Thursday 20 June 2019

There is no room for 'balance' when an upset mother is being attacked

'Our mental health can really suffer when this little country refuses to provide medical services for women in crisis.' Stock photo
'Our mental health can really suffer when this little country refuses to provide medical services for women in crisis.' Stock photo
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

It takes courage to speak openly about a private tragedy. I have found that by doing so, you can help many others to heal if they have suffered a similar sadness. Helping others is not to be dismissed. Our mental health can waver when faced with tragedy.

Our mental health can really suffer when this little country refuses to provide medical services for women in crisis.

After I wrote an open letter to a newspaper about my diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality in 2002, I was invited to speak on 'The Late Late Show', on 'Prime Time' and the BBC. They wanted to hear about my experience of having to leave the country to have a safe medical intervention to terminate a pregnancy that would not survive.

To protect my other children, I could not go public. I just wanted to ensure that no other woman would have to suffer. I felt that the words of my letter were enough; they had created a national debate.

In 2007 I was requested by RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' to comment on Miss D, a 17-year old carrying an anencephalic foetus, who was 'given permission' by the High Court to travel to England for a termination.

The HSE sought to prevent her going. The interviewer wanted me to share my experience of the diagnosis. I was nervous, I kept waiting to be interrupted, but they listened and listened more. After 29 minutes, we finished. There was tremendously supportive feedback. Men and women could identify with the reality of confirmed fatal foetal abnormality. Nobody had spoken personally about it before, there had been no balance in the debate.

In 2012, I found the courage to give a studio interview to Pat Kenny. As I drove away from RTÉ, I heard him ask an anti-choice campaigner on the phone to give her opinion about my story. Berry Kiely said that what I had done was like taking a terminally ill two-year old child off a life-support machine.

A stranger to me, she had analogised my decision into a completely false scenario, for the sake of drama and 'balance'.

Berry Kiely did exactly what I had anticipated had I gone on TV in 2002 - viciously attacked and verbally abused my personal choice, a choice that was legally available in Northern Ireland at that time, to ameliorate the tragedy that had befallen me.

There can be no balance in attacking a woman.

If some other woman wants to proclaim her delight at choosing to go full term with fatal foetal abnormality, that is a separate issue, she has that choice.

Graham and Helen Linehan shared their experience of fatal foetal abnormality on an RTÉ afternoon radio programme, with Ray D'Arcy, on October 19, 2015. Both parents spoke of how their tragedy had been dealt with humanely by their local health service in the UK.

Some people were not one bit happy about that, they said the interview was "biased and unfair".

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland heard their complaints and upheld them.

Yes, the BAI upheld complaints about an interview given by a couple who had experienced the tragedy of fatal foetal abnormality. But unlike in Ireland, they were treated with humanity in the UK.

Hearing what it's like to be treated with humanity is not desired by certain sectors of our community.

The BAI said this interview was in breach of its code for news and current affairs reporting. It specifically took issue with the couple for advocating legislative and constitutional reform that would spare women the trauma of being denied access to termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal anomalies.

'The Ray D'Arcy Show' had sought listeners' views in advance of the interview and then read out the views of two anti-choice organisations on both the Linehans' story and Amnesty International's campaign. It strikes me that fairness, objectivity and impartiality were achieved.

In contrast, media 'balance' from the anti-choice movement is to provide them with a platform to personally attack women in tragic circumstances and to rubbish the term 'fatal foetal abnormality', denying the existence of the medical fact.

Let me bring balance to this argument with the proclamation by the clerics of the Presbyterian Church at their annual assembly this week.

It is their "conviction that human life begins at conception" and their "responsibility towards the child with FFA (fatal foetal abnormality) is at one with (their) responsibility towards any unborn child" - to ban any intervention.

The clerics' conviction is to force the woman to carry for nine months without a thought for her or the burial she will have anyway.

A new battle over 'media balance' went to the streets on Saturday, demanding more attention for the right to total autonomy over women's bodies.

This argument over 'balance' will render the supposed Citizens' Assembly inert. The assembly is to be set up to consider the Eighth Amendment.

There is already a forum for this issue, it is called the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Ireland.

Until we have a referendum, the brave voices of those whose lives have been impacted by the Eighth Amendment should be able to participate in the public conversation without the fear of being verbally, cruelly abused about the choices that they made in the best interests of themselves and their families.

The impact of this BAI ruling is tantamount to censorship and is an obstacle to those who wish to help others by sharing personal experience and, therefore, an obstacle to free speech.

Irish Independent

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