A Dublin doctor has spoken of the trauma of returning from England with the foetal remains of her baby after being forced to travel to Liverpool to terminate her pregnancy.
Dr Lara Kelly is one of the first members of the Irish medical profession to speak publicly about travelling to the UK for an abortion.
The 35-year-old GP told The Guardian newspaper her decision to speak out was motivated by the blocking of a bill in the Dáil earlier this month that would have allowed for abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.
Dr Kelly and her husband Mark learned in March their baby’s brain had not developed properly, that it only had half of a heart, and would die shortly after birth.
After receiving confirmation from their consultant around Easter, the couple travelled to a Liverpool clinic, where the termination took place a fortnight before their first wedding anniversary.
Dr Kelly wanted to take the foetal remains home to be cremated, a process she described as traumatic and unfair.
“The Tottenham Hotspur football team were staying at our hotel [in Liverpool],”she said. “I remember carrying the remains past the entire Spurs squad. It was the weirdest thing, walking past them and some of their fans in the packed lobby. There was me with my little plastic bag and the baby’s remains in a cardboard box.”
At Liverpool airport, she and her husband decided to carry the remains onto the plane. Passing through security brought on further trauma, she said.
“When we got to the top [of the queue] we said to the security guy that we had to declare foetal remains.
“The guy said, ‘What?’ He didn’t seem to understand and so we said it out loud again. He didn’t know what foetal remains meant so Mark said, ‘It’s a baby in the box’, and the man said out loud, ‘A baby in the box?’
“Half the queue heard that, probably some of those who were getting on our flight to Dublin heard that.”
The whole experience was an ordeal, she said.
According to statistics compiled by the UK’s Department of Health between 1980 and 2015, at least 165,438 Irish women and girls accessed UK abortion services.
However, the Irish Family Planning Association pointed out the figures underestimate the real numbers,
Two incidents from Dr Kelly’s experience bore out the high numbers. When she found the website for the clinic in Liverpool that dealt with fatal foetal causes, she noticed there was a specific section called Travelling from Ireland.
“Bizarrely, the terminations are cheaper for women coming from Ireland because they are mindful about the costs of going over to England,” Dr Kelly said.
On her way back to Dublin, she approached a member of staff at Liverpool airport to ask for advice about travelling with foetal remains.
“The girl was Irish as it happened and she said something astonishing to me. ‘It’s fine. You need to go over to the gentleman at customs and declare the remains at security. It’s fine, I did it a few weeks ago’.
“That’s what she said to me. It was said with such normality because she had done it herself.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved