Abortion or no work – the choice facing female pilots in post-referendum Ireland

In Ireland, females pilots are being told to choose between losing work and abortion, if they become pregnant, they according to the Irish Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA).

An Oireachtas (Irish national parliament) committee heard that it was “a matter of fact” that female pilots working as self-employed contractors with airlines registered in Ireland have had abortions to avoid losing out on future work.

IALPA president Captain Evan Cullen told the Oireachtas Employment Affairs committee:

“They have a choice, you either terminate your employment… or you terminate your pregnancy. You can’t have both. So that is absolutely what goes on,”

Asked if he knew of specific cases, Capt Cullen said: “Female pilots have told me that they’ve terminated pregnancies because they had no entitlement to maternity leave and therefore no guarantee of a job after they came back.”

Capt Cullen said that “all Irish airlines” are involved in hiring contract pilots but he did not name any company.

The claims were described as “horrifying” by Solidarity TD Paul Murphy.

Labour senator Ged Nash, who had asked Capt Cullen about the matter during the Oireachtas hearing, described the revelation as a “very sinister situation”.

While denying that this practice is in any way representative of their airline, an Aer Lingus spokesperson said “When a female pilot becomes pregnant their medical clearance to fly is suspended under the requirements set out by the Irish Aviation Authority.”

In 2018, the people of Ireland voted in a referendum to remove legal protections for unborn children from the Irish constitution.

Clare McCarthy of Right To Life UK said:

“Once again, this sort of case illustrates the shallowness of the talk about choice. If there really are female pilots who feel they must have an abortion or risk loss of employment, then this is no choice at all.”

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