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Dublin: 17 °C Tuesday 23 July, 2019
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Hello, it’s Órla Ryan here. Welcome to today’s liveblog of the Oireachtas Eighth Amendment Committee.

The agenda for the meeting is as follows:

  • Session A – Risks to mental health [Professor Veronica O’Keane, Professor of Psychiatry, TCD]
  • Session B – Termination arising from rape [Tom O’Malley SC, Senior Lecturer in Law, NUIG; Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre; and Dr Maeve Eogan, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Rotunda Hospital]
  • Session C – Termination in cases of foetal abnormality [Gerry Edwards and Claire Cullen-Delsol, Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland]

Trigger warning: The content of this blog may be distressing for some readers. If needed, you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on its 24-hour helpline: 1800 77 8888 (more info here). 

You can watch proceedings below:


iPhone/iPad users: click here. Streams provided by HEAnet.

private Source: Oireachtas.ie

The committee is currently meeting in private session.

As we previously reported, one of the speakers due to attend today, psychiatrist Professor Patricia Casey, has pulled out. Dr Casey wrote to committee members last week, accusing them of giving preference to pro-choice speakers.

Casey, a professor at UCD’s Department of Adult Psychiatry and a consultant psychiatrist at the Mater Hospital, is also a patron of the Iona Institute, which has a pro-life stance.

Committee chairperson Senator Catherine Noone told TheJournal.ie she was “disappointed” by Casey’s decision. She has denied the committee is biased.

In other committee-related news, yesterday some members received a package containing a letter explaining that supporting the repeal of the Eighth Amendment would mean automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church.

Also included was a framed picture of Jesus being kissed by Judas, alongside a gospel quote.

Recipients of the letter included senators Lynn Ruane and Jerry Buttimer.

Ruane told TheJournal.ie that while she has received similar correspondence before, “it’s never been in that kind of detail”.

While we wait for today’s public session to begin, here’s a round-up of what happened at last week’s meeting.

Three medical experts told the committee they believe the Eighth Amendment is not fit for purpose.

Dr Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “I don’t think the Constitution is the place to regulate medical practice. [The Eighth] has caused endless problems … You need to legislate.”

Also last week, the committee voted to recommend that the Eighth Amendment should not be retained in full, meaning it will recommend a referendum be held.

The final vote was as follows:

  • Yes: 15
  • No: 3
  • Abstentions: 2

The three No votes were Senator Rónán Mullen and Deputy Mattie McGrath (both independent) and Fine Gael’s Peter Fitzpatrick. The two abstentions were Fianna Fáil TDs James Browne and Anne Rabbitte.

Mullen and McGrath opposed the vote taking place, calling it a “farce”. They wanted the vote to be deferred until all witnesses have been heard.

noone 25 Senator Catherine Noone Source: Oireachtas.ie

Senator Catherine Noone, the committee’s chair, has started today’s public session by reading out a letter from pro-life campaigner Cora Sherlock, who has raised concerns about the amount of pregnancies that are terminated after a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

A number of people have raised concerns that there may be a spike in the number of terminations in such cases if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.

Noone then reads out a letter from Dr Peter Boylan, who appeared before the committee last week. In the letter he criticises comments made by Senator Rónán Mullen in relation to the death of Savita Halappanavar. Boylan has sent committee members relevant notes from the inquest into Halappanavar’s death, which he says highlight the role the Eighth Amendment played in her death.

Last week, Boylan said if Halappanavar received a termination when she first asked for it, she would have not developed sepsis. “We would never have heard of her and she’d be alive today,” he stated.

ver Professor Veronica O’Keane Source: Oireachtas.ie

Professor Veronica O’Keane, Professor of Psychiatry at TCD, is now delivering her opening statement:

“It is an enormous relief that the [Citizens' Assembly] concluded that there should be no distinction between medical and psychiatric risk. It is a relief to those of us working in psychiatry and to allied mental health professions, to colleagues from other medical and surgical disciplines, and to the many Irish people who suffer from mental health problems. The mind-body division, dualism, has plagued our society and created much unnecessary suffering through stigmatisation and discrimination.”

Discussing Ireland’s “de facto UK-based service” for terminations, O’Keane says: “The UK path to abortion is a sad and shameful one that Irish women have endured for five decades now. It is a cruel and degrading journey and it is damaging to women’s mental health. It is filled with shame and humiliation.

The woman is easily identified and sees herself as being easily identified. What should bee a private and sensitively conducted procedure becomes a public journey…

“I would go further and say that the mental health of every person in Ireland is being damaged by the Eighth Amendment. We are all shamed by the current situation.”

browne James Browne Source: Oireachtas.ie

Replying to Fianna Fáil TD James Browne, O’Keane says at least seven women’s lives have been saved due to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

However, he says the process of obtaining a termination because they are suicidal is extremely difficult for women, who have to see several different doctors as part of the process.

