Wednesday 23 August 2017

Women speak of abortion trauma

'I knew my baby was leaving hospital in a coffin,' woman tells Citizens' Assembly

Background: UCD law lecturer John O’Dowd and Emily Egan SC speak at the Citizens’ Assembly in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Background: UCD law lecturer John O’Dowd and Emily Egan SC speak at the Citizens’ Assembly in the Grand Hotel, Malahide, Co Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin

Laura Lynott and Wayne O'Connor

A woman forced to travel to the UK for a late-term abortion has told the Citizens' Assembly it is wrong to "trap" Irish women into carrying foetuses with fatal conditions.

The woman said she had skipped excitedly to her 12-week ultrasound scan, before hearing the horrific news her foetus was unlikely to survive birth.

"I knew my baby was leaving hospital in a coffin," she said.

She was one of six women who spoke on anonymous recordings made for the Citizens' Assembly at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Co Dublin.

Each story was played for the 99 members, giving insight into the traumatic journey thousands of Irish women take each year to the UK to seek abortions.

"I remember skipping into the midwife," the woman said.

"She said the baby was quiet and not moving, that some of my blood results were worrying her. A doctor said they'd never seen a baby like ours live past 17 weeks and I'd most likely have a miscarriage."

A legal expert warned assembly members that uncertainty about which parent is entitled to make an abortion decision will need to be addressed if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

Members were yesterday made aware of the legal consequences of retaining, amending or repealing the article of the Constitution that relates to a mother's right to have an abortion.

Brian Murray SC said there were a number of legal considerations that will have to be thought through as the group deliberates recommendations it is due to make to the Oireachtas. This could include which parent is entitled to make the decision to have an abortion if the assembly advises a repeal.

"If the effect of repeal is to widen the circumstances in which abortion is available, greater legal attention will have to be paid to the question of who gets to decide whether to have an abortion, whether the mother or both parents of the foetus, or the parents of a pregnant minor," he said.

Mr Murray added that amending the Constitution would also have a number of effects that would vary depending on the assembly's recommendations.

He said some of the most obvious amendments available included increasing constitutional protection for the unborn, allowing more freedom to the Oireachtas to permit abortion in defined circumstances, or removing the right to life of the unborn.

He added: "The most secure way to allow the Oireachtas to legislate like the English parliament would be to repeal the Eighth Amendment and the unborn would have no rights, and abortion legislation is a matter only for the Oireachtas."

Stating that the Oireachtas should have full power to decide on the scope of possible abortions or amending but providing for legislation which could not be amended without a referendum were other obvious options available to the assembly, he said.

The assembly's chairwoman, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, conceded the law in relation to the issues they will be dealing with was unclear: "I am conscious that members have continuously sought clarity on the legal position of the impact of the Eighth Amendment in certain areas and of possible consequences to changes to the law as it currently stands.

"I think what the members of the assembly have learned from this morning is what a lack of clarity there is in the law in relation to the issues they will be dealing with," she added.

The six women with experience of the Eighth Amendment gave their accounts of a range of circumstances relevant to the deliberations. They spoke about crisis pregnancies, the diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality and life-limiting conditions. The personal accounts were sourced from 200 submissions made to the assembly from members of the public.

"I am very grateful to each of these women for providing us with an opportunity to hear first-hand how the issues we have been discussing has affected their lives and that of their families," Ms Justice Laffoy said.

"I am asking that whatever side of the debate or discussion people may find themselves on that they will listen to these voices and show respect for these women and their lived experiences. We owe them a debt of gratitude for sharing their stories with us."

UCD law lecturer John O'Dowd and Emily Egan SC also provided legal background, including presentations on the constitutional rights of the unborn and the role of the Constitution in the decisions made by parents.

Sunday Independent

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