Ireland abortion: Campaigners urge bill amendment

COUPLES “exported” to the UK for terminations because of fatal foetal abnormalities have been told women facing similar diagnoses will not be included in new abortion laws.

Sarah McGuinness and James Burke of Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR). Picture: PA
Sarah McGuinness and James Burke of Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR). Picture: PA

• Campaigners have urged Irish politicians debating a new abortion bill to include a right to termination when a child is found to have a fatal foetal abnormality

• Enda Kenny has said that it was not open to him to legislate for terminations for those medical reasons

• Irish couples who travel to the UK for terminations in such circumstances receive no after care or support upon returning to Ireland, campaigners claim

Terminations for Medical Reasons (TFMR) and a group of politicians have submitted an amendment to the new bill being debated in the Dail to include the right to terminate when a foetus is found to be incompatible with life.

But Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dail it was not open to him to legislate for terminations for those medical reasons.

Sarah McGuinness said the group’s requests to meet Health Minister James Reilly have been ignored in recent months, despite him pledging his support last year.

“For over a year now we have been dedicating out lives to fight for a change in these barbaric proceeds of exporting vulnerable women and couples and families to the UK for the medical care they deserve,” said the 36-year-old - who travelled to Liverpool for a termination in December 2009 when her baby was diagnosed with anencephaly.

“We believe that it is not good enough for an elected Government to pass up the chance to legislate simply because they have decided not to act in the people’s interests.”

She said Irish couples return home with no after care, counselling or support from Irish medics despite a recent poll finding 83 per cent of the population would support legislation in such cases.

James Burke said he made the harrowing journey to Liverpool with his wife Amanda Mellett when their baby was diagnosed with Edwards Syndrome in December 2011.

He revealed the ashes of his baby daughter Aoife were returned in a wooden coffin by courier three weeks later.

“This courier was holding what he though was just package from Amazon or something like that, and inside a cardboard box was a wooden coffin with our daughter’s name and her date of birth on it,” he said.

“That’s the compassion that Liverpool Women’s Hospital has, and went to this trouble for Irish couples. Yet out government completely refuses to accept it.

“We will not give up, no matter how many excuses we hear from Government.”

Richard Boyd Barrett, John Halligan, Patrick Nulty and former Labour junior health minister Roisin Shorthall were among the senators and TD to back the proposed amendment.

Mr Boyd Barrett said there is no excuse for the exclusion of fatal foetal abnormalities from the Protection of Life During Pregnancy bill, which will allow a termination when a woman is suicidal.

“There is no good reason why this legislation should not contain the right for women to terminate their pregnancy when they receive the devastating ‘incompatible with life’ diagnosis,” he said.

“It is utterly appalling that women who have to endure that heartbreak also face the stigma that the treatment they were forced to seek abroad is a criminal offence in this country.”

Separately, Deirdre Conroy - who anonymously took a case to the European Court of Human Rights in 2005 when she had to travel to Belfast for a termination, claims that the State’s own defence means the law should be changed.

The mother-of-two, whose legal action was known as the D case, lost her case after the State argued had she sought an abortion through the courts in 2002 she would have been treated

Mrs Conway waived her right to anonymity during the inquest into the death of Indian dentist Savita Halappanavar, who had been refused a termination as she miscarried.

“I thought what happened to her was barbaric,” she said.

“I thought something might have changed over those years.

“It’s a political football,” she added.