Friday 24 January 2020

Woman calls for law change after abortion ordeal

Lesley-Anne McKeown

A WOMAN who had to travel from Northern Ireland to England for an abortion because her baby had no chance of survival has called for the law to be changed.

Even though her baby had not developed a skull and was completely brain dead, she was refused a termination under the current legislation.

Instead, doctors said she would have to wait for the baby to die, then have an induced labour.

"Before this happened to me, I didn't agree with abortion but this is medical – this is a dead body I'm being forced to carry in Northern Ireland because of this silly law," she said.

In Northern Ireland abortion is not illegal but is very tightly controlled. The procedure is permitted only if the life or mental health of the mother is at serious risk.

Foetal abnormality does not constitute grounds for an abortion in the North, which is not covered by the United Kingdom's 1967 Abortion Act.

The woman, known only as Sarah, was first made aware of the severe problems last week when her 20-week scan failed to detect any sign of the baby's head.

She said: "We were told we were carrying a baby with anencephaly. It's the worst case of spina bifida, so the baby has no skull formed and it's brain dead. It's very hard to come to terms with."

She flew to London for a termination earlier this week, which she said added to her trauma.

Every year, more than 1,000 women travel from Northern Ireland to clinics in England, Scotland and Wales, where access to an abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks into pregnancy on grounds that include abnormalities which could lead to a child being seriously disabled.

The woman told the BBC Radio Ulster's 'Stephen Nolan Show' that she felt there was no alternative to termination.


"My only choice basically was to carry the baby either until it passed away inside me or I could deliver and it would pass away," she said. "The law won't let you have an abortion unless the baby is going to harm you."

In a statement, Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots said senior officials were now looking at the case to see if lessons can be learned.

"I want to be 100pc assured that everything has been done that we would expect to be done within the confines of the legal position that exists in Northern Ireland," he said.

However, the minister said that changes to the law were a matter for the Justice Department and the power-sharing Stormont Assembly.

Mr Poots added: "My remit is to ensure there are quality services available, within that law.

"Issues around the termination of pregnancy can present hugely difficult issues for families. I am only too aware of that from experience down the years as a local elected representative. It can be a challenging area for trust staff too.

"Anyone who thinks these issues are always simple has not given the issue the thought it demands."

However, Audrey Simpson, acting chief executive of the Family Planning Association, claimed that the assembly was out of touch with the Northern Ireland public's real opinion on this matter.

Market research commissioned in a Northern Ireland Omnibus survey last year suggested that a majority of people in the North were in favour of making abortion legal there if the foetus showed a risk of serious or permanent defect.

"Forty-two per cent agreed that a termination in this case should be legal, with 32pc saying no," said Ms Simpson.

"But with the remaining 22pc of people saying that they don't know leads me to conclude that this is something people would agree to in these exceptional circumstances."

Irish Independent

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