Tuesday 21 February 2017

Exclusive audio: Abortion law 'an outrage' says wife of President

President's wife weighs into the Eighth Amendment debate

Laura Larkin

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Sabina Higgins, the wife of President Michael D Higgins, has described circumstances in which a woman could be made to carry a pregnancy to term in the case of a fatal foetal abnormality as an "outrage against women".

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The President's wife was speaking following a debate by midwifery students about whether or not Ireland's maternity care has realised the ideals of the 1916 leaders outlined in the fourth paragraph of the Proclamation.

Ms Higgins, who has been a staunch supporter of midwives and spoke at the event in 2014, said afterwards that she would not be coming down on either side of the motion.

Her unexpected and unscripted speech acknowledged the improvement in maternity services in Ireland since she had her own children, and she also paid tribute to the work of Irish midwives to improve the sector. The debate itself had touched on many issues and Ms Higgins's comments afterwards reflected this.

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Mary McBride Walsh (right) a grand-niece of Major John McBride at the 1916 commemorations in Westport, Co Mayo, yesterday Photo: Michael Mc Laughlin
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina with Mary McBride Walsh (right) a grand-niece of Major John McBride at the 1916 commemorations in Westport, Co Mayo, yesterday Photo: Michael Mc Laughlin

She spoke about her desire to see breastfeeding rates improve and the importance of making Ireland a country where women felt comfortable breastfeeding.

During her speech, Ms Higgins also touched on the subject of choice in abortion and health, on which her comments appeared somewhat vague. She stumbled over the term fatal foetal abnormality, omitting the word 'fatal'. However, she recovered after a few moments and went on to describe the fact that a woman may be made to carry a pregnancy to term in such circumstances "an outrage against women".

"It's wonderful what has been achieved by the midwives and nursing association … they really fought for this (greater breastfeeding rates)and onwards for the breastfeeding, for 100pc (uptake) - unless there's some reason that they can't - and for all of the other things, the choice, the whole thing of the choice in the abortion and health," she said.

"There has to be the choice that you know that...what do you call it ... that foetal abnormality that the person or persons should be made carry you know and sit in you know… these are really outrages against women and outrages against the world and nature," she said.

"There is so much to go into but I'll say that really in our Republic we have come so far."

Her comments are the first time that Ms Higgins has spoken publicly about the issue of abortion in Ireland. She has previously spoken out on a number of issues relating to gender equality, including violence against women.

The debate was live-streamed to maternity hospitals and higher-level institutions where midwives are trained. Six midwifery students from colleges all around the country took part, with three weighing in on each side of the motion.

The opposing team spoke about the case of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 after contracting blood poisoning while having a miscarriage.

They also highlighted the difficulties faced by rural women in accessing maternity care, the drop in breastfeeding compared with 100 years ago, when 65pc of mothers breastfed, and the lack of choice regarding different models of maternity care.

The students who spoke in defence of the maternity services highlighted our low perinatal mortality rates and the new national maternity strategy which has a strong focus on midwifery as an element of Ireland's maternity care, which makes it one of the "best in the world".

The debate was organised by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) and was held in Trinity College's School of Nursing last Wednesday.

A spokesman for Áras an Uachtaráin did not respond to a request for further comment from the Irish Independent.

Irish Independent

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