THIS WEEK HAS seen the Oireachtas Health Committee holding three days of meetings in which it heard from medical experts, professionals, religious organisations, and campaign groups on the issue of abortion in Ireland.
The Committee follows on from the Expert Group’s Report to the Government, belatedly published in at the end of November 2012, which outlined the legal options for the Irish Government in light of the European Court of Human Rights rulings in the ABC cases, of which C pertained to a woman’s life being at risk in pregnancy. It has shamefully taken twenty years, but it seems we are finally seeing a real commitment by the government to act; sadly hastened on by the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar.
I am greatly saddened and shocked that it seemed to take the death of a young, vibrant woman to wake up the nation to the deadly cost of inaction. Legislation which will allow medical professionals to act when a woman’s life is in danger without fear of impunity is finally forthcoming, However, that does not mean that their work should end there. Other medical issues, such as termination in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities should be considered now as well.
Under the carpet
In fact, I would say that these must be considered now; otherwise they are likely to be swept under the carpet for another 20 years. This week has seen legal framework outlined to the Oireachtas Committee which would include making possible treatment options in Ireland for cases of fatal foetal abnormality. TFMR Ireland would urge the government to include such provisions in the legislation they will be drafting. Why force us to revisit this in the future, while each week that passes sees more couples making the lonely trek to England? Having lived through this experience I know that myself, and many others who have gone through the same trauma, are not willing to let that happen.
TFMR Ireland made numerous requests to be invited to speak to the Committee. We were extremely disappointed that we were not asked to speak. We are the only campaign group comprised entirely of persons who have first-hand experience of having to travel for a termination. To my mind, termination for a medical reason – like the risk to a woman’s life or health – must be seen for what it is, a medical issue. This should not be open for debate or restriction by persons who may never face such painful realities themselves.
At the very least, those persons whose decisions have so compounded the trauma of my experience should hear how their lawmaking impacts on people. No one can tell me that my decision to end my pregnancy early was the ‘wrong’ decision. For myself and my husband, it was an act of love and compassion for our cherished baby. Another person may make a different choice, but to deny us that option in Ireland was cruel and degrading. It was an insult to our love for our baby that our choice was treated as legally ‘wrong’. This must end.
Since experiencing my loss just over a year ago, I have seen how there is a clear overlap where a fatal foetal diagnosis spills into potential health and life risks to the mother. TFMR Ireland have been contacted by women who , having been given a fatal diagnosis, also faced significant, even potentially life threatening risks to their health due to complications in pregnancy. However, their only option in Ireland is to continue the pregnancy despite the risks.
Imagine if the situation were reversed, and Ireland insisted on forcing every woman pregnant with a fatal foetal abnormality to terminate their pregnancy. There would be uproar at the choice being taken away from them. Anyone facing this heartbreaking diagnosis must be given enough respect to choose which option may slightly ease the trauma. For some, it will be continuing, for others it will be interrupting the pregnancy.
All we are asking is that couples be given those options of treatment in their own country, that we are granted respect and treated with dignity. We should be enabled to decide for ourselves. But the reality is that those who feel they cannot emotionally, mentally and physically continue with a pregnancy that will not survive outside the womb, in Ireland are forced to do so.
And what option do we have right now? If you don’t want to continue the pregnancy, you are forced to get on a plane with all your grief, pack your bags with all your sadness and off you go like a criminal to the UK, away from your home, your family, your support, your everything. One day, and I hope it is soon, Ireland will look back in shame at how long this situation was left to continue.
Amanda Mellet is a founding member of TFMR Ireland, a group formed in April 2012 to campaign for provision for the option of termination for medical reasons to be available in cases of a fatal foetal diagnosis.