Friday 31 October 2014

I am afraid I'll be killed - abortion case woman believed her life was in danger

Distressed woman believed her life was in danger and sought abortion

Daniel McConnell, 
Fionnan Sheahan and Ralph Riegel

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

The woman, who is not an Irish national, believed there was a serious threat to her safety and well-being, though not on medical grounds, as a result of her pregnancy. Picture posed.
The woman, who is not an Irish national, believed there was a serious threat to her safety and well-being, though not on medical grounds, as a result of her pregnancy. Picture posed.

The young woman at the centre of the first known test of the country's new abortion laws feared her life was in danger, the Sunday Independent has learned.

The woman, who is not an Irish national, believed there was a serious threat to her safety and well-being, though not on medical grounds, as a result of her pregnancy.

Earlier this summer, the woman sought an abortion under Section 9 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013 as she claimed to be suicidal. Her case was assessed by a panel of three experts, as set out under the legislation passed last summer. The panel was made up a consultant obstetrician and two psychiatrists.

The psychiatrists on the panel determined her life was at risk as she had suicidal thoughts.

But the consultant obstetrician said the baby could be delivered as it was far enough into the pregnancy.

A week after the young woman first presented she was informed she was to be refused an abortion.

She then went on a hunger and thirst strike.

As a result, concerns for her well-being and that of her baby were heightened. The Health Service Executive (HSE) went to the High Court to get a care order to prevent her from starving herself.

However, after initially refusing to have the baby delivered, the woman ultimately consented to the birth and the baby was delivered by Caesarean section.

Timeline: Abortion case: Timeline of events

It is believed the gestation period was between 23 and 25 weeks. Sources last night confirmed the baby is still in hospital and doing well. It is understood the baby will be taken into the care of the HSE.

The Sunday Independent cannot publish any further personal details about the case due to strict reporting restrictions.

It was confirmed yesterday that a three-week period passed from when the woman presented herself at a hospital and the birth of the baby earlier this month.

The young woman was in the second trimester of the pregnancy when she discovered she was pregnant and requested the abortion. For reasons that cannot be disclosed, she was not in a position to travel to the UK for the termination.

In what is believed to be one of the first cases under the new abortion laws, the woman sought a termination as she claimed to be suicidal.

The woman's suicidal thoughts are understood to have been underpinned by fear of her family's reaction. She is also understood to have been deeply concerned about the reaction of one individual.

According to two sources familiar with the case, there is a suggestion that the young woman may have become pregnant as a result of a rape, although this has not been confirmed. According to the new abortion laws, there is a duty on doctors to preserve the life of the unborn as far as practicable.

Opinion: In the eyes of the State, it seems this woman was not a human with rights

Last night, Human Rights in Ireland, an organisation run by academics, mostly lawyers, said it was important to note the Draft Guidelines for doctors contemplated a situation like this. They say: "Abortion is an exceptional procedure and requires intensive regulation. Premature Caesarean is simply medical treatment, even if it has its origins in a request for an abortion. None of the things that happened to this woman after she was refused a termination are governed by the legislation. They are in a separate 'fallout' space, regulated by 'best practice', which may be creative and sustained by human rights, or not."

They raise the issue of what should happen where a woman - as initially happened in this case - refused the medical procedure presented to her as an alternative to a requested abortion. The Guidelines did not provide transparency about this sort of situation, "and that is a problem - for doctors, for women, and for the wider public who authorise this law."

In circumstances where the unborn may be "potentially viable" outside the womb, doctors must make all efforts to sustain its life after delivery.

However, that requirement does not go so far as to oblige a medical practitioner to disregard a real and substantial risk to the life of the woman on the basis that it will result in the death of the unborn.

In this case, the panel ultimately decided the baby should be delivered. The child was born between 23 and 25 weeks and is understood to be doing well.

Opinion: Abortion needs a King Solomon

The Guidelines on the new abortion law also say doctors can intervene to save the life of a mother even in cases where the pregnancy is well advanced. The guidelines point out that the law has no time limit imposed for carrying out a procedure.

Yesterday, Labour TD Joanna Tuffy said she hoped the case reassured people that there were checks and balances and a safety net in place in the legislation. However. the Pro-Life campaign said the case highlighted the "horror and deep seated flaws" in the Government's legislation.

It said in a statement: "We now have the situation where doctors are placed in the situation of making decisions knowing there is not a shred of evidence to back any of them up. To induce a pregnancy at such an early stage inevitably puts the baby at risk of serious harm, such as brain damage, blindness or even death."

Reform Alliance Senator, Fidelma Healy Eames, who was expelled from Fine Gael for opposing the controversial legislation last year, said it was "great" the lives of both the mother and baby were saved.

She said the important thing now was that the woman in question got the intensive and comprehensive care she needed.

Sunday Independent

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