The country’s abortion laws are once again under the spotlight, with all sides in the debate calling for legislation passed less than a year ago to be scrapped.
It follows revelations that a suicidal immigrant teenager made pregnant through rape and unable to travel abroad was denied an abortion, and that her 24-week-old foetus was delivered by caesarean section despite her protests, and only after she refused food and water.
The teenager’s case brings together all the extreme circumstances that critics of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 warned could happen in Oireachtas Committee and Dáil debates last year.
Doctors For Choice spokeswoman Mary Favier described the treatment of the young woman involved as “appalling”.
“This extraordinarily vulnerable, distressed woman is effectively locked up in an Irish institution, and forced to incubate a baby against her will while specialists agree and disagree about whether she can have an abortion or not,” said Dr Favier. “It wouldn’t occur in any other civilised country.
“What it shows is that our new laws are not fit for purpose. We need to go back to repealing the 1983 amendment, get it off the statute books, and focus on the priority which should be women’s health and their care and vulnerability in pregnancy.”
The Pro Life Campaign was also highly critical of the Act, saying that the treatment of the baby — who survived the early delivery and is in State care — highlighted its “horror and deep-seated flaws”.
Spokeswoman Ruth Cullen, said: “To induce a pregnancy at such an early stage inevitably puts the baby at risk of serious harm, such as brain damage, blindness, or even death. To put a defenceless baby through all this is a chilling aberration of law and medicine. The fact that the assessment panel could just as easily have sanctioned an abortion in this case also brings home everything that is wrong about the new law.”
Health Minster Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald were informed of the case, which came before the High Court earlier this month when the HSE sought permission to forcibly hydrate the young woman.
Mr Varadkar will next year have to present a report on how, when, and in what circumstances the law has been used and Ms Fitzgerald is keeping a watching brief on its legal efficacy.
“I cannot comment on individual cases but I would be concerned for the woman and the baby involved,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “We passed legislation earlier in the year and we obviously will continue to monitor that legislation and see how it is being implemented.”
Questions will arise about the decision-making process in the case. It is understood that there was disagreement between the three medical professionals assessing the level of suicidal risk.
In the resulting delay, the girl’s foetus developed to viability but she continued to plead for an abortion and only reluctantly consented to a caesarian section —possibly facing another court order.
A guidance document for health professionals on the Act was recently circulated but medics dismissed it as unhelpful in navigating the myriad issues involved.
The foetus’s age is stated to be an “important consideration” in the kind of medical procedure to be carried out, but the subject gets four paragraphs in a document of 108 pages and the matter is left to medics’ discretion.
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