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'I didn't even know what an abortion was, but I was all over the paper'

Twelve years ago, Amy Dunne was devastated to learn that her unborn baby had a fatal foetal abnormality. As 'Miss D', her fight to travel for an abortion became front page news. In a heartbreaking interview, she tells Tanya Sweeney why the wounds won't heal

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Life-changing: Amy Dunne is ‘Miss D’ who had a pregnancy 12 years ago and fought for the right to travel to the UK for a termination. Photo: Arthur Carron

Life-changing: Amy Dunne is ‘Miss D’ who had a pregnancy 12 years ago and fought for the right to travel to the UK for a termination. Photo: Arthur Carron

Life-changing: Amy Dunne is ‘Miss D’ who had a pregnancy 12 years ago and fought for the right to travel to the UK for a termination. Photo: Arthur Carron

In many ways, Amy Dunne is a typical twentysomething. A fiercely devoted mum to her son Adam, she trained in college as a beauty therapist before moving her attention to fashion styling.

"I love making women feel better about themselves," she says of her work as a style consultant. "I spend a lot of time giving them confidence, and that makes me feel good."

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Amy shares her story with the Irish Independent in 2007

Amy shares her story with the Irish Independent in 2007

Amy shares her story with the Irish Independent in 2007

Yet appearances, she admits, can be deceptive. "Visually, I might look like I have confidence, but inside I'm a ball of nerves," she admits. "I'm the biggest worrier. I'll never fully get to grips with myself and have confidence in myself."

One year in Amy's teenagehood changed the course of her life forever, and it still casts a long shadow. Many will know Amy as the name given to her by the High Court back in 2007 when she was 16 years old: Miss D.

Twelve years ago, Amy's harrowing personal tragedy turned her into a political pawn and put her at the centre of a long-roiling national debate. "I felt like I was being used - it wasn't about me, it turned into being about the law," recalls Amy.

At 16, Amy became pregnant with her then-boyfriend. Initial shock at being pregnant soon turned to tentative excitement and then delight. "When I look back I know I wanted to have a child, and I wanted to have someone to love. I wanted stability," Amy recalls.

On her 17th birthday, Amy went for a scan, only to be told by doctors that the baby she was carrying had anencephaly, a fatal foetal abnormality that meant it wouldn't survive outside the womb. Amy and her boyfriend decided to travel to the UK to procure an abortion.

At the time, Amy had been in foster care for two months. She had enjoyed a worry-free, happy childhood with her family, but when she was 13, she, her mother Rosaleen and two siblings moved to Drogheda. Amy in particular found the transition hard. She rebelled, and eventually reached an impasse with her mother, who was coping with personal difficulties of her own at the time. It was decided that foster care would provide Amy with the discipline and stability she needed.

Amy disclosed her pregnancy, and her wish to travel to the UK for an abortion, to her HSE social worker. The social worker had told her that she would be stopped by Gardai from travelling to the UK; a move that the High Court would eventually note had no foundation in law. A High Court battle ensued, where Amy fought for the right to travel to the UK for an abortion: a right she won when she was four months pregnant. Ultimately, she decided to have an induced labour, so that she could give her child, a little girl she called Jasmine, a fitting goodbye. After 16 hours of labour, Jasmine was delivered in a Liverpool hospital. Within six hours, Amy was on a return flight to Dublin. She had never had the chance to hold her daughter's body.

"My ex wheeled me into the room where she was, but it took a few goes as I was so upset," Amy recalls of that morning. "I was leaving my child in a room on her own. The airport was horrible, especially going there. I was all over the telly, and I was convinced that people knew who I was."

It could have all been so very different, of course; firstly, if she was able to travel without restriction to the UK, and if she were able to access the procedure she needed at home in Ireland, as is now lawful since last year.

"I don't think I'd have half the hurt I have now," reflects Amy. "I was completely alone [in Liverpool]. If I could have done it over here [in Ireland], I'd have had aunties, uncles, my sister."

Many people think they know the story of Miss D from news reports and headlines, and reporting restrictions meant that most of the full story remained untold, until now.

