longer maternity leave and for it to be better subvented with employers being encouraged to make up the difference between the benefit offered by the state and a woman’s remuneration. While it is ideal that employers do as much as they can in this regard, ultimately the State must have measures in place to ensure that women do not bear a big financial loss on becoming pregnant and after their child is born, whether it be through improved maternity benefit, tax breaks for employers or otherwise.
In order to help women not to suffer financially the State needs also to provide payments to women during their pregnancy, to help them with expenses and to make the economic burden manageable, which for many it is not. The French government provide a €1,000 payment upon the birth of a child, but we believe that there should be payments before that.
Payments should help a pregnant woman to cope with the economic pressures of pregnancy before maternity benefits start to kick in. Such payments should be provided much earlier in pregnancy- an immediate regular pay-out to women once they became pregnant and have registered with the appropriate medical and/or state welfare services- so that pregnant women know that they have the financial backing and support to have their children. In cases of real socio-economic need such guaranteed payments can make an enormous difference to the circumstance of the soon-to-be-born child and the child’s family.
The State must do the following:
- Prioritise housing and medical care for homeless pregnant women
- Make payments to pregnant women early in pregnancy in order to support them to have their children in a manner not compounded by financial pressures. It is not acceptable that women would consider an abortion because the State will not provide financial support to help them
- Pay women a specific amount on the birth of their child, to help with the huge costs associated with new-born children
- Ensure maternity and paternity benefit and leave is in line with international best practice. Encourage employers to top up maternity benefit where possible and where not possible ensure every step is taken to support women from the national Social Insurance Fund. After all, today’s children will help pay the pensions in the future
- Provide easily accessible and affordable childcare or provide financial supports for those who wish to remain at home to mind their children
- Significantly improve the range and cost of childcare options for women at work, in training and in education
- Support families with disabled children much better- with significantly improved access to care services, higher regular payments and immediate access to medical card and State services. There are too many media reports of the State falling short. Children with disabilities and their families should stop being treated as second class citizens. Currently only those who shout loudest get heard- an intolerable way to manage the provision of public services.
03 – Improved pregnancy counselling services
Unplanned or difficult pregnancies are made more stressful for pregnant women when they do not have quick and cost-free access to counselling services. Best practice counselling is client centred, for a mother and her child, and helps develop a plan for how best the child can be born to a woman who is supported in her pregnancy. Because of life circumstances not all women feel that the time is right for them to bring up a child and so there should be much wider promotion of adoption as a valid, life-affirming approach. Adoption is viewed with scepticism by some but there are very many children and adults alive today who experience the great love of their adoptive parents. Obviously, those women whose children are adopted should receive exactly the same financial, medical and counselling support as we are suggesting in this document for every other mother. Much good work is being done by voluntary agencies in supporting and promoting adoption but much more can be done by counselling agencies to advocate for best practice modern “open” adoption procedures.
Counselling is currently not as widespread nor as well funded as it needs to be. In order to help women to come to terms with their pregnancy and to give birth in a mentally healthy manner there needs to be more funding for training of counsellors to counsel in line with the life-affirming nature of the 8th Amendment. Adoption needs to be offered as a reasonable solution to certain difficulties in pregnancy and women need to be supported emotionally to do this.
Counselling should also help women who have been hurt and traumatised by having had an abortion. Abortion regret is a real phenomenon for many women, and also for men, and is a significant unspoken personal and psychological problem in society. In addition to seeking to minimise abortion, as a community we must recognise the need to help women and men to get on with their lives and not to have to go through the trauma of abortion again. As mentioned above, women and their partners whose children have a life-limiting condition need to be provided with specialist and tailored counselling services, particularly perinatal psychology services. Also, post-natal depression is a very real condition which needs better support services throughout the country. However, we recognise that this is against a background of continuing under-funding of psychological and mental health services in Ireland. No political party disputes this and the government has had to accept that users of mental health services are being let down by the health system.
Pregnant women are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and we must find the funding and resources to support them. Abortion is never a treatment for any form of mental illness and a pregnant woman with any mental health issues is best supported by appropriate medication and/or talking therapies to help her to give birth to her child.
We are proposing:
- Better funding for counselling services throughout Ireland, to support women in keeping their unborn children
- Early counselling interventions, as early as possible, to help women to give birth comfortably and safely
- Adoption to be promoted as a reasonable option for women who feel that they are not in a position to parent their child. The process of adoption needs to be streamlined to remove delays, and costs need to be reduced. International best practice adoption practices need to be utilised more
- Abortion regret to be recognised as a significant phenomenon and women to receive urgent counselling for this to help them move on with their lives
- Accredited and internationally recognised counselling with a lifecentred approach in line with the 8th amendment to be provided- with equal respect for a mother and her child
- Houses of the Oireachtas (2015). Joint Committee on Health and Children – Report on the Cost of Medical Indemnity Insurance. Dublin – Houses of the Oireachtas.
- MacMillan nurse scheme: https://www.macmillan.org.uk/about-us/what-we-do
- Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and the Health Services Executive. (2015). Royal College of Physicians of Ireland- Model of Care for Neonatal Services in Ireland. Dublin: Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.