When news broke that babies had been dumped in a septic tank, we thought Ireland had hit a new low. But perhaps we could console ourselves that it was a long time ago and maybe things had changed — surely standards of care could not fall any lower? Sadly they could, and it is happening right now.
The news that a young migrant woman has been forced to give birth after being raped has caused global outrage.
The details are still unclear, but we do know that the woman sought to access an abortion in Ireland under section 9 of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act (PLDPA), fearing that she would commit suicide.
This claim was assessed by a panel of three experts, two of which were psychiatrists. Both certified her as eligible for an abortion based on her risk of suicide, but the third panelist, an obstetrician, recommended that she undergo a caesarean section. The PLDPA recommends that all "practicable" measures are taken to preserve the life of the "unborn", and it seems that the obstetrician judged a caesarean would be "practicable".
The woman did not agree and went on hunger strike to protest her right to an abortion. Ireland's NHS, the Health Service Executive (HSE), went to court to get an order to force her to take fluids to avoid harm to herself or the foetus.
She then had the caesarean, as the court was not going to concede to her request for an abortion, and the only other available option was to continue the pregnancy further. The baby was then delivered at 25 weeks gestation, alive, but with a high likelihood of significant disabilities.
This shocking case of forced birth is an example of abuse of a vulnerable adult while in state care. As well as the 16 week delay she faced after requesting an abortion, and her eligibility under section 9 of the PLDPA, her right to travel to the UK to have the procedure was not met.
Was this due to her difficulty understanding her rights, or were these rights simply ignored? The case demonstrates the lengths that Ireland will go to maintain their control over women’s lives.
In this case we have a forced, severely pre-term birth of a child that is at risk of an early death and significant disability. Is this really preferable to the termination of an unwanted pregnancy, where the mother's life is at risk?
Delaying an abortion is only supposed to happen when the parent wants to give birth to a child, and is prepared to endure the risks. But instead of following medical best practice, this case was driven by fundamentalist religious belief, and right-wing political control.
What has become clear is that any attempt to implement the PLDPA, will always be overshadowed by the severity of the law. The prison sentence for an abortion that doesn't meet the act's narrow parameters is 14 years.
In order for women’s lives to be protected during pregnancy, the act must be struck down, the constitutional ban on abortion repealed, and abortion decriminalised.
During questioning by the UN Human Rights Council last month, Frances Fitzgerald, Ireland's Minister for Justice, admitted that improving access to abortion services would require the repeal of the 8th Amendment.
And she's right. Doctors for Choice Ireland calls for the Irish government to grasp the nettle and call for a referendum on this issue in 2015. In just a matter of months, all Irish women could be granted full freedom of choice, and have their basic right to safe abortions protected by the law.