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'Women right now are being lied to in the most grotesque fashion. Enough is enough'

Today, the Labour Party is introducing to the Dáil legislation that will require those who provide counselling services to women experiencing crisis pregnancies to be registered and regulated.

Brendan Howlin Leader, Labour Party

TEN YEARS AGO, a young Labour Party activist called Sinéad Ahern was one of a small number of brave women who went undercover to determine the true extent of what is happening in these rogue agencies.

The issue has once more come to the fore following similarly brave work carried out two young journalists – Ellen Coyne and Catherine Sanz of the Times.

In the best tradition of activism and investigative journalism, the work done by these young women has forced Ireland to look at an area ignored for many years. What they have revealed is shocking.

While the debate around repeal of the Eighth begins in communities across Ireland, there are women who right now are being lied to in the most grotesque fashion, at a time of exceptional vulnerability. Women in crisis pregnancy situations are being told that abortion increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, or that women who have had abortions will later abuse or neglect their children.

‘Appalling behaviour’

This behaviour is an appalling abuse of a position of trust and power, and it must be brought to an end.

The right to information is one that the Irish people voted to guarantee in our constitution. As it happens, I was the Minister of Health that began the drafting of the legislation designed to bring that constitutional determination to reality.

None of us could have imagined that 20 years later there would still be agencies operating in a way that clearly does not give women the accurate and compassionate information they need – and by the law of this state are entitled to.

Enough is enough.

Today, the Labour Party is introducing to the Dáil legislation that will require those who provide counselling services to women experiencing crisis pregnancies to be registered and regulated. We will push this through the Dáil as quickly as we can, and hope that we will have the support of all political parties in doing so.

Not a tenable situation

It is no longer tenable to stand over a situation where dieticians and opticians must be regulated, but those counselling women in vulnerable situations face no such requirement.

Simon Harris seems to agree that action is required. But frankly, I have no confidence that anything will be done by the government – there has been no sign of any action in the six weeks since the last undercover investigation.

Whenever this chaotic government is faced with any issue that is complex or difficult, they kick for touch. A consultation, a cross-party group, a Citizen’s Assembly – each of these is being used to avoid governing. And that is the most damning indictment of this government.

Cowering behind the phrase ‘new politics’, they are paralysed with indecision. That is why the Labour Party has drafted a bill to add crisis pregnancy counsellors to the list of professions regulated under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act.

If enacted, this will be a real step forward in ensuring women have access to accurate information. But legislating won’t be the end of the road.

We will need to be determined on this issue, and to continue to press for progress over the months ahead.

Once legislation is in place, we will need to make sure that the guidelines issued to registered counsellors are unambiguous in requiring that women are provided with full, frank and compassionate information.

Agencies disseminating misinformation are abusers. It’s time we all worked together to put their abuse to an end.

Brendan Howlin is leader of the Labour Party.

Read: Labour bill aims to clamp down on rogue crisis pregnancy agencies operating in Ireland>

Read: Alan Kelly wants state access to private hospitals to avoid ‘hell in our emergency departments’>

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About the author:

Brendan Howlin  / Leader, Labour Party

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