This process, she says, can be further slowed down if a doctor identifies themselves as a “conscientious objector” and refuses to deal with the case – placing further strain on the woman’s mental health.

louise Louise O'Reilly Source: Oireachtas.ie

Replying to Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, O’Keane says she “doesn’t understand” the idea that repealing the Eighth Amendment would ‘open the floodgates’.

“The floodgates are open and they’ve always been open. The floodgates are just going to the UK …We do have an abortion service, it’s just not in our own country.”

O’Keane says she doesn’t believe there would be a large increase in the number of women and girls seeking abortion if terminations were allowed here – similar to what has happened in other jurisdictions.

kate Kate O'Connell Source: Oireachtas.ie

Replying to Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell, O’Keane says some of the women she has treated are very vulnerable and “don’t have the sensitive, appropriate services that can meet their high needs”.

“The earlier the abortion is, the better it is for the woman,” she says, adding that the current situation delays the process.

O’Keane notes that some women don’t have the money to travel for an abortion, or have to obtain a passport. Others may not know they are pregnant until 14 weeks or later as they may be on medication that means their periods are irregular.

She says the current system in Ireland is letting these women down.

O’Keane notes that some unplanned pregnancies do become wanted pregnancies, but that this isn’t always the case.

In relation to men’s mental health, O’Keane says: “In my view men are very traumatised by situations that their wives can be found in in relation to unwanted pregnancies.”

She adds that no man has ever presented to her with mental health issues due to his partner having an abortion, but that this area is under-researched.

ruth Ruth Coppinger Source: Oireachtas.ie

Responding to Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, O’Keane says the “constitutional vice grip” on abortion in Ireland makes things very difficult for healthcare professionals.

She says the current legislation “doesn’t allow for unforeseen circumstances”, adding: “Good care cannot be dictated by exceptions.”

“If we decided to restrict [terminations] to rape for example, would we then have to prove that every woman was raped?…

“Medics need the Eighth to be repealed … in order to provide the flexibility of care that is necessary in medicine to manage women in these very difficult situations.”

O’Keane says there is a lack of services here for pregnant women with mental health issues.

She says international colleagues who have visited Ireland are “gobsmacked” and “absolutely amazed” at the lack of perinatal psychiatry services here.

lynn Lynn Ruane Source: Oireachtas.ie

Responding to points made by Senator Lynn Ruane, O’Keane says people who were born into deprivation and were neglected by their parents may continue this cycle with their own children and need extra support.

She says if a woman chooses to continue a pregnancy, or terminate it, she should be supported either way.

“I think choice is very important.”

peter Peter Fitzpatrick Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick says the pro-choice side are trying to prove that abortion is a good thing for women and doesn’t damage their mental health.

O’Keane tells him: “The evidence is that abortion does not damage a woman’s mental health … You seem to be misinformed.”

When Fitzpatrick says over 100,000 lives have been saved by the Eighth Amendment, O’Keane says: “I’m baffled, I don’t understand that statistic, I haven’t met anyone who’s been able to explain that to me.”

Fitzpatrick says he doesn’t want Ireland to have abortion on demand like the UK, saying one in five pregnancies there are terminated.

O’Keane says Ireland does have an abortion service, it just happens to be in the UK.

cath Catherine Murphy Source: Oireachtas.ie

Responding to Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy, O’Keane says cardiac issues is the number one cause of death among pregnant women, but suicide is also one of the most common causes.

bd Bernard Durkan Source: Oireachtas.ie

Replying to issues brought up by Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan, O’Keane says not all women require counselling after having an abortion, but those who do should have access to it.

She says when women who return to Ireland after an abortion abroad seek counselling, GPs are “creative” and usually try to facilitate this.

However, she says there is currently no training given to doctors on how to conduct post-abortion counselling – something that would have to be introduced if abortion was allowed here.

“Medical services should be responsive to need.”

clare Clare Daly Source: Oireachtas.ie

Responding to a query from Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly about the impact of the Eighth Amendment on medics, O’Keane says: “We need to have a framework that is not restrictive, something that will allow clinicians to practice flexible, best-practice care.

You cannot practice good medicine with [the current legislation] standing over you.

She says doctors are “terrified” by the current “very narrow legal framework” and potential 14-year prison sentence connected to abortion.

O’Keane says doctors need the Eighth to be repealed and replaced with “flexible legislation”.