TG4's documentary series Finné takes a look at some of the biggest news stories in recent memory, offering the lived experiences of the people behind them. And for Amy, the documentary, which airs tonight, has brought up mixed emotions. Getting to tell her full story in her own words, she hopes, will bring closure.

"Since it happened, I kept newspaper clippings and for me, I felt as if my life was portrayed in the wrong way," she says. "There was a lot of incorrect information out there, and that hurt me. I didn't even know what an abortion was when I was plastered all over the paper. It wasn't something anyone talked about. On the news, you hear the legal end of things, but not the emotional trauma. Not about me organising to bring home a baby's coffin from the UK at 17.

"I am very nervous about it, but in another way, it's actually like throwing the black bag of rubbish in the bin and slamming the lid down. I've got to speak the truth. I feel I've been judged for so many years.

"Because it was a secret, I thought it was a shameful thing, and I was embarrassed," she admits. "On another level, now I feel, 'Wow, you are such a strong young girl after what you went through'."

After returning home from Liverpool, Amy recalls she was 'kind of let go and sent into the world alone straight away'. Legally, she was staying in a temporary B&B, but moved in with her boyfriend.

"He was the only person I had, and I had to lean on him," Amy says. Within a year, Amy was pregnant with Adam. She gave birth to him as she turned 18.

"It was a textbook delivery, although I stopped pushing during the labour because I started freaking out that he would come out with something wrong with him," she remembers. In the end, Adam was a healthy baby: "That was the best feeling of my life, even though it was another reality check - I was now a mam."

Looking back at Amy's case from 2019, where we now appear to have a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of pregnancy, abortion and fatal foetal abnormality, it's hard not to feel huge sympathy for that 17-year-old girl, forced to live out her own personal tragedy on the national stage.

The 8th Amendment referendum, held last May, may have progressed the national conversation, but it also broke open old wounds for Amy. "It actually dragged up more raw emotion, and brought everything back to life," she admits. "As much as I wanted to lend my support, I hid from it. Every poster affected me. People were preaching around where I lived, and it made my blood boil. It was just hard."

These days, it's about living as close to normalcy as she can. Adam is 'her world', and she knows that some day soon, she will have to have a full and frank conversation with him about Jasmine.

Her mum Rosaleen is now her 'best friend'. They see each other every day, and it was she who helped Amy with Adam as she strove to go to college. "Adam was a blessing for her as well," reflects Amy. "I think when he was born, she knew that I needed her."

Jasmine is buried in Drogheda, where Amy still lives. Amy was a regular visitor to her grave, and used to go up to the graveyard in the middle of the night on her own, but currently finds it too difficult to visit.

"I can't tell you why, but it's hurting me too much to go right now," she admits. "I have bought stuff for Jasmine's grave, but it's just lying in the boot of my car."

To this day, however, she keeps a box of Jasmine's effects, from her tiny dress and hat to her hospital tag, which she wore around her torso. "If I have a bad day at work, or a break-up, I pull out Jasmine's box," says Amy. Though the HSE offered Amy follow-up support back in 2007, she would like to access proper, specialised counselling now.

"I'd just like to get someone to give me mental support and help me accept what happened," she says. "It pops up regularly. I don't think I'll settle until I get that support, and I don't know how to get that support. I've been put on waiting lists, but never been seen. Even if I had refused follow-up support at the time, I was a child. Someone needed to take me by the hand.

"I just try to continue being a mam, and because of what happened to me, I have a different type of mentality and strength. I'm the most active person you'll ever see, so I just keep on running," she adds. "I never sit still. I can't ever really be with my own thoughts."

  • Finné is on TG4 tonight at 9.30pm

The cases that shook Ireland

Miss X: In 1992, a 14-year-old rape victim was forbidden from travelling to England for an abortion, causing widespread outrage.

Miss C: In 1997, the family of a 13-year-old rape victim fought an unsuccessful legal battle to restrain her from travelling to the UK for a termination.

Ms Y: In 2014, a pregnant asylum seeker was denied an abortion in Ireland even though she was suicidal

Irish Independent