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Posts Tagged ‘ the c case ’

Ireland And Abortion : A History Of Silence…

 Where were you on February 23 1992? Me, I was three years old and more than likely playing with my prized collection of Barbie dolls blissfully unaware of the court case that was rocking the Irish nation.

The case I’m referring to is of course The X Case and February 23 is the day the chaos eventually came to an end with the Supreme Court ruling (after a long and hardy battle) that a pregnant and suicidal fourteen year old was in fact entitled to an abortion.

Previous to this only the physical health of the mother was taken into account when deciding whether or not she was entitled to an abortion but this ruling meant that for the first time ever a woman’s mental health as well as the very real threat of suicide would also be taken into consideration.

Today, twenty years since that judgement was first handed down, I’m sorry to say Irish women are still waiting for the legislation that will allow them access to life-saving terminations.

Here, I take a look at what is perhaps the most controversial and divisive topic of our time; abortion and the Irish Governments damning history of silence…

The X Case

The X Case is without a doubt one of the most controversial and closely followed legal battles in the history of the state. Not only did it spark outrage and debate amongst Irish citizens but it also drove thousands of people – both pro choice and pro life – to demonstrations across the country.

It all began in December 1991 when a fourteen year old girl known only as X was raped by a man known to her and her family. Just one month later, following a bout of illness which forced the girl to visit her local GP, both her and her parents were informed that she had in fact become pregnant. It was then that the youth finally broke down and admitted that her attacker had been sexually abusing her for two years.

Immediately the attack and the years of abuse were reported to local Gardai and investigations began. Meanwhile, unable to tolerate the thought of carrying to full term her rapists child the fourteen year old and her parents decided it would be best for her to travel to England in order to undergo an abortion. Before doing so however they asked Gardai if the foetus could be tested in order to provide proof of paternity as the accused was denying all responsibility. The Gardai then asked The Director of Public Prosecutions if this evidence would be admissible in court who in turn contacted The Attorney General Henry Whelehan who immediately sought an injunction under Article 40.3.3 of the constitution – at the time this put the unborn child’s right to life on equal footing with that of the mother – which barred the teenager and her parents from leaving the country or terminating the pregnancy. Already in England the family were then forced to return to Ireland.

The first injunction barring the girl from leaving the state only lasted until February 10th at which point her case was then tried in front of Justice Costello. Despite hearing testimony from a clinical psychologist who felt the girl was at high risk for suicide and from her distraught mother who related how her teenage daughter had admitted wanting to throw herself down a flight of stairs and even considered throwing herself under a train while in London, Justice Costello eventually decided that the right to life of the unborn child should not be interfered with and ruled that the defendant must be restrained from leaving Ireland for a period of nine months.

“The evidence also establishes that if the court grants the injunction sought there is a risk that the defendant may take her own life. But the risk that the defendant may take her own life, if an order is made, is much less and of a different order of magnitude than the certainty that the life of the unborn will be terminated if the order is not made.”

Determined to see what they believed was justice served the defendant and her parents immediately sought an appeal from the Supreme Court. The teenagers legal team argued that the High Court judge was “wrong in law” in finding that the danger to the life of the mother was less than the danger to the life of the unborn.

On the final day of proceedings the Supreme Court judge ruled that the decision of the High Court should be set aside and the youngster was permitted to undergo an abortion. It is understood, however, that while awaiting termination the girl suffered a miscarriage.

Interesting to note is the fact that the victim’s perpetrator was tried, jailed, and eventually had his sentence severely reduced on appeal only to go on to kidnap and sexually assault another teenager in 1999.

The Referendum

As a direct result of The X Case and the Supreme Courts ruling the Irish Government put forward three possible amendments to the Constitution in a referendum. These amendments were known as the 12th, 13th and 14th amendments.

The 12th amendment asked to remove suicide as grounds for abortion, the 13th amendment asked that women should have the right to travel outside the state for abortion and finally the 14th amendment asked that information about abortion should be made available in the State.

Given that we are constantly hearing how severely opposed to abortion the people of Ireland – such a devout Catholic country – are you would expect that the 12th amendment passed where the 13th and 14th failed. In actuality the opposite is true.

