Abortion issue still waits proper resolution
By Angela Long
Last night a 17-year-old girl prepared to fly to England to have an abortion.
She is known as Miss D, and had just won her case against the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the High Court.
The judge, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie, found that she had the right to travel, and this was the nub of the case, not the rights or wrongs of abortion.
Miss D, who is in the care of the HSE, discovered on April 23 that her baby had anencephaly, a condition in which the head does not develop. Life outside the womb is limited, and most anencephalic babies live only hours.
According to evidence in court, when she told a HSE social worker that she wanted to end the pregnancy, the social worker responded that she would not be allowed to travel. Gardai would restrain her, with force if necessary.
Miss D then went to court, suing through her 18-year-old boyfriend because she is legally a minor.
The judge was very critical of the HSE's conduct in this case. He pointed out the absence of any record of the executive considering what would be in the best interests of Miss D's personal welfare.
The judge noted that a claim to the gardai by a HSE employee that Miss D must be prevented from travelling was without foundation in law.
He also criticised the HSE for not revealing it had contacted the Passport Office after Miss D said she would apply for a passport.
The HSE issued a short statement, saying it accepted the High Court decision. "The HSE acted in accordance with what they [sic] believed to be the best course of action in terms of the constraints imposed upon us by law," it said.
The HSE says it regrets the distress caused to Miss D and her family. The statement said the executive would continue to offer all the care and support
'which it is in a position to make available'. However it is unclear whether all her costs relating to travel and the actual abortion are to be met by the HSE.
Costs of the case, around €1 milllion, were awarded against the HSE.
Today the master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Declan Keane, said Irish law should be changed to allow abortions where the foetus has not chance of survival outside the womb.
Speaking on RTÉ radio, Dr Keane said anencephaly was one of very few conditions which were incompatible with life.
In these cases, terminations should be allowed in Ireland so patients could have proper counselling and support in their own environment. Clinics abroad often did not have facilities to test foetal matter, so the woman would know if she had to take health precautions in subsequent pregnancies.
The story of abortion law in Ireland is a long and sorry one.
Since a clause was inserted into the Constitution to strengthen protection of the unborn 24 years ago, there have been five referenda on the issue.
The current position is that women can access information about abortion, and can travel to have an abortion. But in Ireland abortion is only permitted in very few circumstances, such as where there is a real risk to the life of the mother or the mother is suicidal.
Miss D was very clear that she had no intention of suicide. The judge commended her on her honesty.
In today’s Irish Times, Rosie Toner of the Irish Family Planning Association writes: "the lack of a realistic legislative framework on abortion is unsustainable".
Of the main political parties, only Labour has a policy to tackle abortion law.
Fianna Fáil says the status quo will remain. The leader of Fine Gael, Enda Kenny, said during the Miss D hearing that his party would not legislate for change.
The Greens have no policy. The Progressive Democrats have no policy, and say it is a personal moral choice. Sinn Fein yesterday issued a statement saying it is opposed to abortion.
€1 million when the HSE is already cash-strapped and well so obviously in this case - well beyond being out of order.