By Helen Shaw
A seventeen year old Irish woman has won a High Court battle in Dublin to be allowed to come to Britain for an abortion. The woman, known only as “Miss D”, was told in the fourth month of her pregnancy that her foetus had failed to develop properly and is suffering anencephaly, which means that a significant part of the skull and brain are missing. Babies born with this condition are expected to live a maximum of three days.
Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Ireland except for cases where the mother’s life is threatened by a medical condition or she is a suicide risk because of her pregnancy. Thousands of Irish women get around the ban by travelling to Britain to undergo a legal termination. Since 1992 the constitutional ban on abortion no longer includes receiving information about services in other countries or travelling to Britain for the operation.
It is estimated that around 7000 women every year travel outside Ireland to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
Miss D, who is in the care of the Irish Republic’s social services, was ordered not to leave the country. Court proceedings were started to fight the order by Miss D’s boyfriend, as she is still a minor. Both her boyfriend and her estranged mother spoke out in support of Miss D’s decision.
The judge who finally decided Miss D could leave the country, Justice Liam McKechnie, heard arguments which arguments went right to the heart of the terrible situation for women’s autonomy and rights in Ireland.
The lawyer for Miss D said that it would be inhumane to expect a woman to carry a child to term only to have it die in a matter of days, and that preventing her from travelling for a termination (by locking her up presumably) would be tantamount to degrading treatment and a violation of her human rights. He also said that this was a case of serious discrimination. “She is being denied rights guaranteed to every citizen because she is under 18 and subject to a care order”.
Miss D bravely stuck by her right to choose an abortion. She said, “It’s my body and I should be allowed to do with it what I want”.
Choice Ireland and Alliance for Choice mounted a campaign of support of Miss D. Choice Ireland’s press release states “we are appalled by the treatment Miss D has received at the hands of our state. It is unacceptable that Miss D will now be forced overseas in order to exercise her choice”
Like the thousands of other women who are forced to leave Ireland in order to have an abortion, Miss D will return to no free or proper provision of aftercare and counselling.
Seventeen Irish women a day have the anguish of their situation compounded by the financial and emotional burden of being forced overseas for an abortion. The current position represents a “head in the sand” approach to a reality faced by thousands of women in Ireland each year, and is incompatible with any notion of respect for women.
Choice Ireland is seeking an end to these tragic circumstances by calling for free and legal abortion on demand, proper sex education and access to contraception, as well as an ed to the stigma surrounding abortion and single parenthood. Miss D has won her case but Irish women still have a long fight ahead of them.
• For more on abortion rights campaigning see www.fightback.org.uk