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Now suicidal pregnant women in fear of detention

Teenager who wanted abortion was sectioned


Protesters at the Repeal the Eighth protest on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Protesters at the Repeal the Eighth protest on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Protesters at the Repeal the Eighth protest on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Suicidal women who seek an abortion in Ireland face the possibility of being detained under the Mental Health Act.

Legal experts warned that greater clarity needed to be brought to the law following the case of a pregnant teenager, deemed at risk of suicide, who was sectioned on the advice of a psychiatrist, while believing she was being sent for a termination.

The controversial case will put abortion firmly back on the political agenda as Leo Varadkar takes office as Taoiseach this week.

Risk of suicide is part of the narrow criteria under which women can have an abortion in Ireland, but suicidal ideation is also something which can lead to the involuntary committal of a person into the care of the mental health service.

The overlap arose in the case of the adolescent girl, who had "very strong views" that she wanted a termination of her pregnancy. But instead of being allowed to have an abortion she was detained by order of a district court judge for several days following evidence from a consultant psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist was of the opinion that while the girl was at risk of suicide as a result of the pregnancy, this could be managed by treatment and a termination "was not the solution for all of the child's problems". Both the girl and her mother had thought she was being transferred to Dublin for a termination and she became "very agitated" when she found out she was being admitted to a mental health unit.

Her detention was successfully challenged by a guardian ad litem, a person appointed by the court to represent the girl's interests, after another consultant psychiatrist concluded the girl, while depressed, was not suicidal and did not have a mental illness.

Details of the case, which occurred last year, were published yesterday by the Child Care Law Reporting Project.

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It is unclear whether the teenager subsequently travelled abroad for a termination.

The case will increase pressure on the Government to accelerate preparations for an abortion referendum, which is expected to take place next year.

Gareth Noble, a solicitor with KOD Lyons specialising in juvenile justice issues, said: "The criteria for a termination and the criteria for an involuntary admission appear to be somewhat similar. Greater clarity is going to be required in relation to those matters.

"If a child is saying I can't go ahead with my pregnancy because of suicidal ideation, then any consultant psychiatrist dealing with the termination aspect of matters will also have to consider whether or not, in light of that, they should be admitted to a care facility in terms of their mental health. It is a difficult area."

Mr Varadkar said reports of the case were "worrying and very disturbing" but decisions on whether someone needs a termination to protect their life were a matter for doctors rather than politicians. The National Women's Council said the case "highlighted the medical unworkability of the Eighth Amendment, and the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act."

However, the Pro Life Campaign said the case was being used irresponsibly by pro-choice campaigners to attack the Eighth Amendment.

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