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19 November 2012

Richard Branson: ‘The day we were arrested for selling condoms in Dublin’

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, reflects on the 'outdated' abortion laws in Ireland.

Branson writes:

Incredibly sad news from Ireland this week where Savita Halappanavar was refused an abortion and died from blood poisoning due to a miscarriage.

This past weekend campaigners gathered to protest against the needless death of this woman, who was refused a termination in University Hospital Galway that could potentially have saved her life.

I have always felt that the health and wellbeing of people should be the paramount issue here, and anyone whose life is being put at risk should be helped. We started the Student Advisory Centre when I was 17 to give help to people with a variety of problems, including abortion.

We also offered advice on pregnancy, homosexuality, contraception and many other issues affecting young people. We would look for the friendliest, most helpful hospitals or clinics to help, such as the James Pringle clinic for sexually transmitted diseases.

When we were asked by the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) if we would let them sell condoms in our Dublin Virgin Megastore, we were happy to oblige. In May 1990 the IFPA were convicted for selling condoms in the Megastore and fined £400.

The IFPA appealed the conviction on Valentine’s Day 1991 and I testified on their behalf. On arriving late in Dublin, a policeman offered me an escort - and was shocked when I directed him straight to court! The judge increased the fine to £500 and warned future infringement could result in imprisonment. A certain rock band known as U2 stepped in to pay the fine.

It wasn’t until 1993 that laws restricting the sale of condoms in Ireland were overruled, while laws banning abortion are still in place. There are lots of groups, including the IFPA, still campaigning inside and outside of Ireland for sensible abortion laws.

One such group, the Abortion Support Network, issues grants to Irish women seeking terminations and provides confidential, non-judgemental support, information and even accommodation in volunteers’ homes.

While this work practically helping people in need should be applauded, it shouldn’t be necessary. Let’s hope some good comes out of the tragedy of Ms Halappanavar’s death and Ireland’s outdated abortion laws are changed.

The day we were arrested for selling condoms in Dublin. By Richard Branson, Virgin.com, 19 November 2012

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