Sunday 20 August 2017

State is expected to offer compensation to woman denied abortion

This is the second time that the UN’s Human Rights Committee has ruled against Ireland in relation to a complaint about the country’s restrictive abortion regime. Stock Image
This is the second time that the UN’s Human Rights Committee has ruled against Ireland in relation to a complaint about the country’s restrictive abortion regime. Stock Image
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The State is faced with the prospect of having to pay compensation to a woman who was denied access to an abortion in Ireland after it had been discovered that her unborn child had a fatal foetal abnormality.

A redress claim is expected from Wexford woman Siobhán Whelan after a UN committee issued a damning report on how she was treated as a result of Ireland's restrictive abortion laws.

The UN Human Rights Committee concluded that Ms Whelan had been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in 2010 after a scan revealed that her unborn son had holoprosencephaly, a congenital brain malformation occurring in one in 250 pregnancies.

The condition meant the foetus would likely die in her womb and, if carried to term, the baby would probably die during labour or soon after.

She was offered little or no information on her options and was told by her obstetrician to attend ante-natal classes as normal and wait for nature to take its course.

In a complaint to the committee, Ms Whelan said she ended up feeling like a criminal for travelling to Liverpool for an abortion.

This is the second time that the UN's Human Rights Committee has ruled against Ireland in relation to a complaint about the country's restrictive abortion regime.

Although the findings are not binding, they do heap further pressure on the Government to bring forward the expected referendum on the issue.

It is also likely that Ms Whelan will be offered compensation as a result of the report.

Read More: Siobhán's story: 'My baby had no chance of life, I was told to let nature take its course'

Another woman, Amanda Mellett, was awarded €30,000 in compensation by the State after her complaint had been upheld by the committee.

The State also agreed to provide and cover the costs of psychological support services and counselling.

Ms Whelan was assisted in making the complaint by the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights.

Its regional director for Europe, Leah Hoctor, said while there was no formal mechanism for compensation arising out of the committee's decision, and in the case of Ms Mellett an offer was made by the Health Minister following contact with the State's legal representatives.

"We would expect the Government will follow a similar process in Siobhán Whelan's case," she said.

In a statement, Ms Whelan said it was her hope in taking the case that it would help bring about a change in the law, so that women faced with a fatal foetal impairment would have a choice to end the pregnancy in Ireland and not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term or to travel out of the country.

"I was told I would have to continue with the pregnancy, since Ireland's abortion laws do not allow you to end the pregnancy even in these circumstances," she said.

"If I wanted to end the pregnancy, I would have to travel to another jurisdiction. This, to me, was very wrong and I knew that the suffering I endured because I had to travel to access health care was inhuman."

However, the Pro-Life Campaign criticised the UN report, accusing the committee of acting like the "international wing of the abortion lobby".

Its spokeswoman, Cora Sherlock, said: "The UN Human Rights Committee is effectively saying that unborn babies with a life-limiting condition are worthless and undeserving of any protections in law."

Irish Independent

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