Irish teenager seeking abortion 'detained in psychiatric unit'

Abortion is a criminal offence under the Irish constitution in all cases and can only be considered if the mother's life is in immediate danger

Katie Forster
Wednesday 14 June 2017 17:24 BST
Protesters march to the Irish Parliament in memory of Indian Savita Halappanavar in Dublin, November 2012
Protesters march to the Irish Parliament in memory of Indian Savita Halappanavar in Dublin, November 2012

A pregnant girl seeking an abortion in Ireland was detained in a mental health facility, according to a report on court proceedings.

The girl and her mother, whose identities have been withheld, were sent to Dublin after a psychiatrist evaluated the child as depressed and suicidal.

They believed the girl would be able to access an abortion in the Irish capital, but the girl was reportedly “very agitated” when she was sectioned on arrival and discovered she would be placed in a psychiatric unit.

Abortion is a criminal offence under the Irish constitution, even if the pregnancy is caused by rape, or if the foetus cannot survive outside the womb.

It is only considered if the woman’s life is in immediate danger. An abortion could therefore have been legally provided to the girl if she was found to be suicidal as a result of the pregnancy.

However, the first psychiatrist argued her risk of self harm could be treated by mental health services, because “termination of the pregnancy was not the solution for all of the child’s problems at that stage,” according to the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP).

The case was heard in late 2016, several days after the incident, when a district judge ruled the girl should be discharged after a second doctor had said she did not show signs of mental illness and therefore could not be detained under Ireland’s Mental Health Act.

The CCLRP, an independent organisation based in Dublin supported by the Irish government’s Department of Children and Youth Affairs, reported that the second consultant psychiatrist said the girl was “agitated and angry” but did not suffer from an acute mental disorder.

“This consultant psychiatrist was of the opinion that the young girl was not suicidal and was not in immediate danger of committing suicide,” said the report, published online.

“As the young girl did not have a mental illness she could not be detained under the Mental Health Act,” it said. “The consultant psychiatrist also reported that the young girl had very strong views as to why she wanted a termination of her pregnancy.”

Linda Kavanagh, spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Campaign, said the case showed Ireland “cannot continue to treat women, girls, and pregnant people like this”.

“We also saw similar treatment of Ms X in 1992, another suicidal child in need of an abortion who was prevented from accessing the care she needed by the State,” she said.

“That we are still seeing cases of this kind 25 years later is a disgrace and an indictment of successive Governments’ failure to deal with this issue.”

Abortion is also restricted to Northern Irish women, where the majority of women have to travel to England or another country to access a termination.

MPs vote to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales

The Supreme Court ruled earlier today that women from Northern Ireland cannot receive free abortions on the NHS, narrowly rejecting an appeal by a mother and daughter.

The judges who dismissed the appeal argued for the need to “afford respect to the democratic decision of the people of Northern Ireland”.

In 2014, a woman who sought an abortion in Ireland when she was eight weeks pregnant, saying she was suicidal, was refused and later legally forced to give birth by caesarean section.

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