“They’re sitting in airports and they’re feeling the shame. I think we all feel the shame,” she says of women and girls travelling abroad for terminations.

jan Jan O'Sullivan Source: Oireachtas.ie

Labour TD Jan O’Sullivan is now raising access to abortion pills.

O’Keane says mental health professionals often become like “family” to vulnerable people, but cannot advise women and girls about how to get abortion pills, despite helping them in many other aspects of their lives.

“We cannot support them in this area because we are prohibited from doing so … It’s against the law with a sentence of up to 14 years. It is very regrettable.”

gavan Paul Gavan Source: Oireachtas.ie

Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan is now raising rogue pregnancy agencies who claim to be independent but may have a pro-life agenda.

O’Keane says she has had no direct experience with women who’ve dealt with such scenarios. However, she says any agencies who provide information about crisis pregnancies should be independent and give the woman or girl truthful information about all her options.

billy Billy Kelleher Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher has raised the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.

O’Keane says suicidal women who can travel go to England, adding: “Why wouldn’t they?”

She says women who stay here and try to access to an abortion on the grounds they’re suicidal are subjected to “an inquisition” by three specialists, who can be “intimidating people” and may be based elsewhere in the country.

O’Keane says the current system is “soul-destroying and humiliating”, adding: “We are creating suicidal women … by the constitutional clamp.”

She says poorer women and migrant women are often unable to afford going abroad for abortions.

“These women, if they were living in a more compassionate State, their difficulties may not be as extreme.”

mattie Mattie McGrath Source: Oireachtas.ie

Independent TD Mattie McGrath is asking O’Keane to clarify a remark she made in her opening statement, namely:

“I would go further and say that the mental health of every person in Ireland is being damaged by the Eighth Amendment. We are all shamed by the current situation.”

McGrath asks her if this is based on research, to which O’Keane says it’s not, rather that it’s a professional opinion.

“That was a very sweeping statement that I was concerned by so thank you for clarifying,” he says.

McGrath then asks O’Keane if she would “outlaw genocide”. Chair Catherine Noone steps in, O’Keane does not answer the question.

He then asks if she agrees with the mass abortion of girls in China. O’Keane says she is “uncomfortable” with the question and doesn’t answer.

mcgrath Source: Oireachtas.ie

Arguing with Sinn Féin members, McGrath accuses them of refusing to say where Jean McConville, one of The Disappeared, was murdered.

When Deputy Jonathan O’Brien says he is mesmerised by McGrath, the latter asks for this remark to be withdrawn.

“I never mesmerised anybody … I’m entitled to come in and speak in this committee, or am I? Or do you want us to leave this committee completely like [Rónán Mullen and I] threatened to?,” McGrath asks.

Before he leaves, McGrath calls the committee a “charade” and “biased”.

“I’m leaving this charade right now – for today anyway.”

Posted by on Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Before he left McGrath hit out at Noone, accusing her of being biased and failing to keep control. Other committee members and O’Keane were quick to defend her.

pic Dr Maeve Eogan, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Rotunda Hospital Source: Oireachtas.ie

After a five-minute break, the committee is discussing terminations arising from rape.

Dr Maeve Eogan, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Rotunda Hospital, is now giving her opening statement.

“Sexual violence occurs in all cultures and countries, with a range of epidemiological studies recording a far higher prevalence than previously thought. There is no ‘typical victim’ or ‘typical scenario’.

“In the Irish context, as summarised in the SAVI report, more than four in 10 (42%) women reported some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime. The most serious form of abuse, penetrative abuse, was experienced by 10% of women,” she tells the committee.”

Dr Eogan continues: “Regarding pregnancy after rape, while it is infrequently seen in those who attend [Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, SATU] services, the extrapolated rape related pregnancy rate is 5%. This estimate results from a three-year survey of over 4,000 women regarding the prevalence and incidence of rape and related physical and mental health outcomes.

“This was published more than 20 years ago, although in broad terms the figure is consistent with recent data from [the Rape Crisis Network Ireland]. An individual’s pregnancy risk will of course be influenced by the time in the menstrual cycle at which the incident occurred as well as other variables.

“While few pregnancies occur in the population who attend SATU services for care, women do become pregnant after sexual violence – either because they did not disclose the incident (and thus did not receive emergency contraception), or because EC failed.

“Studies have identified that women who become pregnant after sexual violence may only present after the first trimester of pregnancy, which of itself limits options in terms of decision making with regard to continuing the pregnancy.

In 2015, 5% of women attending an Irish Rape Crisis Centre reported that they became pregnant as a result of rape, the majority went on to give birth and parent. Other outcomes included miscarriage and stillbirth, adoption/fostering and termination of pregnancy.

