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Norma Panigot’s Writing Sample

An Excerpt from My Research Paper Titled “A Comparison of European Reproductive Rights”

October 2017
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Reproductive health care and contraception is a subject that has been long debated and

motivated by many different schools of thought. Europe has been known to be very liberal in its

health care policies and to be the most progressive area of the world in terms of women's rights.

However, even within Europe, there are major subsets of the population that still take staunchly

conservative approaches to reproductive health. Ireland is the epitome of this; a heavily Catholic

country with a morally conservative driven government. On the other end of the spectrum is the

Netherlands; a country with extremely liberal attitudes towards sexual activity and reproductive

health. The current debate on women’s reproductive health care and rights is critical because it is

inherently linked with the advancement of women's rights. The ability for a woman to plan her

family is tied with many other benefits that promote gender equality: improving health and

educational attainment, lowering poverty, and reducing childhood mortality (Barot 1). Yet there

are still many countries within Europe that take strong stances against various aspects of

women's reproductive health. This paper will be an analysis of the reproductive health care

approach in both Ireland and the Netherlands: two countries known for their extreme stances on

either end of the spectrum, as well as the consequences for women's equality.

The Irish Approach

Ireland has stood out for some time among developed nations for its extremely restrictive

stance on abortion. It has been challenged by the United Nations as violating international human

rights law (McDonald). Its stance on abortion and women's reproductive health care is driven by

the overwhelmingly Catholic population, and strong moral values. Its pro-life stance has
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remained in place for many decades and has potentially damaging consequences for women in


Unique Circumstances

Ireland has a unique history of Catholic domination in the country since the 16th century

that affects much of its policy today. Even now, the Catholic church holds significant influence

over government decisions and setting social norms and agendas. However, after the child abuse

scandals within the church, many politicians have been pushing for increased separation between

church and state. Nevertheless, Ireland has one of the most limited women's health care systems

in Europe. Another unique factor in the country's history worth noting is the set of waves of

immigration that still influence its population growth in conjunction with its ban on abortion.

During the 19th century, Ireland had the highest fertility rate within marriage. However,

population growth overall was offset by low marriage rates and periods of emigration (Murphy-

Lawless 53-64). Ireland has a long-standing tradition of large families and family centered

culture. Many policymakers amongst the government and the church take it upon themselves to

defend these traditional values. Tradition in Ireland is a major driving force behind Irish attitudes

towards reproductive health and birth control.

Attitudes Towards Sexuality and Reproductive Health Care

Irish government has clashed with human rights advocates on many occasions over the

limited access to abortion in the country. Irish Catholics assert that subjects of sexuality and

reproduction should be exempt from human rights law on the basis of religion (Aiken et al. (16

May 2017)). As a whole, the Irish government views abortion in a much more nationalistic

context than as an individual choice. Abortion is seen as taking away from the nation's religious
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and domestic traditions, and the rights of the unborn are given priority over rights of the mother.

The government's attitudes towards reproductive rights is largely influenced by the Catholic

church which has significant power in the Irish political system. This outspoken voice from the

church, however, does not necessarily match public opinion. Recent polls in Ireland have found

that a majority of the population is, in fact, in favor of allowing legal abortion (Lyall). This

speaks volumes to the political system in place, that maintains very traditional conservative

values with complete disregard for the will of the population. The topic of sex in the public realm

is heavily focused on the negatives and the consequences, creating a very private culture of



Abortion in Ireland is banned by the eighth amendment to the constitution, which was

voted in by referendum in 1983 ("Irish Abortion Law: Referendum 'to be Held Next Year'.").

Currently, the punishment for abortion is 14 years in prison. ("Irish Abortion Law: Referendum

'to be Held Next Year'.") As a practice, abortion has been illegal since the "Offences Against the

Person Act" of 1861 (O'Connell). Debates have resurfaced at varying times about allowing

women to travel outside of the country to obtain an abortion and whether to allow exceptions for

a mother's life. For a period of time, the court did prohibit pregnant women from leaving the

country at all during pregnancy, but this decision was later reversed. For the life of the mother,

the court decided abortion could be available only where there was a "clear and substantial risk"

including the risk of suicide. In 2002, a public referendum upheld the decision, but only by a

margin of 1% ("Abortion Ban Rejected in Irish Referendum."199). However, the topic of

abortion has not yet been settled in the country. The Irish legislation recently announced that

another referendum would be held on the eighth amendment next year ("Irish Abortion Law:
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Referendum 'to be Held Next Year'."). In terms of birth control, it was only recently decided that

emergency contraception would be available without a prescription, and the sale of condoms was

not legalized until 1992 (Duffy)(Young). In terms of sex education, schools are mostly left to

make their own decisions with many choosing to take pro-life and abstinence only approaches.

Many public schools bring in pro-life advocates of the Catholic church to educate students about

the "consequences" of pre-marital sex. The Department of Education in Ireland has issued

guidelines stating that sex education should be conducted with a more understanding approach,

but without any means of enforcement, most schools ignore the guidelines (McGuire). This also

ties back to the influence of the Church, with a large portion of grade schools having religious

ties. For Irish women, family planning is largely a foreign concept. Both education and

availability of family planning strategies are limited, which in turn limits a woman's control in

planning her future.

The Dutch Approach

The Netherlands claims international fame for its liberal approach to sexuality which it

makes it well-suited for a comparison on women's reproductive health. Public policy and

attitudes towards sexual activity and its consequences have yielded noteworthy effects.

Unique Circumstances

Up until the early twentieth century, similar to many other countries, health care for the

poor in the Netherlands was provided through church organizations. However, during the 17th

and 18th centuries, the idea of "humanism," or respect for the individual human spirit, took root,

which influences many of the liberal policies in the country today. What makes the Netherlands

unique, though, is firstly, there were many different sects of Christianity competing with each
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other at this time. The Netherlands had robust populations of both Protestants and Catholics.

Secondly, these religious groups took very liberal approaches to health care, insisting on patient

autonomy and the right to self-determination when it comes to treatment (Hardon 59-73).

Overtime, religious presence in the country has declined, and the governmental influence of

religious groups even more so. Today about 42% of the Dutch population identifies as non-

religious, more than any other individual religious group (“Netherlands”). The country is known

for being a melting pot of peoples and has developed into one of the most socially liberal

populations in the world.

Unlike the Irish, the Dutch are incredibly open about sex and discussing it within the

public realm. Surveys have shown that an overwhelming majority of Dutch adults are sexually

active and express sexual satisfaction. Public policy on reproductive health is solution oriented.

There is little debate on morality, rather policy is aimed to decrease unplanned pregnancy, STIs

and reliance on abortion (Ketting and Visser 161-171). Abortion and birth control have little to

no taboo in the public realm, and adults are well informed about their options for family planning

services. This attitude has contributed to extremely liberal policies regarding reproductive health

care. In fact, research in1988 found the average length of a doctor's visit for teen requesting birth

control lasted 7-10 minutes, due to the assumption that most teens are familiar with what is

available to them ("Netherlands Liberalizes Abortion Law After 10 Years of Wide Availability,

Low Abortion Rates."151-152). As a whole, contraception and abortion are viewed as personal

rights and widely accepted and used by the population.