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TDs to support abortion amendment to provide for medical terminations

During a meeting at Leinster House this afternoon, two TDs revealed they had children who were “incompatible with life”.

Arlette Lyons, who is eight months pregnant, outside Leinster House today.
Arlette Lyons, who is eight months pregnant, outside Leinster House today.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

A NUMBER OF TDs from across all parties are set to work together on an amendment which could see pregnant women with babies suffering from fatal foetal abnormalities be provided with terminations or early inducements in Ireland.

The development comes after an afternoon meeting between advocacy group Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) and a number of deputies, advisers and other stakeholders at Leinster House yesterday.

A total of 18 TDs and one Senator attended the session during which nine women and one man discussed the tragic loss of their babies. The stories were met with palpable emotion from those in the room.

Fine Gael’s Simon Harris noted that he had never been at a briefing where there were no questions or requests for clarification from the floor. He said, for him, the issue at hand was not one about abortion, pro-choice or pro-life it but a “specific issue that needs to be dealt with”. He told the women that the retelling of their experiences had a “profound impact”.

He was one of three Fine Gael deputies to offer vocal support to the group as they seek an amendment to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.

Wicklow TD Andrew Doyle, who revealed that one of his children died shortly after childbirth 24 years ago as she suffered with anencephaly, also signalled his support for the women, noting that suicide ideation (which is included for in the heads of bill) is more “abstract”.

Dublin South-Central deputy Catherine Byrne thanked the women for sharing their “precious” memories, adding that there “has to be room somewhere” in the bill.

Independent Richard Boyd-Barrett, who chaired the meeting, said he will now work with a cross-party group on possible amendments. He also recalled his own personal tragedy, telling the room about the death of his baby girl not long after she was born.

He explained that he and his partner did not have a choice as they did not know the diagnosis of the baby but that it was “clear to them after that people in these traumatic situations should have all options open to them”.

TFMR says it has received legal advice from a number of experts that indicate an amendment to provide for medical terminations where the foetus is not compatible with life would be constitutional.

Arlette Lyons, Fiona Walsh, Ruth Bowie, Sarah McGuinness, Julie O Donnell, Agatha Corcoran, Deirdre Conroy and Gaye Edwards.

Arlette Lyons was adamant that the group is seeking legislation for a specific category.

“Our babies had fatal conditions,” she said. “It is so specific. They are non-viable. They are not going to live. There are no ifs, no maybes, no chances.

“We were given 100 per cent diagnoses by scientists and doctors. We want women with fatal foetal abnormalities to be cared for by their own country.”

All nine women who spoke recalled the trauma of having to travel to the UK for terminations after being told their babies would not live. Most broke down in tears as they shared the memories of various fatal syndromes such as anencephaly.

Ruth Bowie remembered her trip to an abortion clinic in England. There were hen parties on the plane over, she said. Her husband had to sneak in the back door of the clinic and pay money through a hatch before the procedure. Afterwards, they contemplated going to the cinema for some quiet.

“We can’t change the diagnosis but we can change the treatment,” she concluded.

Sarah McGuinness Moylan, whose baby Molly born and died in December 2009, asked those in attendance to close their eyes and imagine being given the news of your baby’s fatal diagnosis. “Now imagine being asked to leave your country,” she added.

Her husband John, sitting next to her as the only man in the group, described his family as the “victims” of those who have a “fear of the floodgates”. “We are pandering to a staunch minority.”

“If England never helped us, this would have had to be dealt with by now. Why are we so far behind?”

“We all value life. What we don’t value is torture and suffering,” concluded Sarah.

“I don’t want anyone else to bring a child home in the boot of their car,” was Jenny’s last sentence before the tears came. Her daughter Jessica was born less than a year ago. She died at Liverpool Women’s Hospital and was taken home by ferry before she was buried in the local graveyard.

“She was a person to us.”

Deirdre Conroy, the woman at the centre of the ‘D’ case which was heard at the European Court of Human Rights, was last to take the stand.

Like two of the other women speaking before her, she spoke of the stigma and secrecy that she dealt with when she lost her twins 11 years ago.

“We are looking for nothing extreme here. Just decency, dignity and compassion.”

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 can 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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