“Termination of pregnancy for a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape is currently only available in this country if there is a substantial risk to her life (including risk of suicide) which can only be averted by termination of pregnancy.

“Additionally, as under-disclosure of sexual violence is common, it is very likely that women who have become pregnant as a result of sexual violence are represented in the population who travel for termination of pregnancy in another jurisdiction.

“It must also be emphasised that even if termination of pregnancy was available for women who conceived as a result of sexual violence, it would absolutely not be appropriate to mandate that these women would be obliged to report the details and circumstances of this incident to An Garda Síochána or other regulatory body prior to being ‘approved’ for termination of pregnancy.”

Dr Eogan says there is “no conclusive test that women who are pregnant after rape could or should be subjected to” in order to confirm they have been raped.

noeleen Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Source: Oireachtas.ie

Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive Officer of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), is now addressing the committee:

“While rape is about abuse of power, and violence, it does not always require force. Many rapes do involve force but many also happen when a person feels compelled to have non-consensual sex through external or societal pressures. Where sexual intercourse happens without consent, it is rape.

“Our therapists and helpline counsellors bear witness to the trauma of rape every day. The psychological impact of rape can include self-blame, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, sleep or eating disorders, distrust of others, feelings of personal powerlessness. Women may experience none, some or many of the possible impacts of the rape at different times.

“Impacts are not signs of illness, deficiencies or weakness, nor are they characteristics of the individual; they are responses to traumatic events. In the experience of our personnel, the trauma of rape is exacerbated for those who become pregnant as a result of the rape.”

Blackwell adds: “In our experience, there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ response to rape. Rape impacts on everyone differently depending not just on the circumstances of the rape but on their own personal circumstances.

The immediate aftermath of a rape can vary. It can be a time of overwhelming turmoil and confusion, where a victim/survivor feels extreme and conflicting emotions. Some women present as numb, quiet and reserved. Others will respond quite differently: appearing distraught, anxious, or hostile. The effects of the trauma can be short-term or last long after the rape.

Blackwell says 11 women disclosed pregnancies as a result of rape to the DRCC in 2016.

The outcomes in these cases were:

  • Parenting: 4
  • Termination: 3
  • Miscarried: 1
  • Adopted: 1
  • Fostered: 1
  • Unknown: 1

“These statistics do not indicate a victim/survivor’s choice, but merely of the ultimate outcome. The figures may relate to recent or historic pregnancies,” Blackwell states.

Blackwell continues: “A 2014 survey undertaken by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that about 2% of women aged 18-74 in the EU experienced sexual violence in the previous 12 months.

From our own evidence, most rape and serious sexual violence is perpetrated by someone known to the victim. The DRCC statistics for 2016 identified that just under 17% of adult rape and sexual assault was perpetrated by the client’s spouse or partner, 2% by other family members and almost 46% by other known persons. This includes friends, recent dates, workmates and the like. About 50% of childhood sexual abuse revealed to us by adults was perpetrated by a family member.

“We have no reliable national data on the prevalence of pregnancy as a result of rape. However, from our own statistics over 11 years, and also using the statistics from the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland which collected from a number of other rape crisis centres, it seems that approximately 4% of the total number of female victims/survivors who presented to Rape Crisis Centres report pregnancies as a result of rape.

“Of that 4%, a little over one-third of DRCC clients went on to parent while a little less than one-third terminated their pregnancy. The RCNI figures show almost half went on to parent, and a little less than 20% terminated their pregnancy.”

“Many of those who contact us are not ready to report to police for a long time, if ever. It is noteworthy that the gardaí now provide storage of forensic evidence at SATU for up to a year, recognising the realities of investigation of rape crimes.

“Clients are sometimes fearful of the reality that once they report to the gardaí, the gardaí must commence the investigation of a crime, thus notifying the alleged perpetrator of the complaint even if the victim is not ready.

“They may also initially have concerns about their own blame for the events which makes them reluctant to speak.

“Clients may not be ready to report to a doctor, social worker or the like. They may not want to talk to someone whom they fear will judge them. In the context of the long journey our clients and callers must take to rebuild their self-esteem and manage their self-doubt, many would be set back if questions were raised about their credibility.

“Requiring a woman to share such a traumatising experience about her rape and subsequent pregnancy has the potential to not only re-traumatise, re-trigger and re-victimise her, it also leaves her in a situation where she has to convince people that her story justifies access to support.

“It disempowers the person who has suffered the rape, while empowering the person giving permission to access a procedure or service. Once more, the consent of the victim/survivor is seen as irrelevant,” Blackwell states.

tom Tom O’Malley SC, Senior Lecturer in Law at NUIG Source: Oireachtas.ie

Tom O’Malley SC, Senior Lecturer in Law at NUI Galway, is now delivering his opening statement.

