Monday 24 July 2017

Ms Y rape victim to sue Family Planning Agency

IFPA and Spirasi among 11 agencies to be sued by asylum-seeker who claims she was suicidal

The family planning agency counselled the woman known as Ms Y, who said she was pregnant as a result of rape and suicidal while she was medically assessed at Spirasi
The family planning agency counselled the woman known as Ms Y, who said she was pregnant as a result of rape and suicidal while she was medically assessed at Spirasi
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

The Irish Family Planning Association and Spirasi, an organisation that counsels victims of torture, are among 11 agencies being sued by an asylum-seeker who claims she was denied an abortion in Ireland even though she was suicidal.

The family planning agency counselled the woman known as Ms Y, who said she was pregnant as a result of rape and suicidal while she was medically assessed at Spirasi.

She is also suing the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Reception and Integration Agency which she claims had overall responsibility for her care.

The other defendants include Ireland and the Attorney- General; the Minister for Justice; the psychiatric hospital where she was assessed for an abortion; and the second hospital where her baby was delivered by Caesarean section; and a named doctor.

Caoimhe Haughey, a solicitor for Ms Y, told the Sunday Independent: "The legal team have been working with various medical experts over the summer and we expect to issue Ms Y`s personal injury proceedings in the coming weeks against 11 named respondents to whom letters of claim have been sent. Most of the respondents identified have appointed solicitors."

The HSE, and the other parties to the legal action, are expected to vigorously defend the case.

The Ms Y case provoked national debate on Ireland's new abortion laws when her case became public last year.

The young woman arrived in Ireland in March last year and discovered she was pregnant weeks later. She said she had been raped in her home country, was suicidal and sought an abortion.

However by the time she was finally assessed by an expert panel for an abortion, she was told her pregnancy was too advanced and her baby was delivered by Caesarean Section. The baby is now in state care while Ms Y has been granted refugee status.

Ms Haughey told the Sunday Independent that she was aware that a "serious conflict" arose between doctors treating Ms Y while she was in hospital, suicidal and seeking an abortion, and lawyers, and she hoped an independent review of the legal approach taken by the HSE would shed light on what happened.

Ms Y spent several days in hospital, during which time she went on hunger strike on being told that her foetus was viable and could not be aborted.

The clash is believed to have arisen during this period over a decision to apply to the High Court to forcibly hydrate Ms Y and to prepare a second application that related to the termination of her pregnancy.

The legal actions were later dropped on the orders of HSE management.

Eileen Barrington, a senior counsel, was subsequently appointed to examine "the reasonableness or otherwise" of the HSE's legal approach. She is expected to complete a draft report within weeks.

Ms Haughey said: "My correspondence with Ms Barrington has certainly provided some enlightenment as to why this review was set up and its purpose. I have been promised a copy of the draft report prepared on a confidential basis so that the legal team can consider making observations on behalf of Ms Y.

"I am aware there was a serious conflict between legal representatives and medical personnel at the time of the High Court applications in early August 2014 and I sincerely hope Ms Barrington`s report will shed some light on these events."

The decision to bring Ms Y's case to the High Court was also source of tension between the Department of Health and the HSE.

Department of Health officials learnt "late in the day" of the legal actions, according to a statement it issued last year.

They were "very concerned" about the legal approach taken by the HSE "following discussions between the Department and the HSE leadership, the HSE legal team decided not to pursue its planned approach."

Tony O'Brien, the HSE's Director General, subsequently ordered a review to examine "the reasonableness or otherwise" of that legal approach.

In her legal action, Ms Y will claim that she should have been assessed for an abortion earlier in her pregnancy, in accordance with new legislation on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

The Act allows for an abortion in this country if the mother is deemed by an expert panel to be suicidal.

The case highlighted some complexities raised by the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act which contains no cut-off point for an abortion. However, the constitution requires doctors to preserve the life of the unborn "where practicable".

Guidelines for doctors were issued in September last year.

But the Ms Y case prompted calls to repeal the eighth amendment which gives equal protection to mother and child.

Meanwhile, a second HSE inquiry aimed at establishing "the facts" of the Ms Y case as she sought access to an abortion in Ireland has been halted.

The HSE set up the four-person panel amid public controversy over the case last year. However, Ms Y refused to cooperate with the inquiry claiming that it is not independent of the HSE. The HSE paused and then "halted" the inquiry, which cannot be completed without her cooperation.

Ms Y is taking judicial review proceedings over a draft report that was leaked to the media last year.

Sunday Independent

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