Monday 26 September 2016

It's time to put a stop to the torture of women

We must get rid of the Eighth Amendment and show compassion to couples facing private tragedy, says Carol Hunt

Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30

Stock image
Stock image

Just when we thought this country could not heap any more hurt, horror or torture, on to its women, we hear a tale that makes us weep anew. Last week, Irish parents Sarah and Michael (names changed) shared their story with journalist Ellen Coyne (The Times Irish edition).

  • Go To

Early last year when Sarah was 12 weeks' pregnant with her third child, the couple discovered their unborn son had Edwards' syndrome (the majority of babies with this disorder die before birth).

Her husband Michael told Coyne that when Edwards' syndrome was confirmed they were "essentially taken from the [Irish] hospital and turfed out on the street… Sarah was leaving there a non-pregnant woman". Except she was still pregnant. And, according to Irish law, unless she could prove her life was at risk, she would continue to be so until she delivered (or miscarried) naturally. Like many others, Sarah would have to go to the UK for the medical attention denied to her here. Except that Sarah had seen her sister suffer a miscarriage and knew family support was vital. "I started panicking and thinking... I can't go to England and do this, delivering the dead baby," she told Coyne.

It was then Sarah learned about feticide, a procedure carried out in a UK hospital where the foetal heartbeat is stopped, allowing the woman to travel home and experience the final part of her abortion in Ireland. Problem is, because of the Eighth Amendment, the woman is forced to lie to Irish medical staff about the UK trip. She has to pretend she is suddenly worried the foetus had stopped moving and then act surprised when staff discover her baby is dead.

They go to the UK for the first part of the abortion. But when they arrive, a call is made to their Irish consultant - who refuses to confirm that she will administer the second part of the abortion (understandably, as she could face 14 years in jail). The UK clinic won't do the procedure.

Sarah and Michael travel home, they try to get help but there is "zero" support. At 24 weeks into the pregnancy, they are forced to return to the UK where the pregnancy is terminated and they then smuggle a tiny coffin home. Before they put their son into the coffin, they take him to bed with them and read him the story of Fionn mac Cumhaill, "because he was a little warrior". "The hardest thing I ever done in my life was screw the screws into my own son's coffin," said Michael.

Then Sarah is taken ill and ends up in hospital with sepsis. It is later revealed that if she had left it any later to have an abortion she would have been risking her life. Sarah is lucky to be alive. If the couple had decided not to abort the pregnancy in the UK, Michael may well have been faced with two coffins.

It doesn't bear thinking about, except that there are others in the same situation. And yet Enda Kenny refuses to commit to a referendum to remove the Eighth Amendment. He says he wants to "depoliticise" the issue and set up a citizens assembly within six months if returned to government. This is extreme political cowardice - it places the cynical attempt to win votes ahead of women's health. As for "depoliticising" the issue, the parties have shown they are not prepared to do this. Last March, Clare Daly's bill to allow for terminations in cases of FFA was defeated by 104 to 20 votes. Blind loyalty ensured that few politicians put the good of Irish women before the party whip.

And nothing has changed since. Meanwhile, the stories of tragedy continue. It's time to stop the torture of Irish women. It's time for a referendum to repeal the Eighth.

@carolmhunt Carol Hunt is an Independent Alliance candidate for the Dun Laoghaire Constituency

Sunday Independent

Read More