Thursday 1 September 2016

Abortion case explainer - what happens now?

Published 18/08/2014 | 13:58

The woman was between 23 and 25 weeks pregnant when the baby was delivered last week. (Picture posed by model)
The woman was between 23 and 25 weeks pregnant when the baby was delivered last week. (Picture posed by model)

Reproductive rights organisation AIMS has described the latest abortion controversy as “the most recent appalling ordeal” that a pregnant women in Ireland has had to endure.

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Since it was drafted, the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Bill has come under much criticism with “massive flaws” being highlighted by a number of advocacy groups.

Now, there are calls for a repeal of the 8th amendment and Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan has said she would welcome a referendum on the argument.

“The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right,” is the wording of the 8th amendment, also referred to as Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

But while Minister O’Sullivan has maintained that a proposal to change this amendment would be a duty for a future government, this latest abortion case has raised a number of questions around a burning debate topic ongoing in this country for decades.

In this particular case, a young woman had a baby delivered by caesarean section after a panel of experts, convened under the country's new laws, decided not to permit an abortion.

The woman sought an abortion under Section 9 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013 as she claimed to be suicidal.

And while a panel of three experts, two of which were psychiatrists who determined her life was at risk as she had suicidal thoughts, assessed her application, the one consultant obstetrician said the baby could be delivered as it was far enough into the pregnancy.

Following the abortion refusal, the woman became so distressed that she then went on hunger and thirst strike. There has been suggestions from sources close to the case that the woman became pregnant as a result from rape.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) went to the High Court to get a care order to prevent her from starving herself.

“How many violations of women’s rights and bodies in Irish maternity hospitals will it take before a stop is put to these outrages?,” asks AIMS Ireland spokesperson Sinéad Redmond – a sentiment that had been echoed since this latest case has been reported.

“Migrant women, traveller women and women of colour are disproportionately represented in the tragedies and negative outcomes of pregnancy here,” she added.

Another point that has been highlighted is that there was a considerable delay between the time the woman first requested an abortion and the time the caesarean section was agreed upon.

It is believed the gestation period was between 23 and 25 weeks when the child was born and some sources have reported that the woman raised an abortion request with health officials at 8 weeks.

But one of the most important outcomes of this case, which is in danger of being overlooked by the media frenzy, is that there is a child that has been born to a mother that has expressed suicidal thoughts.

Her welfare and the welfare of her child – who is still in neo natal care – is a crucial point of concern buried below the revived abortion debate.

It is understood the baby will be taken into the care of the HSE but Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Sam Coulter Smith has said the baby will face ‘enormous’ health challenges as it was not brought to full-term.

Even if the 8th amendment referendum will fall under the next government’s remit, there is a mother and baby that are very much under the current government’s duty of care.

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