Niamh Ui Bhriain: Parents deserve truth about fatal foetal abnormalities
Statistics reveal that in 2011 abortions sought by Irish women for fatal foetal abnormalities was nowhere near 1,200. It was 36.
Hearing that your unborn baby has a serious or terminal illness is amongst the worst news a parent will ever have to face. Every parent in this devastating situation deserves not just our sympathy but our support, as do their unborn babies, who are our most vulnerable and special children.
However, parents also deserve to be properly and fully informed, and the misinformation being circulated in the current debate on this issue is very unhelpful.
Various media outlets have reported that an estimated 1,500 women receive a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality every year, with 80pc then having an abortion outside the State.
This claim – that 1,200 abortions for foetal abnormalities are sought each year by Irish women – is absolutely incorrect. It's a wildly inaccurate figure, as the official statistics reveal.
In 2011, the actual figure was nowhere near 1,200 abortions. It was actually 36.
We know this because the British Department of Health keeps excellent records in relation to abortion. All abortions carried out on Irish women for reasons of disability are recorded meticulously – right down to the condition diagnosed. In fact, the conditions currently being described as 'fatal foetal abnormalities', such as anencephaly, Trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome), Patau's Syndrome etc, are separated out in the official reports from the department.
Those reports are very clear: in 2011 there were 36 abortions carried out on Irish women for these conditions. A further 14 abortions took place for conditions such as Down Syndrome and spina bifida, but they are not considered terminal or fatal conditions. In 2010, the number of abortions was slightly higher, in 2009 it was slightly lower.
This discrepancy is simply astonishing.
So let's set the record straight. On average, fewer than 50 abortions per year take place on Irish residents for reasons of fatal abnormalities.
It seems that more than 90pc of Irish mothers or families facing this devastating news do not abort their babies. In sharp contrast to the Irish experience, research shows that, in Britain, up to 90pc of children with disabilities – including conditions such as Down Syndrome – are aborted. Of course, many of these are late abortions, a very distressing and traumatising experience.
So where the law prevents abortion, parents are far more likely to choose life, and I have never met a mother who regretted a single moment spent with her baby, even if they only had the briefest time after birth together.
These babies are not 'incompatible with life', no child is. They are terminally ill, and their parents deserve more than our sympathy, they need our support.
Columnist Colette Browne has described women carrying terminally ill babies to term as being reduced by the State "to the status of insentient incubators" who either gave "birth to a corpse" or "watch their baby struggle for breath for excruciating seconds before it dies in their arms". These are statements which feed into a wider cultural failure to provide for families whose unborn babies are terminally ill.
As any palliative care expert will confirm, any discomfort felt by these sick babies after birth is minimised by expert care.
That's why families are now joining together to seek perinatal hospice services in every maternity unit and hospital in the country.
The good news is that perinatal hospice services are relatively easy to make available and are not costly to maintain. Most of all, they allow parents the gift of time with their children: to make memories, to hold and love their babies, to make every moment count. Many parents believe that's a better answer than abortion. And all parents deserve the right not to be misinformed.
Niamh Ui Bhriain is spokeswoman for The Life Institute.