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Feminist News


December-19-14

Woman on Life Support Revives Ireland Abortion Debate

Debate surrounding Ireland's ban on abortion has come up again following a current case involving a woman who is being kept on life support because she is pregnant.

The woman's family wants her to be taken off life support, but doctors refuse because Irish law says they must do what they can to protect the 16-week-old fetus. It is highly unlikely for a fetus to survive outside the womb until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Dr. Adam McAuley, an expert on Irish medical law, believes Dublin High Court will decide to keep the woman on life support until the fetus develops into a baby that can be delivered. The case will come before court on Tuesday.

"The law isn't clear, and when there is conflict, the matter will have to come before the court," McAuley said.

The woman, who was in her 20s, suffered a blood clot that left her brain dead. An Irish constitutional amendment gives mothers and the unborn equal rights under the law - which means that despite the family's wishes, doctors cannot remove her from life support.

Ireland is a predominantly Catholic country where more than 4,000 women leave to receive abortions annually (most go to England). However, some women do not have this option - including, obviously, those such as the woman in this current case.

Ireland's first abortion exception law was passed just last year, which made it legal to receive an abortion if the woman's life was in danger from the pregnancy. The law came about largely after debate surrounding a woman named Savita Halappanavar who died from blood poisoning that came about from the dying fetus she had to carry. She was not allowed a life-saving abortion because the fetus technically still had a heartbeat. Halappanavar's death led to nationwide protests.

Last summer, a suicidal woman who was raped as a minor became pregnant. She could not go to England for an abortion because she is not an Irish citizen, so she attempted to obtain an abortion under the new law. The woman was denied the abortion despite two psychiatrists determining she was suicidal and saying she should have access to the procedure. The obstetrician on the panel declared that the fetus was viable and should be delivered. After the panel's examination, the woman had to wait 17 full weeks to hear back about the outcome. She believes the government purposely delayed her case until the fetus was viable. When her request for an abortion was ultimately rejected, she started a hunger and water strike in protest but stopped when authorities threatened to put her on forced hydration. She then agreed to have a premature caesarean section at 25 weeks.

A pro-choice group in Ireland called Choice Ireland posted the most recent news with the caption "How many 'unforeseen' cases will it take to repeal this abominable law?"

Media Resources: The Irish Independent 12/19/2014; CBS News 12/18/2014; Choice Ireland 12/17/2014; Feminist Newswire 8/18/2014, 7/12/2013