'It's an insult to use down syndrome in campaign' - Irish mother's anger at pro-life handling of disability issue
A pro choice parenting group told the Citizens’ Assembly it is angered pro-life lobbyists are utilising children with down syndrome in their campaign literature against abortion.
Sinead Redmond from Parents for Choice read out a statement from Lynda Delmar, from Dublin, a member of Parents for Choice, and the mother of five-year-old Se, who has down syndrome.
“Se is loved and cherished by all around him. I find the use of pictures of children with down syndrome in the pro-life campaign to be deeply upsetting. It implies that giving the choice, I’d have chosen to abort him,” the statement read.
“That because of Se’s down syndrome, I’d love him a little less, that he’s not worthy of the love we have for him because he’s not deemed to be perfect.
“In this country that cherishes the children, Se is treated like a second class citizen. We fight for access to adequate healthcare, we battle everyday to receive appropriate help from services.
“He has just completed a psychological assessment to see if he has down syndrome enough to warrant full support in the school system. No parent should have to go through this.
“No child should have to go through this. In Ireland, this is what we do to families who choose to keep their imperfect child.
“It’s an insult to Se, to his family and friends, to use down syndrome in a pro life campaign.
“Se is perfect, Se is our choice.”
Ms Redmond said the group had been contacted by parents with children with down syndrome who were angered children with down syndrome were being mentioned by the pro-life campaign.
“They feel their children have been used in this debate by those who oppose abortion.” She said it was felt “people with disabilities” were being used “for political ends.”
Cora Sherlock from the Pro Life Campaign went on almost immediately afterwards to discuss how abortion could be used as a method to terminate children with down syndrome.
Ms Redmond, who brought her baby to the Assembly, also told how she’d become severely ill while pregnant and found the Irish health system under the current maternity structure didn’t offer pregnant women the best care.
“I was on life-saving medication and I’d have died without it but it cost me €1,000. I had developed pulmonary embolisms, a leading cause of death.
“I chose to continue that pregnancy but I would support any woman in making the other choice.”
She said Ireland failed to offer women specialist scans which stated “how healthy our babies are,” and there was a financial penalty on women trying to access abortion.
Ms Redmond told how 54 per cent of women who accessed abortion were already parents and they did so for varying reasons, including poverty and health risks.
She said she was often contacted by women wanting to access the abortion pill and that she gave women advice despite placing herself at risk of a 14 year-jail term.
“Each time... I risk incriminating myself. They know this is the safest option to them, they know they are at risk of 14 years in jail.”
But she said Irish parents knew the “realities” of raising a family and how difficult it could be for lone families “living in poverty,” or in a country suffering a homeless crisis.
The group are angered that abortion can only be accessed by those who have funds and Ms Redmond said this left those in vulnerable positions such as women in Direct Provision, without a choice.
“We need to have the final say on what’s done to our bodies,” she said.
The president of the Union of Students Ireland, Annie Hoey said it was important to “call out” “horror” stories of abortions after a U.S pro-life campaigner gave graphic accounts of carrying out terminations to the Citizens’ Assembly.
Members of the Assembly were visibly upset by the graphic accounts of abortions presented to them in a politically-charged speech by the American former abortionist Dr Anthony Levatino.
The doctor campaigning for pro-life lobby group Women Hurt, told how he’d carried out thousands of abortions as a former pro-choice advocate - but after the death of his daughter in a road accident, he perceived an aborted foetus as a “daughter or son.”
Dr Levatino gave incredibly detailed accounts of abortions he claimed to have carried out leaving body parts on the operating table.
USI President, Annie Hoey picked said: “When we hear horror practises, it’s important we call them out,” Ms Hoey said.
“They are designed to cause upset and horror. Safe abortions happen every day across the world.”
Ms Hoey said the USI wanted “safe abortions in Ireland, not the horrors.
“We’re talking about a woman taking a Ryanair flight to the UK - that it’s okay to have it happen there instead of here safely with a GP and local doctor.”
The president said attempts to describe horrific abortions, were “an attempt to cause a visceral upset, upset was very visible across the room.
“This (horror) wouldn’t happen with early trimester abortions in Ireland. I think it’s important to call them out for what they are.”
Dr Levatino’s words also created ire on Twitter for being unbalanced and questions were raised why a similar medic was not on hand to question his claims.
Orla O’Connor, from the National Women’s Council of Ireland, added that the doctor’s speech had also “implied women are careless and not thinking it (abortion) through. Women do think it through but right now it’s difficult for women to have those conversations.”
Ms Hoey gave a speech telling citizens she wanted to “dispel the myth” that students “flippantly” accessed abortions, explaining the USI had a mandate to speak for thousands of students across Ireland, many who’d faced crisis pregnancies.
The Irish Family Planning Association’s Dr Catriona Henchion told how the true figure of Irish women option for abortions was not known but she said statistics showed 1,642 abortion pills were sent to Ireland between 1 Jan 2010 and 31 Dec 2012.