‘It was horrendous, so scary’: Woman whose son had fatal foetal abnormality pleads with TDs

Isobel holding a framed photograph of her son's hand touching her finger. Picture: Larry Cummins

Isobel delivered her little boy at 6.30pm and by 7.10pm was out on the street of the Yorkshire clinic where she had given birth carrying her baby’s body in a cardboard box. From there she and her partner went back to their hotel.

As the Cork woman recalled yesterday, her experience of having to travel to the UK after receiving a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality will haunt her for the rest of her life. Just six weeks since she buried her baby son Luke she said she does not wish any other Irish woman to go through a similar experience.

Isobel (not her real name) opted to attend a BPAS clinic (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) which usually perform abortions. She described a frightening experience, where she said she received care which was far below acceptable.

“It was absolutely horrendous, so scary. It will haunt me for the rest of my life how we were treated.

“It is six weeks since I buried Luke. But my closure is not there. I feel angry. I need to tell my story. Obviously it is not pleasant. We are angry. If we had care at home it would have made it so much easier.

“We went back to the hotel and it was scary being there and looking after the baby and thinking about how to keep his body preserved.”

She made a plea to TDs who will vote next week on a bill to be proposed in the Dáil to allow for abortions in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities, describing her anger and great sadness at what she and her partner had to go through.

“If you only know what one person, one family suffers surely be to God that’s enough for the people of Ireland to make a change,” said Isobel.

Health Minister Simon Harris said yesterday that the legislation proposed by Independent TD Mick Wallace for abortions to be allowed in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities is “unconstitutional” but he thinks the current situation is “totally unacceptable”.

His comments came as the Cabinet looks set to decide whether or not to allow a group of Independent Alliance ministers a free vote on the Dáil motion next week. Alliance member and junior minister Finian McGrath last night told the Irish Examiner that the group may in fact back down and not support the Dáil motion, if they as a majority decide to heed legal advice on it.

Mr McGrath and fellow Alliance ministers Shane Ross, and John Halligan will meet today and decide whether to support Mick Wallace’s bill.

Mr Harris declared that he would not accept Mr Wallace’s legislation and that the advice from the Attorney General was that the proposals were “very clearly unconstitutional”. But he added: “I’ve been very clear on a personal level that I find the current situation in relation to fatal foetal abnormality utterly unacceptable.”

As she told her story yesterday, Isobel was assisted by members of TFMR (Terminations for Medical Reasons) who said that in the four years since the group was set up around 300 families have received such a diagnosis.

A spokeswoman for BPAS said yesterday it unfortunately could not comment on individual cases although it did have a “specific care pathway” for women undergoing abortion for foetal anomaly.

‘It was horrendous, so scary’: Woman whose son had fatal foetal abnormality pleads with TDs

She said BPAS does aim to provide high-quality, compassionate care to all women, whatever their reasons for needing to end a pregnancy and whatever method they have chosen as best for them — whether surgical or medical.

BPAS receives very positive feedback for the services it provides to women, she said, at what can be an extremely difficult time in their lives, and respond swiftly if ever women tell us they are unhappy with any aspect of the care they receive from us.

“We do all we can to support women coming from Ireland, and ultimately hope the day will come when women are not forced to travel to another country to access the care that should be available to them at home.”

Isobel said yesterday she sought advice from the Sexual Health Centre in Cork City on her options after her diagnosis. She believes she was encouraged towards attending a bpas clinic, as opposed to an NHS maternity hospital.

However Deirdre Seery, CEO of the Sexual Health Centre in Cork insisted a recommendation of one clinic over another would never happen. She said they offer an all-options crisis pregnancy service, giving information on adoption, keeping the baby, or abortion, and are non directive and non judgemental.

She said all their councillors are fully qualified and accredited. The clinic is funded by the HSE’s crisis pregnancy programme.

“I reviewed all of the crisis pregnancy records for this year and have spoken to our councilors. We would never recommend one clinic over the other. That would be against the law and we don’t do it.”

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