Sunday 26 May 2019

Deirdre Conroy: I don't want any other woman to go through the ordeal I endured

Pro-life and pro-choice protesters express their views
Pro-life and pro-choice protesters express their views

THERE are no victors. The likely passing into law of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill is the result of a long and bitterly fought battle for dominion of the womb.

My discovery that women don't actually own their womb began in January 2002. The moment I heard the words "incompatible with life", my own life changed. I remember walking out of the hospital thinking, 'This is what really, really bad news tastes like'.

The worst was yet to come. The silence, the grief.

The words "not in this jurisdiction" meant there would be no humane treatment. I would have to carry on as normal, taking care of my children, working and grieving. I was four-and-a-half months pregnant with one dead twin and one that wouldn't survive. The doctor said my options were to carry to term or go away. "Go away?" I asked, bewildered.

In the past 11 years, my experience has been aired in newspapers, on radio and television and in hearings in the European Court of Human Rights, and it has been cited several times in the recent Health Committee Hearings.

I am not simply the letter 'D', I am a mother who knew that her children needed her to take care of them, and a woman who could not carry a baby who was destined to die.

I was not given a choice, and I did not want any other woman to suffer a double tragedy – the loss of a wanted pregnancy and the trauma of leaving the country for a strange hospital to bring a coffin back in a bag or ashes in the post.

A Pro-Life campaigner told me outside the Dail recently that "studies have shown termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) is more traumatic on the woman".

That is a complete lie. There are no studies on this subject in Ireland, which is where the problem occurs. The trauma is entirely due to being sent away and stigmatised by subverting the law.

This week alone, four couples in Ireland will get harrowing news about a wanted pregnancy. There are 1,500 cases each year, 3,000 parents affected. More than 80pc will travel to the UK to have a medical intervention.

In the D v Ireland case, 2006, Expert Witness for Ireland Gerard Hogan SC (now Judge Hogan) said "remorseless" logic would not have been applied to article 40.3.3 (protection of the unborn) in my case had I gone to the Irish courts while pregnant.

The current bill will not change anything in respect of those 1,500 cases. It will take one brave mother to go straight from the hospital to the High Court and ask for the remedy that Ireland offered in D v Ireland.

Since 2002, I have been much more aware of the substantial cohort of the Irish population claiming jurisdiction over a woman's womb and sovereignty over her mental health.

Some years the clamouring would die down, but it has become very loud again since the death of Savita Hallapanavar and the introduction of this bill. It was her eventual death due to delayed termination that made me realise my four years of court correspondence and the ECHR decision were to no avail.

The subject had been shoved under the carpet.

I have tried to examine the source of fear in those who oppose any form of termination, who will not tolerate humane intervention even in the case of fatal foetal abnormality. It is hard to hear a male politician insist that a woman must continue to full term if there is a chance of one breath, so that the mother can watch the baby suffer.

Could it be that they are threatened by women being in a position to choose whether a foetus will live or die?

That is indeed a very frightening prospect. It puts women in a God-like position. When you strip back all the haranguing, scaremongering, pulpit preaching and rhetoric, it threatens the patriarchal model.

Perhaps that is simplified, but when you look at your mother, sister or daughter, do you think she is pre-disposed to deciding who will live or die?

Of course, not. Life is precious, but life is not perfect.

This bill is only being passed to give clarity to a Supreme Court decision made in 1992.

Some government had to do it. Fianna Fail managed to successively evade it. Now, with the shouting all but over, I do not believe there will be any woman who would put herself through the gatekeepers of the "pathway to mental health clinical assessment".

It will change little and do nothing to address the reality of brutal situations such as rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

However, the Government has been prepared to honour a commitment to bring clarity to a frankly messy situation.

It will, however, allow a tangible framework for reasonable and humane amendments. There is cross-party support for inclusion of FFA, and in a recent poll 87pc of the population were in favour of an amendment.

That legislation must be forthcoming if we are to call ourselves a tolerant, civilised society.

Deirdre Conroy was the woman at the centre of the D Case

Irish Independent

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