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Medical Terminations: ‘Ours is a very specific, heartbreaking and clear-cut case’

Sarah Moylan shares her story of the devastating loss of a much-wanted baby girl.

Image: Heartbroken via Shutterstock

ENDA KENNY WAS very clear this week. Ireland’s abortion laws will not change because of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013, he said. There will be no new rights created. The Constitutional status quo will remain as is.

It was the aspect of the draft legislation that caught the attention of many international media organisations: “…The new bill, which will have to be passed in both houses of the Irish parliament, will not include cases concerning rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormalities,” wrote Henry McDonald in The Guardian.

The group campaigning for the rights of women who require terminations for medical reasons – TFMR – says its members are both heartbroken and angry at the omission. They believe the government has refused to “take this opportunity” to legislate for their needs.

“It is simply unacceptable in 2013 that families will continue to have to leave Ireland if they chose to end a pregnancy after being told by Irish doctors that their baby will not survive outside the womb,” it said in a statement.

And the Cabinet cannot claim ignorance of the issue.

“We have forsaken our privacy and shared our deepest losses and trauma with them,” according to a spokesperson.

Sarah Moylan is one such woman who has “gone public” about the devastating loss of her baby girl in the hope that “something will change” so other women will not go through the same trauma as her family did in 2009.

At the 26 week mark of her pregnancy, she was told of a late diagnosis of anencephaly – a disorder where a baby has little or no brain – by her doctors at an Irish maternity hospital. The consultant told her it is was a completely fatal diagnosis and there would be no chance of survival outside the womb.

The doctor also said she had two options – “under Irish Catholic law, continue to full term” or “travel elsewhere for delivery”.

“I was very big at that stage,” the 36-year-old told TheJournal.ie in a recent interview. “It was my first pregnancy, my first baby. The devastation of hearing all that. I travelled, like most women do. I could not bear to hear people asking me about the nursery, or locking myself away. I made the decision to go. I couldn’t go the other way.”

Molly Moylan was born on the 17 December 2009 in Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

Sarah and her husband John travelled by aeroplane to the city, where they were joined by Sarah’s Dad and John’s mother. They had taken the boat and ordered a cabin so the couple could attempt to sleep through the journey back.

Describing the trip, Sarah recalls people “coming and going for Christmas holidays”.

We had to leave our country, leave our care providers that we had been used to because they could do no more for us.

They were also not allowed to bring Molly’s body back with them. She remained in the hospital for the Christmas period and the family travelled back to Liverpool for her cremation the following month.

Ironically, we had a lovely Catholic service with a lovely priest. Her ashes were delivered back to us by courier.

A country turned its back

A number of women who have experienced similar journeys have told their stories to journalists and television presenters over the past 12 months as a campaign for change continues.

“The public are becoming more aware of it now,” says Sarah, but prior to a Late Late Show appearance last April the majority of people believed that women in these situations were “looked after here”.

Back in 2009, Sarah and John presumed they would go home and digest the tragic news before returning to the hospital to be induced and looked after. Instead, they were told they would be seen at 40 weeks.

Although the Moylans were advised about Liverpool Women’s Hospital, which sees about two or three Irish couples per week for medical terminations, some women in early gestation are routed to abortion clinics instead of “proper maternity hospitals”, according to TFMR.

“Not only are our hearts broken at the loss of our baby but we had to travel,” continues Sarah. “And now, we’re trying to get on with our lives but it is so difficult. We hope something will change and then there is disappointment when it doesn’t. It is difficult to get on with day-to-day life with this constantly in the pit of my stomach.

“I will never be the same. You’ll never get over it.”

‘This has to change’

Representatives of TFMR have met with a number of Cabinet members over the past year, most of whom were empathetic and compassionate to their tragedies and their losses. According to the group, the majority were initially unaware that the Irish Constitution blocked them from being looked after in their own country.

Other deputies and senators, as well as some pro-life groups, have mooted alternative options including perinatal hospices. The idea horrifies Sarah.

“How or where is a perinatal hospice going to help my family? Why would anyone want me to grow a baby to suffer and die? Why? All we can go by now is what doctors tells us. The first thing they told me is that she will not survive outside the womb. It is heartbreaking and upsetting that the likes of those people would bring up a perinatal hospice.

It is barbaric to women. It is downright cruel to throw around that terminology.

As the constant debate about terminations in medical emergencies, terminations in the case of suicide ideation and a wider abortion regime continues to circle in Leinster House and beyond, families such as the Moylans live with “a constant cloud” over their heads.

It is hard to switch off. It is hard to not be sad again.

“We are educating people. Ours is a very specific, very heartbreaking, very clear-cut case,” adds Sarah. “Hopefully those making the decisions will get more of an understanding.”

TMFR says it will march on in its fight for legislation that will protect women in similar situations. They have also called for the repeal of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution.

“We will not stop fighting for change. This unnecessary added cruelty of forcing women out of their country to seek treatment at a time when they are already experiencing the greatest loss of their lives must end.”

Sarah, who is now the proud mum of 20-month old Dara, says meeting some of her fellow mothers at support groups is “like looking in the mirror”.

They are raw, broken and still in shock.

“We’re seeing this all the time. People say these cases are rare but Ireland has one of the highest incidences of anencephaly and those babies will not survive.

“I keep going…to feel a bit of justification that, my god, other women will not go through hell like we did and our parents did, heartbroken watching their daughter deliver a baby in another country. This has to change.”

TFMR continues to meet and offer support to women whose babies have been diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities. The group’s website can be found here. They be reached by email: tfmrireland@gmail.com. Support group Leanbh mo Chroi can also be found on Facebook, or contacted by email at leanbhmochroi@gmail.com or by telephone on 086 747 4746.

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