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‘We don’t want government empathy and compassion – give us action’

If the amendment to allow for terminations for medical reasons fails, a cross-party group have said they will bring a new Bill dealing with the issue after summer recess.

Sarah McGuinness and James Burke of Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) in Buswells Hotel, Dublin, after the press conference that outlined the details of an amendment to The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.
Sarah McGuinness and James Burke of Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) in Buswells Hotel, Dublin, after the press conference that outlined the details of an amendment to The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.
Image: Julien Behal/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Updated 22.01

A CROSS-PARTY group of TDs submitted an amendment to the proposed abortion bill this morning which would allow terminations for medical reasons be performed in Irish hospitals.

A number of representatives from the Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) group joined them at Leinster House today to urge the government to accept the amendment.

Sarah McGuinness – who lost her baby Molly on the 17 December 2009 at Liverpool’s Women’s Hospital – pleaded with elected deputies and senators “to listen to the majority” and “put an end to the cruel treatment”.

Speaking at a press briefing, she said:

For over a year now, we have been dedicating our lives to fight for a change to this barbaric practice of exporting vulnerable women and couples and families to neighbouring countries for the medical care and the support they deserve. We believe that this is not good enough for an elected government to pass up the opportunity to legislate simply because they have decided themselves not to act in the people’s interest.

(YouTube: Sinéad O’Carroll)

Another member of the TFMR group, father James Burke, also shared his family’s story, telling the government that they no longer had time for empathy.

“We need action,” he said.

When Burke and his wife Amanda Mellett were given their diagnosis in December 2011 at the 21-week scan, they decided to make the “horrible journey” to Liverpool, where she went through 36 hours of labour.

Three weeks later, their daughter’s remains were delivered to their door.

“The courier was holding what he thought was a package we had ordered from Amazon or something like that. Inside the cardboard box was a wooden box with Aoife, our daughter’s name, and her date of birth on it.

That is the compassion that Liverpool Women’s Hospital went to for us, for Irish couples who are not even in…their country. They looked after us so well but yet our government completely refuse to accept this and say there is nothing they can do.

(YouTube: Sinéad O’Carroll)

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett leads the cross-party group driving the amendment and, today, he paid tribute to the “great courage” of the bereaved families.

“It is utterly appalling that women who have to endure that heartbreak, also face the stigma that the treatment they were forced to seek abroad is a criminal offence in this county. I call on all TDs who support these women to support the amendment.”

A number of government TDs, including Fine Gael’s Simon Harris, Andrew Doyle and Catherine Byrne, previously indicated their support for the women at an information session on Kildare Street in May but it is unclear if they will vote for the amendment next week. Today, deputies Joe Higgins, Seamus Heaney, John Halligan, Patrick Nulty, Catherine Murphy, Thomas Pringle, Joan Collins and Róisín Shortall, as well as senators Averil Power and Fiach MacConghail were present to highlight their backing of the amendment.

Halligan pledged to “not let this go”.

“There is an onus and responsibility on all of us,” he said, describing current practices as “barbaric”.

If we can’t succeed on getting this amendment into the Bill, come Autumn, we will find some mechanism in bringing this before the Dáil again – be it a Bill or another amendment to the Bill that will probably be past. You have our word that we will not stop until this is dealt with.

The group has voiced the possibility of bringing a new Bill to the government in autumn to deal solely with terminations for women with fatal foetal diagnoses.

About 1,500 cases are reported each year in Ireland with about 80 per cent of the women travelling abroad for treatment.

(YouTube: Sinéad O’Carroll)

If passed, the amendment outlines that two medical practitioners – one obstetrician and one perinatologist – would need to jointly certify that the foetus is suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality and is not compatible with life.

There is also provision for a GP consultation, with the pregnant woman’s agreement.

“We do not accept that this amendment runs foul of the Constitution,” Barrett said, adding that there was “no clash of rights”. “Our argument is that the clash does not arrive in these circumstances as we are talking about foetuses that are incompatible with life.”

He believes the amendment can work within the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013 and within the current Constitutional framework.

One of the legal experts who drafted the bill, Jennifer Schweppe, gave three reasons for how the amendment could be deemed constitutional. She explained that Article 40.3.3 has only been examined in the strict confines of the X Case but that is not the only interpretation available.

She said that the term ‘unborn’ in the article does not mean the ‘capacity to be born’.

Currently, the Constitution equates the life of the unborn to the life of the pregnant woman. According to the lawyer, where the foetus has no capacity, the Constitution “cannot possibly try to equate those two lives”.

Finally, Schweppe said the Constitution only requires the State to vindicate right to life in so far as it is practicable. She aruges that it is not practicable to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term when each day she and her family knows there will be no baby at the end of the 40 weeks. Pregnancies and labour are very hard on a woman’s body, she added.

(YouTube: Sinéad O’Carroll)

Family members also travelled to the city centre for today’s conference. Douglas Bowie, who introduced himself as a father and retired GP spoke of his daughter Ruth’s devastating case. Her baby was diagnosed with fatal anencephaly (meaning there was only a partial skull) and travelled to England for a termination.

“If she had continued with the pregnancy, she would have effectively been a life-support machine,” he said. “Every day in hospitals, doctors and families have to make decisions to switch off life machines.

“Is this not a similar position?” he asked.

Also at the briefing was Deirdre Conroy, the woman known as Miss D who took her case against the State to the European Court of Human Rights after she had to travel for a termination. She had lost one of her twin babies in the womb and the other had been diagnosed with a fatal abnormality. She lost the case as the Attorney General argued that had she asked the Irish High Court if she could legally obtain a termination here, there was a significant chance it would have been lawful.

Senator Power said it is important the current government is reminded about her situation and the argument put forward by the State at the time.

Requests from TFMR to meet the Health Minister in recent months have been declined.

Below is the full wording of the amendment, which it is proposed, could be inserted as a ‘new Section 10′:

(1) It shall be lawful to carry out a medical procedure in respect of a pregnant woman in accordance with this section in the course of which, or as a result of which, a pregnancy is ended, where -

(a) the medical procedure is carried out by an obstetrician at an appropriate institution, and

(b) subject to section 19, two medical practitioners, having examined the pregnant woman, have jointly certified that the foetus in question is suffering from a fatal foetal abnormality.

(2) Of the 2 medical practitioners referred to in subsection (1)(b) –

(a) one shall be an obstetrician who practices as such at an appropriate institution, and

(b) the other shall be a perinatologist who practices as such at an appropriate institution.

(3) If practicable, at least one of the medical practitioners referred to in subsection (1)(b) shall, only with the pregnant woman’s agreement, consult with the woman’s general practitioner (if any) for the purposes of obtaining information in respect of the woman from that general practitioner that may assist the medical practitioners in their decision as to whether or not to make a section 10 certification in respect of the woman.

(4) Subject to section 19, the certifying obstetrician shall -

(a) forward, or cause to be forwarded, the section 10 certification to an appropriate institution, and

(b) make such arrangements as may be necessary for carrying out of the medical procedure to which the section 10 certification relates at the appropriate institution.

First published 15.15

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