I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to tell you again how badly my home country treats women and girls.
And yet here I am, a year after I first wrote about the history of abortion rights in Ireland, forced to write again. I am so ashamed.
A report has been released, outlining yet another girl, failed and abused by Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. It reads like something from the dark ages but it dates from 2016.
Abortion was illegal in Ireland in all cases until 2013. Current legislation only allows for abortion in cases where there is a risk of loss of the mother’s life. However, criteria to qualify for abortion under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 are very restrictive. Every day 13 Irish women travel to the UK for an abortion. That is over 5000 women per year who leave their support network and home to undergo a medical procedure that their country denies them.
Today we learned of a pregnant 14-year-old girl and her mother who took steps to terminate the girl’s pregnancy. The young girl was depressed and suicidal. Under the terms of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, the risk of loss of life from suicide is an accepted reason to legally obtain an abortion. However, the procedure for this is strict. Three physicians need to agree to the need for a termination. An obstetrician, a psychiatrist with experience treating women during or after pregnancy, and another psychiatrist. Following the consent of the woman, one of these three should consult her doctor. The termination can only take place in an “appropriate institution”, which translates to a short list of hospitals.
Taking into consideration that the girl is 14, whatever the circumstances of the conception, this is a case of statutory rape. A child is not capable of giving consent to sexual acts.
So, let me tell you how Ireland treats a raped pregnant child in 2016.
Following an evaluation by one psychiatrist the girl and her mother were told that they were being transferred to Dublin for the abortion to be carried out. Considering that the procedure is not permitted in all hospitals, they probably did not consider this unusual. However, they had been lied to. The psychiatrist had actually concluded that the child had a “mental health disorder” and that she needed treatment for her suicidal thoughts. They decided that an abortion was “not the solution” for the girl’s problems. This girl and her mother were not on their way to receive the healthcare they needed and had a right to. Instead the girl was transferred and detained in a mental health unit.
This decision was made by one psychiatrist and goes against the current law in Ireland which states: “Medical personnel with conscience objections to abortion will not be required to participate in terminations, but must transfer care of a patient in such cases. Where a termination is requested but refused, a woman may appeal to the Health Service Executive (HSE). The HSE will establish a panel of at least 10 physicians, from whom a committee of two or three will review any application within three days.”
The human rights of women in Ireland are severely limited by the laws surrounding the termination of a pregnancy. This case shows that even when the law allows access, termination can be denied by one doctor based on their personal convictions.
The district court appointed a “guardian ad litem” (GAL) to the girl. This is a person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the “best interests of a child.” They also appointed a GAL to the foetus. In Ireland, a foetus has equal ‘right to life’ as the mother does. In August 2016, a judge ruled that the “unborn” have significant rights and legal position at common law, by statute, and under the Constitution, going well beyond the right to life alone.
Upon arriving at the mental health unit and discovering that she would not receive a termination this girl became “agitated and extremely upset.” She voiced very strong views as to why she wanted an abortion and communicated that she did not wish to be detained. Another psychiatrist was appointed by the GAL to assess the young girl. Their report stated that she was dealing with her depression well and there was no immediate danger of suicide. Her treating adolescent psychiatrist stated that “while the young girl remained agitated and angry, she did not suffer from an acute mental health disorder.”
The GAL for the pregnant girl applied for her to be discharged from the institution where she was detained. The court agreed, on the basis that the child no longer had a mental health disorder. Several days after her detention, she was released.
It is not known what happened after that.
Did she get the termination she legally has a right to on Irish soil? Did her mother put her on a flight to England, risking 14 years’ imprisonment, to attend one of the abortion clinics that provide healthcare to Irish women daily? Or did she endure a forced pregnancy and forced birth against her wishes?
The mental institutions of Ireland have a lurid history of locking up ‘crazy’ women due to pregnancy/sexuality/abortion/miscarriage. Women spent their entire lives in those ‘prisons’, considered unfit for society. The ‘solution’ for women who were different, opinionated or loud was to lock them up and throw away the key. I thought those days were behind us. I thought that we were past the days of the Magdalene Laundries, I thought our shock and horror reading about the Tuam Babies would translate into respect and love for women and babies.
It seems I was wrong.
Keep in mind, this is happening in a country where there are not enough psychiatric beds for the people who really need them. Suicidal people are begging for help in the emergency department of hospitals and are sent home because there is no space for them in the mental health units. If you want to access abortion, you need to prove you are suicidal to be allowed the procedure. If you are suicidal, the only way to get a bed in a mental health unit is to say you want an abortion.
The UN Human Rights Committee has called on Ireland twice to reform its restrictive abortion legislation. The latest ruling stated that Ireland “should amend its law on voluntary termination of pregnancy, including if necessary its constitution, to ensure compliance with the covenant, including effective, timely and accessible procedures for pregnancy termination in Ireland.”
Amnesty International published this list of Six outrageous facts about abortion in Ireland.
I am not going to lecture you about your daughters, sisters and wives. At this point it is about common decency. It is about human rights. Stand up. Speak up.
The truth is that anyone who refuses to act after hearing a story like that doesn't care. They're fine with it. Doesn't affect them.
— Tara Flynn (@TaraFlynn) June 11, 2017
You can read Irish women’s abortion stories on this site. Frighteningly the stories from 40 years ago differ little from those of today.
Follow #repealthe8th on Twitter to get involved in the revolution, and amplify the voices of those suffering under this barbaric law.
I’m tired of signing petitions to ask my motherland to give women basic human rights, but here you go: Locking women up because they want an abortion is barbaric: Sign here.