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Opinion: Support for suicidal woman was complicated, not assisted, by abortion legislation

The legislation introduced last year has proved itself to be barbaric and unworkable.

Niamh Ui Bhriain

ENDA KENNY’S ABORTION law has fallen at the first hurdle, and has left a tiny baby, born to a vulnerable and distressed mother, struggling for life in a neo-natal ICU.

This is an appalling situation, and the compassionate support required for the young woman involved was complicated, not assisted, by the abortion legislation which has now shown itself to be barbaric and unworkable.

Last year, medical experts and pro-life advocates argued that the legislation would lead to exactly this scenario, where an obstetrician, knowing that evidence-based medicine did not support abortion as a treatment for suicidality, was forced into an impossible situation of deliberately delivering a baby prematurely.

Now the unthinkable has happened. Everyone knows that prematurity can have very serious and severe consequences for a baby, including brain damage, blindness and long-term developmental problems. This baby is extremely premature, and the risks of serious problems are very high. The Master of the Rotunda, Dr Sam Coulter Smith, has commented that the problems the baby now faces are ‘enormous’.

Added to that potential outcome is the dreadful prospect of the child being taken into care by the HSE, a body which, as report after grim report, has shown, does not serve our most vulnerable children well.

The fact is that doctors dealing with complex and difficult circumstances arising in pregnancy have been placed in an impossible position by the new law. Where the outcome, as in this case, is a living child is the doctor liable to be sued, as surely the State must be, by the child who may be physically or mentally impaired because of forced prematurity?

Is a mother who sought to have her child’s life ended also entitled to sue if the baby has lived? Far from providing clarity, the law has caused more confusion and more difficulties for doctors, mothers and for their babies.

We have seen how other jurisdictions have learned to deal with the nightmare scenarios that can arise following the legalisation of abortion. In Britain for example, our nearest neighbour, unborn children who have survived abortion have simply been left to die.

It is to be hoped that the young mother at the centre of this case will continue to receive the ongoing support and care which reports indicate she so badly needs. Many of the potential threats to her security and peace of mind have nothing to do with abortion at all, but should prompt the government to take action on how asylum seekers are treated in this country.

As we previously saw in the tragic case of Miss C, who we later learned had been brought by the State for an abortion without her full knowledge, this young woman’s distress is being used to further an agenda of abortion on demand. Abortion campaigners would not be remotely satisfied with a law allowing abortion in certain circumstances: they want abortion legalised as a matter of ‘choice’, freely available and paid for by the taxpayer.

It has also been revealing to read the comments on social media from abortion supporters – and from taxpayer-funded bodies such as the National Women’s Council – who have failed to express even a shred of concern or compassion for the tiny child now battling for life in a NICU. The strongly implied message running through their posts is that their preferred outcome would be if this baby were dead. It is an extraordinary callous position.

We would do well to recall the testimony of some of the most senior medical experts in the country to an Oireachtas Committee last year when the legislation was under discussion. They agreed that, in their collective experience, they had not come across a single case where an abortion would have been the appropriate treatment for suicidal thoughts in pregnancy.

They warned that if a woman was ‘profoundly depressed and mentally ill she would be advised not to make major life decision at that time’, and advised that ‘the notion of doing a emergency termination at that time was completely obsolete for a woman who was extremely suicidal’. Psychiatrists also advised that the treatment for suicidality is to make sure that women are safe, that they have appropriate support, medication and psychological treatment.

The experts were ignored – and the responsibility for this appalling outcome now lies squarely with Enda Kenny who pushed through this legislation against all the evidence. Given that the appalling scenario envisaged by critics has immediately become a reality, an Taoiseach should now act to repeal possibly the worst piece of legislation that has ever been rushed and coerced through the legislature.

Niamh Ui Bhriain is a spokesperson for the Life Institute.

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