A suicidal young woman who became pregnant as a result of rape was refused an abortion in Ireland.
The woman, now 18, was raped as a minor. When she discovered she was pregnant at eight weeks, she became suicidal and immediately tried to obtain an abortion under a clause in the new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. She could not bypass the law by going to England or another European country to obtain an abortion – like thousands of Irish women do each year – because she is not an Irish citizen.
In this case, two psychiatrists determined the young woman was suicidal and should have access to the procedure, but 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. The baby is expected to go into state care.
This case “illustrates quite clearly that women are treated as little more than incubators under Irish law,” Sarah McCarthy, a spokesperson for Galway Pro-Choice, told The Guardian.
The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act legalized abortions in cases only where there is a risk to the life of the mother, including thoughts of suicide. It was approved in July 2013 by Parliament after the 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who died from an infection because she was not allowed to have an abortion, and the ensuing uproar over her death. It recently went into effect in January. Under the law, a panel of three doctors must examine each case and agree unanimously to allow a woman to have the procedure. While the Act is thought to be a step forward, Ireland’s laws around abortion are still severely restrictive. Abortions are not allowed in any cases besides life endangerment, including cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or if the fetus is not expected to survive outside of the womb.
Media Resources: The New York Times 8/17/14; The Guardian 8/18/14; The Sunday Times 8/17/14; Feminist Newswire 11/14/12, 7/12/13