“Essentially, there are two broad questions to be addressed:

“What is meant by ‘rape’ in this context? In other words, which sexual offences, if any, should be accepted as justifying abortion?

“What kind or level of proof might be required to show that the offence in question has been committed in order to allow an abortion to proceed?”

O’Malley continues: “There are many sexual offences known to Irish law and most are now defined in gender-neutral terms. Here, I shall concentrate solely on those offences involving heterosexual intercourse, as they are the only ones that may result in pregnancy. Rape is clearly such an offence, but by no means the only one. We must also consider:

  • Sexual intercourse with an underage female
  • Sexual intercourse between a person in authority and a female aged between 17 and 18 years
  • Sexual intercourse with a female who has a mental disability or learning difficulty
  • Incest”

O’Malley says the “most difficult situation” that could occur would be “where a woman who is some months pregnant seeks an abortion by asserting that she was raped, even though she had not reported the alleged rape at the time”.

“Of course, I am not suggesting that such assertions will commonly be made or that they are likely to be false.

“However, when engaging in law reform in this area, possibilities as well as probabilities must always be considered. In the kind of case just mentioned, and bearing in mind the competing interests at stake – those of the woman and those of the unborn child – some kind of inquiry or investigation may be deemed necessary to test the assertion.

“A criminal trial might well be the optimum form of investigation but, for reasons mentioned earlier, that will not be feasible for reasons of time. One might then envisage some special form of inquiry or adjudication being introduced for this purpose. But if such a procedure were to be established, a number of important questions would arise, including:

  • Who would the adjudicator(s) be?
  • Would the woman bear a burden of proving that she had been raped and, if so, what standard of proof would be required?
  • Should the alleged perpetrator be identified, assuming his identity is known to the woman?
  • Would the alleged perpetrator, if identified, have a right to be heard? (Suppose, for example, he was her husband or partner who was objecting to the requested abortion.)
  • Would a woman who claimed or alleged that she had been raped by a named individual be entitled to immunity from any criminal or civil proceedings in respect of that claim?
  • Would evidence of the abortion or the request for an abortion be admissible in any later criminal trial?
  • Is there a possibility, in some cases at least, that an adjudication process of this kind could end up as a criminal trial in everything but name?
  • Should there be in any case an absolute requirement that the alleged rape be reported to the gardaí?”

peter Peter Fitzpatrick Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fine Gael’s Peter Fitzpatrick has asked Blackwell how she feels about people who are born as a result of rape, saying they often feel like “second-class citizens”.

Blackwell says the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre doesn’t make judgements about anyone who comes to them and is there to “help them deal with the trauma of rape, which we are experts in”.

“I’ve a question and I can’t get an answer,” Fitzpatrick replies, adding: “I need to know what your beliefs are.”

“We are absolutely non-judgmental … regardless of people’s beliefs,” Blackwell replies.

Billy Kelleher is asking if there is an obligation on medical practitioners to contact authorities if a person, particularly if underage, tells them they have been raped.

O’Malley says there is a mandatory reporting requirement when a minor is involved.

In response to a question from Fine Gael TD Hildegarde Naughton about rape conviction rates, O’Malley says it’s between 70-80% once the case goes to trial.

However, he adds: “The biggest problem is many cases never get to court.”

Blackwell agrees, noting that in some cases people are convicted of sexual assault rather than rape.

“There are only about 100 convictions for rape in any year,” Blackwell says, noting 2,500 sexual offences were reported to gardaí in 2015.

clare2 Calre Daly Source: Oireachtas.ie

Clare Daly says the decision of some women to terminate their pregnancies does not in any way diminish the decision of other women to continue theirs, regardless of circumstances.

She says the current system in Ireland in relation to abortion “retraumatises” women who are dealing with a crisis pregnancy or rape.

kate2 Kate O'Connell Source: Oireachtas.ie

Kate O’Connell brings up a case in Michigan where a paedophile gained access to parental rights to a child that was born as a result of him raping a 12-year-old girl.

O’Malley says O’Connell has “raised a very interesting point” but that another session would be needed to be discuss this in detail.

lisa Lisa Chambers Source: Oireachtas.ie

Fianna Fáil TD Lisa Chambers notes that a woman who takes an abortion pill after becoming pregnant through rape theoretically faces 14 years in prison.

“I think that’s just a horrendous situation that we find ourselves in,” Chambers says, adding that she thinks most people would agree.

ruth2 Ruth Coppinger Source: Oireachtas.ie

Ruth Coppinger says some people already believe there are “deserving abortions and undeserving abortions”.

