This tragic case highlights the flaws in the new Irish abortion law.
Abortion is a very emotive subject, and whilst its rights and wrongs are commonly debated, the severity of some cases would prompt most commentators to concede that sadly abortion is sometimes the only consideration. The recent case of a teenage suicidal rape victim who was also seeking asylum in Ireland is one of the most tragic you are ever likely to come across.
The vulnerable young woman was housed in a so called reception centre whilst her asylum application was processed. She had suffered a terrible ordeal, having been sexually assaulted, separated from her family and then arrived in a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language. It seems she expressed the strong view that she had to have an abortion and sought professional help to terminate her pregnancy at week eight.
But what sadly followed was the start of a very long and drawn out legal process during which the victim was denied access to the procedure. This raises serious questions about the information and support that was provided to her by the Department Of Justice, which oversees the asylum system, and by the Health Services Executive, which provides health care for asylum seekers.
As the weeks passed by, she became increasingly distressed and experts then determined that she was suicidal, at which point the newly introduced Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act should have come into force. The act was designed to relax Ireland’s strict ban on abortions and allow terminations when the life of the mother is at threat.
She was apparently informed that she would need to apply for an exit and re-entry visa to travel abroad for medical treatment because asylum seekers are generally prohibited from leaving and re-entering the country whilst their applications are being processed. However, it seems that she applied for such permission when she was eight weeks pregnant. What happened to this application? Was it considered as an urgent request? Was anybody monitoring her health?
She was provided with counselling by the Irish Family Planning Association but nobody else appears to have provided her with information about the progress of her application for permission to travel. At 16 weeks gestation she was understandably increasingly desperate about her situation. The information given to her was that she would, in any event, have to pay around £1,500 to travel to the UK to undergo an abortion. She did not know whether she would be allowed to travel, and in any event, she did not have this amount of money. At week 16 she attempted suicide.
She became increasingly withdrawn and was at her wits end when she went on a hunger and thirst strike. This led to the involvement of the court but she subsequently agreed to submit to the C-section. She was persuaded to abandon the hunger and thirst strike.
There appears to have been a number of serious delays in this vulnerable young woman receiving the help that she needed. This case illustrates the complete inadequacy of the 2013 Act. Medics need clear guidelines and there needs to be a clear pathway whereby those seeking a termination under the new Act need to know exactly what steps need to be followed.
If a young vulnerable rape victim who has no family support in the country, has requested an abortion at eight weeks and attempted suicide at 16 because she cannot face going through with the pregnancy cannot access abortion services then the legislation and its implementation are clearly flawed.
This article was first published in The Times.