Abortion debate flares in Ireland over case of rape victim

Woman denied termination and forced to deliver baby by Caesarean section

Ireland Correspondent

Fiery questions over abortion – one of the most troubling and divisive in Ireland – have reignited again with the case of a women who was reportedly raped and said she was suicidal but delivered a baby by Caesarean section after being refused a termination.

The treatment of the young foreign national, who has not been named, is putting recent legislation to the test and has exposed serious shortcomings in a law intended to lay the issue to rest.

The baby was born after a panel of doctors apparently disagreed on whether its mother, who is understood to have been raped before she arrived in the country, could legally be given an abortion. The woman, who does not speak English and is described as vulnerable, went on a hunger and thirst strike after being refused an abortion but eventually agreed to have the foetus induced at 25 weeks.

Of a three-person panel which examined the case, two psychiatrists are said to have concluded she was potentially suicidal, while a consultant obstetrician disagreed. The baby is now in the care of the health authorities.

While many of the details of the case remain unclear, the woman is said to have feared for her safety as a result of her pregnancy. According to a friend, she said: “I do not want this. I am too young to be a mother. I am not ready.” She appears to have been seeking an abortion for some months.

The Dail in Dublin last year passed legislation designed to make abortion available in very limited circumstances, following months of intense debate that saw street demonstrations and political resignations.

This followed the tragic death of an Indian woman, Savita Halappanavar, who was refused an abortion in a Galway hospital in 2012. There was also pressure for clarification of the law, generally regarded as unclear, from the European Court of Human Rights. At the time liberal and conservative lobbyists warned that the new regulations left many grey areas. Political parties were criticised at the time for opting for a minimalist approach in an attempt to close down one of the most contentious issues in Irish public life. This uncertainty has led a government minister to say that a referendum may be necessary, since abortion issues are covered not just by standard law but also by the Irish constitution.

Most Irish politicians instinctively shy away from such votes, given that they generally lead to heated and acrimonious campaigns.

 Video: Irish politicians discuss abortion law this month

The National Women’s Council of Ireland has described the treatment as horrific and distressing, saying it underlined the need for a referendum.

Although the number of women travelling from the Republic of Ireland to Britain for abortions in recent years has declined, 3,500 made the journey last year.

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