Call for demonstrations across Europe − 20 August
Support the rallies in Dublin, Galway and Cork in Ireland
and in London on 20 August 6pm outside the Irish Embassy
History: 18 year old asylum seeker in Ireland raped, refused an abortion, threatened suicide, went on hunger and liquid strike, court order obtained by doctors to forcibly hydrate her and do a forced caesarean section at 24-25 weeks of pregnancy.
Ireland: State ‘denied abortion’ to rape victim
by Mark Tighe Sunday Times
A WOMAN who became pregnant as a result of rape believes the state denied her access to an abortion for months, until the fetus became viable. Earlier this month, the baby was delivered prematurely through a Caesarean section, which was authorised under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
The young woman, a foreign national with limited English, was not able freely to travel abroad for an abortion because of her legal status in Ireland.
She discovered she was expecting about eight weeks into the pregnancy, and immediately sought an abortion because she had been the victim of a traumatic rape. Months later, the woman believed she had been effectively refused an abortion, or the ability to travel abroad for such a procedure, by the state. She then went on a hunger and liquid strike.
A High Court order prohibits full details of the woman’s circumstances being reported. The woman, who is said to be very vulnerable, had claimed the “devil” was inside her, and expressed suicidal intent if she was forced to carry the fetus to term.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) brought an emergency ex-parte High Court application on Saturday, August 2, seeking orders allowing it to forcibly hydrate the woman to protect her and the unborn baby’s life. It also sought declaratory orders allowing it to carry out certain medical procedures relating to the woman’s pregnancy.
Judge Michael Peart granted the HSE an order to hydrate the woman. The following week the woman and the unborn baby were represented by separate legal teams when the case returned to court. The attorney general was a notice party to proceedings, and was represented by several lawyers in court.
Lawyers for the woman had argued that their client’s right to an abortion under the act had not been facilitated in a timely manner, as required. The act does not set out timelines during which medical procedures are permitted to be performed on pregnant women.
In the second hearing, it emerged that clinicians had issued a certificate for a medical procedure to take place on the woman under Section 9 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which deals with cases where there is a risk to life from suicide. The woman had been deemed suicidal by a panel of three doctors, in what is believed to be the first such case under the legislation, which commenced in January.
The following day a baby was delivered through a Caesarean section at a hospital designated under the act. The baby, who was delivered at approximately 24 to 26 weeks gestation, is receiving ongoing medical care.
Both Leo Varadkar, the health minister, and Frances Fitzgerald, the minister for justice, were briefed on events, but neither played any role in the case, according to sources. The attorney general sought a copy of the digital audio recording (Dar) transcript of proceedings, when the case returned to court for a third time after the baby’s delivery.
A source familiar with the case said state officials were concerned that one of the first cases involving a suicidal woman seeking an abortion under the new law had to go to court. There was a fear it could become “a lightning rod” for controversy if pro-life and pro-choice sides used it to attack ambiguities in the new law.
The attorney-general and HSE declined to comment. The Department of Health said guidance for clinicians dealing with cases under the act is not yet complete. “It is currently being finalised and will need to be submitted to the new minister for health prior to publication,” it said. “It is expected this will happen shortly.”
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act permits clinicians to authorise a “medical procedure” where “there is a real and substantial risk of loss of the pregnant woman’s life from a physical illness or by way of suicide”. It requires clinicians to have “regard to the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable”.
Section 9 certificates, allowing a medical procedure on a pregnant woman who is suicidal, can only be issued after three practitioners have examined her and agreed it is necessary. One of the three doctors must be an obstetrician, while the others must be psychiatrists.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act was passed in response to the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012. She was 17 weeks pregnant when she presented at Galway University Hospital suffering a miscarriage. She died from a septic infection days after requesting an abortion.
Last month the UN Human Rights Commission criticised Ireland’s limited abortion laws. It recommended that abortion be decriminalised and that the government introduce reform to allow it in cases of rape and fatal fetal abnormality.