By Shelley Marsden
A CALL by Ireland’s Minister for Education for a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment to the Constitution comes after a non-Irish national who asked for an abortion was forced to have a C-section, shocking the international community.
But Jan O’Sullivan added that such a referendum would not happen under the current government, and that a future government would need to look at holding another referendum.
She said: “I personally would be concerned in particular about the issue where a mother has to carry a foetus that is not going to survive outside the womb.”
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has also voiced her concern after the pregnant suicidal woman was legally forced at 25 weeks to undergo the Caesarean section.
Young and described as being in an extremely vulnerable state, the woman is believed to have requested the abortion in her second trimester. She claimed she was feeling suicidal, and was worried about her family and one other specific individual would react to her being pregnant.
After being assessed by an independent panel, as is the practice under Ireland’s new abortion laws, the woman’s request for a termination was refused.
The first real test of the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allows for limited abortions in Irish hospitals, the reformed abortion law has been criticised in this instance as providing no practical value to the woman concerned.
The two psychiatrists on the three-person panel had deemed the termination necessary as they had assessed the woman as suicidal, but the consultant obstetrician involved did not agree as the baby was over 23 weeks. The baby was subsequently delivered by Caesarean section. The baby was born at around 25 weeks and will be taken into state care.
The young woman, who cannot be named because of confidentiality laws, had threatened a hunger strike, after which the HSE went to the high court to prevent her from starving herself. Eventually, she consented to having the baby delivered by C-section.
Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: “I can’t comment, as you can appreciate, on individual cases but obviously I would be concerned, and people reading the accounts will be concerned, for the woman and the baby involved. Clearly we passed legislation earlier in the year and we obviously will continue to monitor that legislation and see how it is being implemented”.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 that came into force at the start of this year set out when abortion is permitted in the Republic for the first time. The new laws provide for a woman’s right to an abortion if her life is at risk.
Women who say they are suicidal are assessed by a panel of three experts to determine if they are at risk. If they agree she is, doctors can intervene and carry out a termination.
The legislation was drawn up following the public outcry over the unnecessary death of Savita Halappanavar, 31, who died in a Galway hospital in October last year. She had been denied an abortion as she miscarried 17 weeks into her pregnancy. Days later, she died from infection.
Savita had pleaded with staff for a termination after being told she was having a miscarriage, explaining that she was not a Roman Catholic, but the hospital staff refused, at one point telling her “it was the law, that this is a Catholic country.”
Equality Minister Aodhan O Riordain has added his voice to calls that the next Government should call another abortion referendum, as has Master of the Rotunda Hospital Sam Coulter-Smith, who called last year’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act a “missed opportunity”, given its lack of guidance where there is a suicide risk, and on ending a pregnancy when a baby is close to being ‘viable’.
The newly ordained Bishop of Elphin, Kevin Doran, has said that the case’s outcome was better than the life of an unborn child being lost through abortion, but questioned the decision to deliver the baby early, calling it “really unethical” and “not natural”.
The woman, whose story was first covered in the Sunday edition of the Irish Times, is reported to have been a victim of rape and could not legally leave the country as a foreign national to seek a termination abroad.
The ‘X Case’ of 1992
In 1992, in what became known as the ‘X Case’, a controversy arose in Ireland about whether a suicidal minor, a fourteen year old pregnant as a result of statutory rape, could leave Ireland for an abortion in another country in which the procedure was legal.
A referendum saw two amendments passed that established the ‘right to travel’ and the ‘right to information’. A third proposal, the proposed Twelfth Amendment, would have brought in further restrictions on abortion laws in Ireland, but it was defeated.
In 2002, another referendum was held on the Twenty-fifth Amendment which would have removed the threat of suicide as grounds for legal abortion, but it was also defeated such as that, in 1983, of Sheila Hodgers.
The Dundalk housewife died of multiple cancers two days after giving birth to her third child. It was alleged that she was denied cancer treatment while pregnant because the Catholic ethos of the hospital did not wish to damage the fetus.