Monday 20 January 2020

Was this scared, pregnant teenager told of her rights?

Dearbhail McDonald

HER maternity journey began with a brutal, terrifying rape in her home country and ended with her delivering a baby by caesarean section in Ireland after she was refused an abortion on life saving grounds.

We are told she fled her homeland after a recent conflict that has claimed the lives of some of her family members. The victim, it seems, of a war crime, the teenager at the heart of the latest abortion crisis sought asylum in Ireland.

She sought refuge in a country that has one of the highest refugee rejection rates in Europe and one that managed to lose track of 500 unaccompanied minors from its asylum system during the Celtic Tiger years.

Like thousands before her, she entered into Ireland's much maligned direct provision system, where asylum seekers are housed on €19 a week until their applications for asylum or subsidiary protection are finalised.

She has limited English. But when her periods stopped and she experienced morning sickness, she sought medical attention.

She was roughly eight weeks' pregnant at this point.

She subsequently left her initial 'home' within Ireland's direct provision system, moving to another location where she later sought the assistance of a fellow national who became her 'advocate'.

Sources close to the young woman's case say that she was not given the necessary information by the authorties, but had separately sought information from a family planning clinic about her options, including travel.

"She was desperately seeking an abortion consistently," said one source familiar with the case.

Given the circumstances of her pregnancy and fears for her personal safety, she was acutely distressed when she discovered she was pregnant.

What happened in the next 12 weeks, before the unborn reached the cusp of viability, is critical.

The missing information and accountability gaps raise many unanswered questions about the separate but related roles of both the Health Services Executive - which provides medical services for asylum seekers - and the Department of Justice which has overall carriage of our flawed asylum system.

What information - and from whom did she receive such information - about laws surrounding termination of pregnancy in Ireland?

Was she told that a new law, the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, came into effect last January which allows for termination of pregnancy where there is a threat to the mother's life, including risk to life from physical illness and suicide?

Was she told that asylum seekers like her can apply for emergency documents to travel abroad for medical treatment even though they are generally prohibited from leaving the country while their asylum applications are being processed?

Was she told that under the 1951 Geneva Convention the Government must give sympathetic consideration to any such requests to travel? Was any application made by her - or on her behalf - to travel? How did the health authorities monitor her plight and her movements as her unwanted pregnancy progressed and her mental health deteriorated?

Was her request for a termination passed further up the health authority or justice food chain?

Was she psychiatrically assessed at any stage prior to her presentation, at 22 weeks into her pregnancy, seeking a termination on grounds of suicide? And must expectant mothers be at imminent risk of suicide to avail of lawful abortion under the 2013 act?

These missing 12 weeks are vital to comprehending how a vulnerable, teenage rape victim - refused a termination on suicide grounds by an expert panel - delivered a baby at 25 weeks into her pregnancy.

The 2013 act was triggered when the woman attended a GP last month. She was assessed by a three-person expert panel as required under the law.

The two psychiatrists formed the view that she had suicidal thoughts. But the consultant obstetrician on the panel, mindful perhaps that he faced up to 14 years in jail if he failed give due regard to the equal but competing right to life of the near-viable foetus, believed the pregnancy could be ended with the early delivery of the baby by caesarean section.

If an early delivery does not result in the death of an unborn, it falls outside of the 2013 Act. And, it seems, every effort was made to ensure the baby's viability, with its mother receiving steroid treatment in the days leading up to the delivery to speed up the lung development of her "preemie".

The mother, who has refused to see her newborn baby, agreed to have her child delivered by caesarean. This rendered moot a court application by the HSE to have her forcibly hydrated.

Now she is considering a lawsuit against the State over its alleged delay in allowing her to access her rights.

It is a case with many unanswered questions that may ultimately succeed.

Irish Independent

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