THE EIGHTH AMENDMENT to the Constitution has raised its head again for debate, with calls for its repeal being heard loudly over the past four days.
Despite the government hoping to put the abortion question in the past – or, at the least, in a future after its current term in office – it looks like it will be dragged back into public debates on the matter.
Following a report last Friday by the Irish Independent that a woman was forced to undergo a Caesarean Section at between 24 and 26 weeks gestation after being refused an abortion, there has been much condemnation of the new legislation – from all sides.
What we know
Although reporting of the story has been slightly muddled so far, some facts have now been established.
- A young woman, who is thought to be still in her adult teen years, became pregnant in her home country after being raped.
Following reports in the Irish Independent, Sunday Times and Irish Times on the story, the young woman was interviewed by Kitty Holland from the Irish Times.
In the interview, which is published in today’s edition, the woman is described as looking “about four years younger than her age”, and “thin” and “fragile”.
She said she spent two weeks being assessed by medical professionals before her caesarean. These included psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and obstetricians.
She also said that before this took place, earlier in her pregnancy, she was referred to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA).
The paper says the woman thought the process for obtaining an abortion “seemed to be in train” but she was later told by the IFPA it would cost her over €1,500 to travel and stay overnight.
The young woman attempted to take her own life. She was advised to go a GP, and the GP then referred her to hospital. She saw psychiatrists before being brought to hospital, where a scan was carried out and confirmed she was 24 weeks pregnant.
She said she was told she could not have an abortion, after which she stopped eating and drinking.
It was at this point that the HSE was contacted about the situation. An emergency application was made to the High Court to forcibly hydrate the patient to keep her and the baby alive. The order was granted by the sitting judge.
At the same time, a panel of experts was put together. It was made up of psychiatrists and an obstetrician who said the baby could be delivered by C-section.
The woman said she was then told she could have an abortion, but a few days later was told she was going to have a Caesarean section as the pregnancy was too far along.
The procedure was carried out over the past two weeks and the baby born premature.
What does the government have to say?
Both Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald received briefings on what had happened but neither got involved in the case, according to the Sunday Times.
Speaking today, Fitzgerald said she was concerned for the woman and the baby. She also noted that the government is monitoring how the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, 2013 is being implemented.
Varadkar said he did not want to comment on a case concerning a vulnerable young woman and child.
“Neither should be seen as a news story or political cause. Both need care and compassion and I appeal to everyone to respect their privacy and anonymity.”
Meanwhile, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it will report to the Minister about how the new laws work in practice.
Last night, the HSE said its Director General had requested a report to be furnished to him on the case by the end of September.
He wants the report to establish “all of the facts surrounding the case given to a woman who had her pregnancy ended pursuant to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013″.
A statement from the HSE read:
Through the Report the Director General will seek to establish the full facts surrounding the matter, the sequence of events, the care given to the woman involved, the operation of the 2013 Act and any learnings that can be gleaned from the case. It is hoped that the Report will end any inaccurate commentary surrounding this matter currently.
The report will not review the decision taken by the clinicians involved in the case as they had a specific statutory function.
The report will be published by the HSE, subject to privacy restrictions.
What else is being said…?
Pro-life groups and pro-choice groups have released numerous statements about the case, both picking at problems in the new laws. Pro-choice groups have also called for the repeal of the Eight Amendment.
The Rape Crisis Network has expressed “deep concern” at the trauma inflicted on a rape victim. It has questioned whether the woman’s human rights were “effectively denied”.
“We are appalled at the treatment of this rape victim,” said RCNI director Fiona Neary.
“While not all the details are known we are clear that this rape victim was utterly failed in her decision to terminate her pregnancy at a very early stage. It is unclear what happened over the next three months that culminated in the force feeding of the young woman and the birth by caesarean section of her just viable child.
“What is clear is that this rape victim was not taken care of, her human rights and her choices were denied. How many more rape victims have and will be failed in this way?”
Where else is this being reported?
Just as Savita Halappanavar’s face landed on front pages following her tragic death, this latest development has received interest from international broadcasters and publications.
The Guardian in the US has an opinion piece today entitled:
The Guardian in the UK also wrote an editorial yesterday which concludes that last year’s debate and legislation has made “no difference at all”. It ends with the following two sentences:
So about 4,000 women a year remain forced to travel to England. For those who cannot, abortion is still all but banned. That surely is one of the most absurd and morally compromising pieces of state hypocrisy in Europe.
Meanwhile, the New Statesman asks:
And in a post on the London Independent i100, headline is the strongest one can imagine.
Commenting on abortion bans in light of this case, Amanda Marcotte writes in Slate:
The situation perfectly encapsulates how abortion bans work in the real world: The most vulnerable women are harmed, while more privileged women find ways to get abortions. In Ireland, women who can afford to travel simply go to England to get abortions, meaning that poor and immigrant women under travel restrictions are out of luck. A young immigrant rape victim has now been put through an entirely unnecessary horror show, but hey, at least Irish politicians can preen about how “pro-life” they are.
The New York Times, BBC News and Irish Central have also run stories on the issue.
What happens next?
As mentioned above, the government has distanced itself from debates on Irish abortion laws since the introduction of the Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill.
In February of this year, Tánaiste Joan Burton effectively ruled out the possibility of a referendum in the lifetime of this government on abortion in certain cases (rape, incest, and fatal foetal abnormality).
But after the past weekend, the calls for repeal of 40.3.3 have gotten louder. So too have the calls from the Pro-Life side for a change in law – but in relation to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act rather than the 8th Amendment.
It remains to be seen whether we will see a referendum on the repeal of 40.3.3 in the near future.
With reporting from Aoife Barry
TheJournal.ie coverage so far…
- Opinion: Support for suicidal woman was complicated, not assisted, by abortion legislation
- Opinion: A law that protects no one – the Eighth Amendment sees women as incubators
- Explainer: What is the 8th Amendment?
- Read: National Women’s Council calls State refusal of abortion to woman ‘barbaric’
- Bishop: Caesarean a “better outcome than abortion” but creates risks
First published 6.55am