Ireland -- Negative attitudes towards adoption need to be changed in order to stem the flow of Irish women seeking abortions in Britain, a conference on abortion was told yesterday.
Ms Finola Bruton, in an opening address to the conference, 5,000 Too Many - a reference to the number of women going abroad each year for abortions - said adoption had "fallen out of favour" with child-care professionals, the media and abortion advocates.
If there is a stigma anywhere in society today, she said, it is not attached to lone parents but "to those birth mothers who choose adoption over abortion."
"All the evidence both in America and Great Britain suggests that adopted children fare better in a stable family than those who are shunted from children's home to foster parents and back again to neglectful parents.
"In spite of the desire by some to trace their roots, in spite of a few adoption failures, in spite of racial fears and other red herrings, all the research again and again shows that the results for adopted children are extremely good," said Ms Bruton, whose husband, the Fine Gael leader Mr John Bruton, was among 200 delegates.
One of the conference's main aims was to bring people from opposite sides of the abortion debate together to address a common issue of concern - how to reduce the abortion rate.
Prof Patricia Casey, professor of psychiatry at UCD and the Mater Hospital, said negative images of adoption were discouraging women from considering it as an option. "Our images of adoption, the images that fill the minds of young women, are drawn from the tragedies of the past . . . the convents in the 1950s when nuns snatched babies."
She said such perceptions went some way to explaining why women, when asked whether they would consider adoption instead of abortion, often replied, "I could never give up my baby".
On the issue of advice, she criticised the Abortion Information Act for leaving to the discretion of a counsellor the issue of whether to explain to a woman the possible emotional and physical consequences of an abortion.
In contrast, US law specified exactly what information should be conveyed. Such right-to-know legislation had caused the rate of abortion in Pennsylvania to drop by 18.5 per cent among first-time clients.
"In Ireland, regrettably, we now have a situation where the numbers of women having abortions has increased, where counselling is considered an intrusion and where very many make their decision alone and without any perception, or at best a limited appreciation, of alternatives."
Ms Evelyn Mahon, a lecturer in the department of sociology at Trinity College Dublin, criticised the fact that some women received the actual details about abortion's dangers only after they had flown to England and booked into an abortion clinic.
On the issue of parenting supports, she criticised inadequate child benefits and the absence of tax allowances for children.
Despite repeated promises from the Government, she said, Ireland had the lowest provision of childcare in the EU. "Women will have to act like farmers to get any attention on this. We will have to take to the streets," she said.