She says if rape becomes one of the grounds under which abortion is allowed, we may find ourselves in a situation with “deserving rapes and undeserving rapes”. Coppinger then references victim blaming and the fact some people believe victims may be partially to blame for their rape.

Blackwell says the DRCC is concerned that only 10% of those who need its services actually attend. She says reporting a rape is difficult, adding that denial can also be a factor.

jon Jonathan O'Brien Source: Oireachtas.ie

Responding to Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien, O’Malley says there could be a “wealth-based discrimination” in terms of women and girls travelling to the UK for abortions.

Referring to having to convince a panel of doctors they are suicidal, O’Malley says women often “choose anything but that, including travelling”.

O’Brien then presents the following hypothetical situation: If abortion as a result of rape is allowed in Ireland and a woman has an abortion after being raped, only for a later trial to find the man not guilty, could she be charged with a crime?

O’Malley says drafting legislation with regard to this would be complicated and could result in court challenges.

bd2 Bernard Durkan Source: Oireachtas.ie

Responding to Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan, Blackwell says underreporting of rape is Europe-wide – for many reasons: it’s disruptive; people may be in denial or traumatised.

Blackwell doesn’t reference the Tom Humphries case by name but says “our telephones are going crazing today”, with many people reaching out to the DRCC due to recent media coverage.

The DRCC’s national 24-hour helpline is 1800 77 8888. More information can be read here.

Responding to Fianna Fáil’s Anne Rabbitte, Blackwell says rape crisis centres throughout Ireland lost funding during the recession that hasn’t been recovered.

She also mentions the importance of teaching young people about consent, citing the role of teachers and youth workers in this regard.

private Source: Oireachtas.ie

The committee had a brief break and is now meeting in private session.

ronan2 Rónán Mullen Source: Oireachtas.ie

We’re back in public session and Senator Rónán Mullen is responding to a letter by Dr Peter Boylan that was read out earlier.

Mullen maintains that the Eighth Amendment was not the direct cause of Savita Halappanavar’s death. He accuses Dr Boylan of “misrepresenting” his words from last week’s session.

Mullen thanks chair Catherine Noone for allowing him to respond. Ruth Coppinger accuses Mullen of speaking “untruths”, saying it’s “quite upsetting” that these discussions are happening around the time of the fifth anniversary of Halappanavar’s death.

The third session of today’s hearing has officially started. It’s focusing on termination in cases of foetal abnormality.

Gerry Edwards and Claire Cullen-Delsol of Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland (TFMR) will now address the committee.

GERRY Gerry Edwards Source: Oireachtas.ie

Gerry is delivering his opening statement:

“We are a group of parents, mums and dads, who have all been affected by pregnancies where there was a diagnosis of a severe or fatal foetal anomaly. We were all denied access to the care that we needed as a direct result of the Eighth Amendment.

“Many of us had to travel to another country to access the care we needed, while others among us were forced to continue our pregnancies in Ireland against our will. All of us were forced to endure suffering above and beyond the loss of our babies because of the constraints this amendment placed upon us and our caregivers.”

Gerry continues: “Most of us received our first indication that there was a problem with our baby’s development at our anomaly scan. This typically takes place between 19 and 22 weeks. Others who may have a history of foetal anomaly or are at increased risk may have discovered this sooner at earlier scans or tests.

“Of course, it should be noted that not all women have access to these tests, only about half of pregnant women in Ireland are offered anomaly scans.

“I’m sure you don’t need us to tell you how much of a shock it is to be so excited about your pregnancy in one moment, only to have your doctor tell you that there may be a serious problem in the next…

“Eventually, our doctors will sit down with us and explain what they believe is the most likely outcome for our pregnancy. Our babies are going to die, or have a seriously compromised quality of life. This will be based upon the results of our tests, what they have learned through their professional experience, and the specific manner in which these anomalies have affected our babies.

“It is important that they do not sugar-coat the news with euphemisms because we must have a clear understanding of what our baby faces, and indeed what we face, so that we can accept reality, and make an informed decision on how best to proceed.”

Gerry states: “Receiving the news that our much loved and wanted baby is going to die, or that their quality of life will be severely impacted is completely devastating. I can’t begin to describe the pain in that moment to someone who hasn’t experienced it.

“The decision to either continue with or terminate a pregnancy in these circumstances is an extremely difficult one for most people. To make this decision we need to have all of the best information available to us, we need to be able to discuss all options with our medicals teams, and most importantly we need enough personal time and space to arrive at the decision which we believe to be best for our baby, for us and our families.

