Mentally disabled women try to hide pregnancies

WOMEN with intellectual disabilities often experience negative attitudes from those close to them, as well as from service providers, when they become pregnant and may even try to keep their pregnancy secret, according to a report.

The report looked at research on challenges faced by people with intellectual disabilities in relation to crisis pregnancies.

Current Irish legislation criminalises specific sexual acts, including intercourse, among people who are “mentally impaired” unless they are married to each other.

The report calls for better support and education for people with intellectual disabilities and also warns they are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.

The findings of the Crisis Pregnancy Programme research are expected to help guide changing legislation on mental capacity.

There are some 50,400 people diagnosed with an intellectual disability living in Ireland, 40% of whom are women.

Health professionals met at a Dublin seminar yesterday to discuss the findings, as well as best international practice in assessing people’s capacity to access medical treatment and sexual relationships. According to researchers, paid carers or relatives already make decisions on behalf of women with intellectual disabilities in the area of reproductive health. Many children of those people are also often placed in care.

The Government’s proposed Mental Capacity Bill, originally published in 2008, suggests that there should be a presumption of mental capacity in a person and that they should not be treated as being unable to make a decision unless all practical steps have been exhausted. This also includes when it comes to decisions about medical treatment.

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