Saturday 7 December 2019

Harris 'deeply upset' by abortion ordeal but refuses to act yet on UN accusations

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank McGrath
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank McGrath
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he was deeply upset by the case of a woman who was forced to go to the UK to terminate her pregnancy after discovering the foetus had a fatal abnormality.

However, he ruled out any intervention by the Government on the issue ahead of a Citizens Assembly debate.

His comments came after the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Amanda Mellet was forced to choose between carrying her baby to term, knowing it would not survive, or travelling abroad for a termination.

The Geneva-based body hit out at the Government for putting Ms Mellet through financial and emotional suffering.

She was 21 weeks' pregnant in November 2011 when doctors told her the foetus would die in her womb or shortly after birth.

She travelled to the UK for an abortion but had to return home 12 hours after the procedure as she could not afford to stay longer.

The hospital where she was treated did not provide any options regarding the foetus's remains and she had to leave them behind.

Three weeks later the ashes were unexpectedly delivered to her by courier.

The UN body found she was discriminated against by being denied bereavement counselling and medical care available to women who miscarry.

Mr Harris said he had read the report and found Ms Mellet's experience "deeply upsetting".

"I have met with families who have been through the trauma of knowing their baby will not survive and I have been very moved by hearing their experiences."

Mr Harris said he believed attempting to develop a consensus approach through a Citizen's Assembly was the best way forward and the UN committee findings would form part of that process.

Junior Health Minister Finian McGrath said he could not say for certain when the assembly would begin, but expected it to be some time in the autumn.

The right to life of the unborn is protected under the eighth amendment to the Constitution.

Although the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 allowed for abortion when there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life, such as the threat of suicide, terminations are still not allowed in cases of rape, incest, inevitable miscarriage or fatal foetal abnormality.

Pro-choice groups said the report showed substantial legislative and constitutional changes were needed to make Ireland compliant with international human rights obligations.

However, the Pro Life Campaign criticised the report, saying the UN committee was "100pc partisan in favour of abortion".

Irish Independent

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