Tuesday 21 October 2014

In the eyes of the State, it seems this woman was not a human with rights

Despite psychiatrists 
saying 'yes', a young 
suicidal woman is 
denied an abortion

Published 17/08/2014 | 02:30

During our most recent, divisive debates on abortion, Professor William Binchy and others warned us of the arrival of horrific "abortion mills" into Ireland if we dared legislate for the X Case. This week, he can rest assured that there is no place in Ireland where a "well woman with a well child" [ie a pregnant woman suffering from suicidal ideation, a potentially fatal condition] would be offered the human rights which would be commonplace in the rest of Europe.

It is with horror and not a little fear that I try to understand what happened to a young woman in our country recently. Faced with a crisis pregnancy and for reasons which we are not able to disclose, this young woman was not in a position ( as so many thousands of Irish women have done, and continue to do, before her) to head to the UK or further afield to get the medical attention she wanted.

She only discovered that she was actually pregnant during her second trimester and consequently became suicidal. Under our new, much touted compassionate legislation - so hard fought for, so grudgingly given - this young woman should have been allowed to have a termination within this State if three expert professionals on a panel agreed that there was indeed a risk to her life if she proceeded with her pregnancy.

So she presented herself for inquisition. How much time did that take? What did she have to endure before the two psychiatrists who examined her said, yes, her life was most definitely at risk (she was having suicidal thoughts) and under the laws of the Irish State, she should be allowed to terminate her pregnancy?

That should have been the end to the girl's trauma, but then, seemingly, the consultant obstetrician on the panel ruled against the two psychiatrists That's correct. The person who is not at all qualified to comment on the mental health or suicidal risk of a patient got to call the shots. This person decided that the pregnancy was probably far enough for the baby to survive outside the womb. The law provides that once a baby can survive outside the womb then its right to life must also be taken into consideration.

The poor girl must have been devastated. She was certainly traumatised enough to go on hunger and fluid strike. The HSE went to the High Court to get a care order to prevent her from starving herself. Eventually, she surrendered and allowed the baby to be delivered by Caesarean section sometime between 23 and 25 weeks. She very obviously had not wanted to be a mother, she very obviously had satisfied the legal criteria for the risk to life if she continued with the pregnancy.

And yet none of this mattered. In the eyes, once again, of this State, she was not a human being with rights, devastating problems and a condition that could kill her - she was just a vessel who would be forced to give birth. During the debate to legislate for the X-Case I asked, A) as a woman who has been pregnant and B) as a women who has experienced mental illness, why I should not be given the right to life under the constitution?

Am I somehow a lesser person, with fewer rights under Irish law because my life-threatening illness is mental and not physical? I recall asking, if I became pregnant and suffered from suicidal ideation, would I be kept in a "pregnancy mill" until I could be delivered of a live baby?

I thought that the new legislation would mean women who were genuinely found to be in danger of death by suicide would be treated as people and not just baby-carriers.

I was wrong. I am shocked. And so should every man and woman in this State. The only way to stop this barbaric treatment of Irish women under Irish law is a referendum to remove the 8th amendment. It is now imperative.

Sunday Independent

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