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Thursday 22 February 2018

Case was almost inevitable given overlap in laws

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Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The case of the teenage girl who wanted an abortion but ended up in a mental health unit appears to be unique.

Legal practitioners who spoke with the Irish Independent said they were unaware of a similar set of circumstances arising in recent years.

However, some believe it was inevitable such a case would arise at some point following the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013.

The act allows for abortions in circumstances where there is a risk to the life of a mother, including from suicide.

But suicidal ideation is something that also often has to be considered by psychiatrists when recommending whether or not someone should be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 2001.

The overlap presents a difficulty which only now has come to the fore.

In this case, an adolescent girl who wished to have an abortion was determined by a consultant psychiatrist to be at risk of self harm and suicide as a result of her pregnancy.

In theory, she should have been eligible for a termination under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

It is unclear whether or not the girl formally sought to make use of the act, as it was never mentioned in the court proceedings covered by the Child Care Law Reporting Project.

In any event, the psychiatrist took the view that a termination was "not the solution" for the girl's problems and that she had a mental health disorder requiring her to be committed for treatment.

Two other psychiatrists took a different view, finding she did not have a psychological disorder warranting her detention.

The case has led some to suspect the psychiatrist used the Mental Health Act to deprive the teenager of her right to an abortion. Critics of Ireland's abortion laws say the case is another example of inhuman laws being used to treat women as second-class citizens.

But supporters of the Eighth Amendment aren't so sure, with the Pro-Life Campaign accusing pro-choice advocates of rushing to conclusions without having the full facts.

Irish Independent

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