“It is important that we point out here that it is impossible to require families to get this information and process it, and to arrive at a decision within a 22-week gestation limit. This limit is one area that we feel must be reconsidered by this committee. Nobody should be judged for coming to the point where hope ends.”

ed2 Gerry Edwards Source: Oireachtas.ie

Gerry states: “Those of us who chose to terminate our pregnancies and were forced to travel to lose our babies, were basically left to our own devices.

“Because our doctors can’t do this for us, we have to find and contact overseas hospitals. We have to make our own appointments, get copies of our medical records and find fax machines. Who these days even has a fax machine?

“We have to make our own travel arrangements. Do we go by plane, by car or boat? How do we get from the airport or ferry port to the hospital? Who will travel with us? If we have children at home, who will look after them? How do we get time off work? Do we have a passport? Can we afford it?

“At a time when we are experiencing the most intense grief of our lives, we find ourselves in another country having left Ireland in secret, feeling like medical refugees. We are abandoned by Ireland – the state and its people – isolated from our families and friends, and separated from the trusted medical team who looked after us up to this point.”

Gerry continues: “We need to find out whether or not we can bring our baby home, and if we can – how?

“If we have our car we can bring our baby home on the boat. This journey involves us having to go to a supermarket to buy freezer packs, and then we have to stop at regular intervals to open the coffin and change them so that we can keep our baby cold.

“Not being able to bring our baby home and not being able to have a normal funeral service, with the support of our family, friends and community, further compounds the sense of our baby in a coffin in our car, covered by a blanket or in the boot, while we cross the Irish sea. If we are coming home by ferry but don’t have a car, we have to carry the coffin on public transport – buses or trains – and carry our baby onto the ferry as a foot passenger.

“If we are flying home, we may be able to bring our baby’s remains on the plane. We have to check in advance with the airlines and deal with their special assistance staff. We may need to place the coffin in a holdall or suitcase and check it in as luggage. This will mean our baby will be put in the hold by baggage handlers and we will have to collect them from a luggage carousel in Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Galway or Knock. Alternatively, we could take the coffin onto the plane as hand luggage.

“Imagine, all of this is happening within hours of giving birth in the most tragic of circumstances. How do you think this makes people who live here feel? Would any of you be comfortable with your own family members or neighbours having to go through this ordeal?”

“We may not be able to bring our baby home with us, in which case we return empty handed. Perhaps we need a post-mortem to provide us with specific information that we need to protect future pregnancies…

“Specialist courier services are now costing between £800 and £900 Sterling. Our only option may be to fly back and collect the ashes, and this still presents us with difficulties when we go through airport security – having to explain what our packet of ashes, or powder, is.

“Even when we bring our babies home, there are more logistics to overcome. How do we arrange a funeral? Can we get a priest to officiate? Some of us are afraid to tell the truth in case we are judged yet don’t want to lie,” Gerry notes.

Claire Cullen-Delsol is now addressing the committee, telling them: “There are also those of us who wish to avail of a termination of pregnancy but who do not travel. Many families and women in Ireland continue a pregnancy, not because it is the right thing for them, but because the ordeal involved in ending a pregnancy under the current regime is too arduous.

“We might not be able to afford it – flights (up to three round trips), accommodation, cost of the procedure itself, post mortem, cremation and transport home of foetal remains costs each couple as much as €4,000. This is an enormous sum of money for most families and prohibitive in many cases.

“We might not be able to travel. We might simply not be able to face the stress of travelling and returning home without a bump or a baby. The emotional toll of travelling really cannot be underestimated. Grief has many more facets to it than just sadness.

“Anxiety, exhaustion, panic attacks and deep mistrust are all symptoms of complicated grief that make travelling through airports, foreign cities and to a strange hospital or clinic even more traumatic than it may appear to an outsider.

“The stigma associated with travel is enormous and many of us fear the gossip and judgement from family, friends or community, and this is more than we can bear.”

term Claire Cullen-Delsol Source: Oireachtas.ie

Claire continues: “So we’re trapped. We’re in the nightmare situation of looking like we’re expecting a baby, while we’re preparing for an enormous loss. Being asked questions about our growing bump can be just too much to bear.

“To avoid this, we isolate ourselves. We hide from the world, not wanting anyone to see our pregnancy or ask us questions, and we suffer the anxiety, the nightmares, the constant knowledge that we will be losing our baby.

“We can’t participate in our normal lives, we can’t go to work, we struggle to take care of other children, all our relationships suffer. And according to the Eighth Amendment none of this matters because we’re alive, and that is considered enough.”

Claire adds: “If abortion is legalised it should be incorporated into current maternity care. It is important that lawful services are available to all pregnant women in Ireland, irrespective of their location or financial status.

