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Column: Exploding the myths about 'live birth abortions'

It is time for those who profess to hold a high moral plane to demonstrate some respect for bereaved families and the memories of their dead babies, writes Gerry Edwards.

Gerry Edwards Chairperson, TFMR Ireland

AS PARENTS WHO have have been directly affected by a diagnosis of severe or fatal foetal anomalies during pregnancy, we have been upset by commentary around terminations of pregnancy over the past number of weeks.

Terms like “botched abortions” being used in Dáil committee hearings have led to misleading statements about live birth abortions.

Watching on Wednesday, we heard descriptions of babies being abandoned by their parents and medical staff and left to die alone in hospital corners. We have no evidence for any of that.

We are acutely aware of the reality of these tragic losses, and this reality could not be further from the Grimm Brothers like fantasies which are being bandied around.

The reality

Firstly, it is important to understand that late-term abortions, or terminations of pregnancy (typically after 22 weeks gestation), are often carried out in very tragic circumstances surrounding either foetal or maternal health. These typically are wanted pregnancies, and in the case of a threat to the mother’s health, doctors will do all that they can to safely deliver the baby.

Unfortunately, there are a significant number of pregnancies where severe or fatal foetal anomalies are diagnosed, and it is only at this later stage in pregnancy that many of these come to light.

Decisions are not made lightly

While some parents choose to continue with the pregnancies and allow their outcome to occur naturally, others make the decision to intervene and bring it to its end sooner.  These decisions are never made lightly and are made by the mother, in consultation with her medical experts, in the context of distress to the baby, to herself and to her immediate family.

Where the difficult decision to terminate is taken, the expectant mother may be offered a medical intervention prior to labour which will stop the heartbeat, and many accept this offer so that they can ensure that delivery and birth will not cause distress to their baby.

In some cases, mothers choose not to take this option for a variety of reasons – some find it too difficult an intervention to contemplate, while others may hope for the opportunity to spend some time with their baby while alive, no matter how short that time may be.

In these cases the baby is delivered following induction of labour in a normal maternity hospital setting, and these hospitals ensure that a baby born alive is provided with all the palliative end of life care that would be provided to any baby born with similar conditions at full term. These babies pass away as peacefully as possible, often in the arms of their devastated mothers.  They are grieved in the same way as the loss of any other baby is grieved.  To suggest otherwise is quite frankly inhuman.

End of life decisions are hard

End of life decisions are always difficult, particularly where we need to make them on behalf of another person.  Nobody ever wants to have to make them, but we all know that there are situations where they cannot be avoided. We make decisions on behalf of close family members, or following tragic accidents; and yes, we even make them about our unborn babies.

Why is it considered acceptable to condemn only those who make these decisions about their unborn babies?  Do we talk about families and medical staff abandoning adults at the end of life and leaving them alone to die in hospital corners?  Of course we don’t. Who would consider such condemnation to be acceptable?  Who would even consider it to be Christian?

It is time for those who profess to hold a high moral plane to behave accordingly and demonstrate some respect for bereaved families and the memories of their dead babies; and it is time for our media and Oireachtas to hold these standards as sacrosanct in all and any discussions around the future of the Eighth Amendment.

Gerry Edwards is the Chairperson of TFMR Ireland.

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About the author:

Gerry Edwards  / Chairperson, TFMR Ireland

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