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Dublin: 19 °C Thursday 24 July, 2014

Despite refusal, home birth case a “worthwhile fight”

Aja Teehan heard today that her application for a HSE decision on her home birth to be overturned had been refused.

THERE WAS DISAPPOINTMENT expressed outside the High Court today as a pregnant woman was told a HSE decision on her home birth was not going to be reversed.

Aja Teehan from Co Kilkenny had applied for a judicial review at the High Court for the HSE to reverse its decision on her application for a home birth with a self-employed community midwife (SECM).

The High Court rejected her case, with the judge refusing her application.

As Teehan had had a caesarean section on her previous pregnancy, she said she was told this makes her ineligible for a home birth with a self-employed community midwife (SECM) on behalf of the HSE.

Before the decision was announced, Teehan was joined by her husband Charles Brand and midwife Philomena Canning while supporters, armed with strongly-worded placards, cheered them on outside the High Court.

Teehan was in buoyant form and hopeful that the decision would be in her favour:



(AoifeBarryTJ/YouTube)

After the decision was made, there was a palpable sense of disappointment from all those assembled, but Teehan and Brand remained positive.

Decision

In her decision, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malle said that “the issue of insurance is at the heart of the problem”.

SECMs receive clinical indemnity through the HSE and as Teehan was told she was not suitable for a home birth, a midwife would not get this indemnity cover to attend her birth.

She also noted that it has been established that the HSE does not have a statutory obligation to provide for a home birth service, but it does have an obligation to provide maternity service and may provide for home births if it considers it appropriate to do so.

The HSE has a number of tables that indicate which women are suitable for home birth. According to these tables, a previous caesarean section excludes a woman from having a home birth with an SECM receiving clinical indemnity through the HSE.

Teehan had been told that because she had a previous caesarean, this table applied to her.

Justice O’Malley said that if caesarean section was moved onto another table, this would be a clinical assessment, which the court is not entitled to make.

She also said that expert witnesses had presented evidence that conceded that delivery in a hospital setting would be safer than a home birth for the applicant, but that they conceded a home birth would be feasible in her case.

Reaction

On the steps outside the High Court after the decision was announced, children darted around and parents cradled babies in carriers. Their placards were in the temporary possession of security staff – this time, the strong message came from Teehan herself.

She told those assembled that she still considers the case “to have been a worthwhile fight” and that her legal team “did a fantastic job”.

She also spoke about the potential costs of the case, and finding out from people about “some kind of fall back so that we don’t lose our house” in the case that she pursues an appeal.

She said of the wider situation relating to childbirth in Ireland:

It is a very difficult system we are working with here. It is a very difficult system that seeks to control a woman during her birth period in a way that anybody else is not controlled for any other reason. It is deeply, deeply ingrained in our society, it is very hard to overthrow it.

Teehan told her supporters: “We start the fight now and maybe in ten years it will be a little easier for our daughters and our sons and maybe a little bit after that it will be better again. We have to start somewhere”.

She concluded by thanking those who had supported her, telling them: “We’ll see where we go from here”.

Supporters

Kelly Sweeney. Pic: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

Two of Teehan’s supporters, Sinead Redmond and Kelly Sweeney, spoke of their disappointment at the decision.

Redmond described it as “just another slap in the face to women in this country”.

How much longer can this kind of stuff go on? How much longer can we be treated just like incubators, just like chattel? We are people; we have human rights, we can make our own decision over what happens with our bodies, and it’s ridiculous that it had to be taken to court in the first place and even more so that they found against her. It’s shocking and appalling.

Sweeney described Teehan as “an inspiration” and said she will “inspire women to go forward and fight for their rights now”.

“I can’t get over it. I’m completely shocked,” she said of the judge’s decision, but added: “It’s the start of something. I don’t think it’s a waste of time in doing this. She’s going to spur other people to go on.”

Redmond said the case “isn’t about home birth versus hospital birth”, but “it’s about a woman’s choice to decide what happens to her body, not other people to make that decision for her”.

Teehan and her husband are currently meeting with their solicitors to decide their next course of action. They are to appear back in the High Court at 2pm to hear about legal costs.

Read: Pregnant woman’s home birth application case denied>

Read: Pregnant woman takes home birth case to High Court>

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