“This means that every maternity hospital, irrespective of its ethos, must be in a position to provide these services at all times. Healthcare should never be a black-market product, and no woman should ever be afraid to seek medical assistance for fear of prosecution.”

Gerry is now talking about the lack of scans pregnant women undergo, noting many may only find out about a fatal foetal abnormality later in the pregnancy.

He says “putting an arbitrary gestational limit in front of parents” and telling them they need to make a decision about a termination before a certain date or else be unable to access healthcare in Ireland is unfair.

Gerry says a 22-week limit on abortion is “completely inappropriate”.

Gerry says his twin 11-year-old daughters are alive today because of a pregnancy scan which showed they suffered from twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, meaning they were able to undergo life-saving treatment.

del Claire Source: Oireachtas.ie

Speaking about the death of her daughter Alex in the womb, Claire said her world “fell apart” and hasn’t been the same since.

“As the pregnancy progressed, I could feel her getting weaker,” she recalls, noting that she thought her baby died on more than one occasion.

Claire did not travel for an abortion and had to deal with people asking her about her pregnancy, noting: “I couldn’t face the other mams at the school gates.”

She developed PTSD as a result of what she went through.

Gerry says many women travel to the UK for abortion in order to avoid dying like Savita Halappanavar.

“The 13th Amendment saves lives, not the Eighth Amendment.”

Gerry is now discussing the death of his son Joshua.

“We felt we were treated like outcasts here. We didn’t get to attend our son’s cremation, we didn’t know when it was. [A few weeks later] we signed for him like we would any Amazon delivery. It really haunted us that we weren’t there.”

Gerry says the hospital’s pathologist travels with babies’ remains to their cremation so they aren’t alone.

“We felt abandoned by Ireland at the time,” he tells the committee.

Responding to Ruth Coppinger, Gerry says he was “devastated” when bills that could have legislated for abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities were previously voted down in the Dáil.

In terms of gestational limits for abortion regarding foetal anomalies, Gerry again says this is unworkable. He says such limits would, by design, make women in Ireland “dependent on another country for healthcare”.

Gerry says the phrases “botched abortions” and “babies being left to die alone by parents and doctors in hospital concerns” are “outrageous” and “grotesque”.

“I can’t understand the humanity.”

Gerry says so-called “botched abortions” are premature induced labour, something that is chosen by women. He says late-term abortions are primarily in cases of fatal foetal abnormality or to save the mother’s life.

Gerry says the voices of parents who are dealing with the diagnosis of a severe, rather than fatal, anomaly have been underrepresented in the debate. He says many people fear judgement and don’t speak out as a result.

“Sometimes nature is cruel and things just don’t work out,” he says.

Gerry says people know that “anything can go wrong” during pregnancy and parents all fear getting a bad diagnosis.

“People sometimes have to make very difficult decisions and they need to be supported,” he says.

billy2 Billy Kelleher Source: Oireachtas.ie

Billy Kelleher asks the speakers about the type of abuse they’ve received.

Claire says she has received thousands of messages, with the vast majority of them being kind and supportive.

“It has touched every family from what I can see.”

However, she says she has received “vile” messages from some people – usually online.

Speaking about the graphic images used at some pro-life demonstrations, Claire says: “None of these images are ever going to be worse than looking at your own dead child.”

She says she’s been called a “bad mother” and a “witch” and accused of not having enough faith in God. However, she stresses that the support she has received from the public far outweighs this.

Gerry says he realised over time that “the lack of a funeral affected me greatly”, leading to depression.

“We had the dreams and all that and then we had nothing. We had no grave, we had nowhere to go.”

He says people are going to “extremes” to bring their baby home after a termination abroad in order have a funeral if possible and get some closure.

Gerry says foetal abnormalities don’t discriminate in terms of religion or money, and can affect anyone. Of the people he knows have gone to their local priest or nun, Gerry says they have been treated “wonderfully” and with compassion.

gav2 Paul Gavan Source: Oireachtas.ie

When Senator Paul Gavan asks if the speakers believe the Eighth Amendment should be repealed outright, Claire says “absolutely”.

Gerry adds that all people who need access to abortion should be supported in their own country, not just those dealing with foetal abnormalities.

“I hope we don’t let you down,” Gavan tells them.

That’s it for today. The committee isn’t meeting next week, the next public session is due to take place at 1.30pm on Wednesday, 8 November.

We’ll be sending out an email round-up of what happened at the committee later tonight.

To sign up, enter your email in the box at the bottom of this article.

We’re wrapping up the liveblog now, but thanks for staying with us throughout the day.

Goodnight.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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