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Woman Who Sought Abortion Was Not “Actively Suicidal”


William-Murphy CC

Greg Daly - published on 09/25/14

As details emerge of Ms Y, Irish guidelines insist abortion is only permissible when there is no other option.

A draft report from Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) says that the young woman at the center of Ireland’s latest abortion controversy known as Ms Y, was “sad and depressed” but not “actively suicidal” when she sought an abortion.

But the woman is now reluctant to cooperate with any further investigation, as details of the report were made public by a popular television program before the HSE interviewed her and its report was completed. Ms Y believes this has breached the report’s terms.

In the absence of her contribution, the report finds that HSE documents show she had indeed been “undoubtedly extremely distressed and traumatized,” but had never presented to any agency as being “at a risk of real and substantial risk of loss of life by way of suicide.”

The draft indicates that the most appropriate treatment for Ms Y was consistently recognized as being crisis pregnancy counselling, and states that "this occurred."

A young woman who was raped in her home country shortly before seeking asylum in Ireland, Ms Y told the Irish Times in August that she discovered she was pregnant when being medically assessed soon after her arrival. The nurse who assessed her said that another clinic could carry out a second pregnancy test. She then approached the pro-choice Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), which established she was eight weeks pregnant and told her that “people like me are sent to England for abortions.”

The IFPA told her that it could take six weeks to arrange the necessary paperwork, but she was 16 weeks pregnant when she learned that going to Britain for an abortion could cost more than €1,500. Although distraught after being told that “the State would not fund the costs,” she was told that time was not pressing, as in England, “they carry out abortions up to 28 weeks.”

If Ms Y was told this she was misinformed: the UK in 1990 reduced the regular limit for abortion from 28 weeks to 24 weeks, with abortions being legal after that point only for a small number of specific reasons, none of which would have applied in Ms Y’s case. 

In mid-June, according to the draft report, she saw a doctor from the NGO Spirasi, which works with torture survivors. The doctor found that Ms Y “had thoughts of ending her life” but that such distress was common among his patients. He phoned the reception center where Ms Y lived, in order to speak about psychological supports for Ms Y, and wrote to a general practitioner at the center, saying that although Ms Y had “a strong death wish” and “thoughts of self-harm” she nonetheless had “no current intentions.”

Urged by a friend to tell a GP that she was suicidal because of her pregnancy, Ms Y did this in mid-July and was promptly referred to hospital where it was established that she was 24 weeks pregnant.

Told that an abortion was not an option, she attempted to starve herself to death. A court order was taken out to enforce hydration, but instead she began eating after being told that an abortion would be possible but she would need to be stronger for the operation. She was then advised again that there could be no abortion, but a termination of pregnancy by premature delivery had been agreed to.  Ms Y says she accepted this as she “didn’t have a choice.” 

Her child, a baby boy, was delivered by caesarean section two weeks after she presented at the hospital.

The television special on her case, on RTE’s Prime Time, coincided with the publication by the Irish government of guidelines to help doctors dealing with pregnant women with life-threatening conditions. Last year’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which allows for the termination of pregnancies when women are in danger of death through suicide and was widely criticized for introducing abortion into Irish law, has hitherto been without guidelines to help doctors in the law’s practical application.

The guidelines state that in accordance with the law—itself an expression of a controversial 1992 Supreme Court judgment—abortions on grounds of danger through suicide can be permitted only when three doctors have examined the woman and have certified in good faith that a three-way test has been met. There must be “a real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life by way of suicide,” “in their reasonable opinion, this risk is one that can only be averted by a termination of pregnancy,” and the doctors must reach this conclusion with due regard to “the need to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable.” 

Emphasizing that terminations of pregnancy are only permissible when this is, in all probability, the only way of saving a woman’s life, the guidelines repeatedly emphasize the word “only” by highlighting it in bold type, but the law does little to ensure that doctors comply with the guidelines.

Commenting on the guidelines’ publication, Cora Sherlock, a solicitor and deputy chairwoman of Ireland’s Pro Life Campaign told Aleteia that “after waiting over a year to issue the guidelines, it’s impossible for the government to claim, as they did last year, that the law is required as some sort of emergency measure to save women’s lives.”

Pointing out that the law ignores international medical evidence showing that abortion is not a treatment for suicidal ideation, Sherlock said of the case of Ms Y that, “the reality of this law was shown recently, when a baby was delivered prematurely, left to struggle against serious medical issues — all in the absence of any evidence to support such an intervention.”

Describing the guidelines as “just another tool for those who would dehumanize the unborn in this debate,” Sherlock took issue with how even reputable human rights organizations like Amnesty International no longer recognized “the innate dignity and worth of the unborn baby.”

Noting how the director of Amnesty Ireland, Colm O’Gorman, responded to the guidelines by saying that “Amnesty International calls on Ireland to fully decriminalize abortion,” Sherlock pointed out that Amnesty, founded in London by the Catholic convert Peter Benenson in 1961, “is an organization that aims ‘to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.’ It opposes the death penalty and extra judicial executions.”

“When it comes to abortion however,” she continued, “it is utterly failing the most vulnerable members of our society — the unborn.  Instead of using its enormous platform to give a voice to those who have their lives ended for the flimsiest of reasons, Amnesty campaigns relentlessly for the widening of abortion laws.”

“Sadly,” she concluded, “this support for the cruel discrimination of abortion is a constant blight on Amnesty’s other good works.”

Greg Daly covers the U.K. and Ireland for Aleteia.

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