History Is Forced To Repeat Itself

Despite the results of these referenda, the Irish Government did not act on them, and in 1997 history repeated itself with The C Case. This time a thirteen year old girl was forced to delay the termination the courts eventually declared she was fully entitled to in line with her basic human rights and in light of the X case ruling.

Instead of tackling the issue then and granting the Irish people what they had already asked for in the previous referendum the government engaged in what many critics have called “delay tactics,” commissioning more reports and expert committees on the subject. This continued until 2002 when then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, held another referendum asking what was essentially the same question as that of the failed referendum of 1992 – should we remove the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion. A decade later the Irish public issued the same answer, no. Once again they voted to support the X Case decision. Regrettably despite this, the second vote on the issue, legislation was still not forthcoming. Having yet again failed to address the issue of abortion the Irish Government ensured that women in need of what are in many cases life saving operations would not have access to them here in Ireland – Baffling considering the Supreme Courts ruling concerning the X case and indeed the two referendums in which the Irish public voted in favour of termination if and when the mothers life is in danger.

Dr Mark Murphy who has carried out and published extensive research into the States abortion crisis has found countless cases in which mothers threatened by a real and substantial risk to their lives were ultimately forced to travel abroad for a termination of their pregnancy. Dr Murphy found that 9% of GPs had managed a patient with a life threatening medical condition (including but not limited to cancer patients who required abortions in order to avail of chemotherapy, women with severe cardiovascular disease and those at severe psychiatric risk such as rape victims) however he recorded only one instance of an Irish doctor performing a termination in an Irish hospital – in the case of severe preeclampsia.

Savita Halappanavar

While I do not intend to belittle the pain and trauma suffered by these women who had to fight so hard simply to access the medical care that would allow them a chance at life perhaps the most shocking and heartbreaking case of all is that of Savita Halappanavar a woman who critics of Ireland’s antiquated and draconian abortion regime have dubbed a “martyr to the political cowardice” of our government. Savita, you see, did not have the opportunity to take her case to the courts.

If the X case gripped the nation twenty years ago then it is the tragic tale of Savita Halappanavar that is all but consuming the people of Ireland today. Two weeks ago Mrs Halappanavar who was 17 weeks pregnant and suffering intense back pain was admitted to Galway University Hospital where it was soon discovered that she was in fact miscarrying. As time went on it became clear that the child she was carrying would not survive and both Savita and her husband were made aware of this. Now in terrible pain Savita requested – on numerous occasions – a medical termination as did her husband Praveen only to be told that nothing could be done for her as a fetal heartbeat could still be detected. Having further questioned the hospitals decision the couple were then informed that an abortion could not be carried out as Ireland was a “catholic country”

Eventually, following three more days of agony in which the couple repeatedly begged for a termination doctors finally agreed to remove the remains of the fetus. Sadly, it was just days before Mrs Halappanavar showed signs of severe septicemia (this occurs when bacteria enters the bloodstream) which later proved to be fatal and at 1.10 a.m. on October 28 the 31 year old was pronounced dead.

It is understood that had the fetus been removed earlier the life of this woman, a beloved wife and daughter, could have been saved. Multiple investigations into Savita’s tragic and seemingly needless death are currently being carried out. This, however, will do little to ease the troubles of Mr Halappanavar a man who lost both his unborn child and wife within a matter of days.

Medical Confusion

As difficult as this may be for some to hear the Irish government’s failure to create definitive legislate concerning the issue of abortion is not only unfair to the women of the country but all those in the medical profession. Doctors want to provide safe and effective care for patients but legislation is required in order for them to provide that care. In other words they need clear guidelines for managing difficult situations such as that of Mrs Halappanavar’s. Addressing the nations current stance on abortion Dr Murphy said “To delineate and categorise those medical conditions on each side of that nebulous line between ill health and life threatening illness is difficult.” Personally I would be of the opinion that it is just too difficult. When it comes to matters of life and death I think we can all agree that the last thing we need is “grey areas”

Of course this is where our politicians and legislators are supposed to step in and provide legal clarity but even now despite rulings from the Supreme Court, referendum results, the European Court of Human Rights ruling that the Irish State is continuing to breach the human rights of every woman in the country due to their failure to implement a legislative or regulatory framework outlining their abortion rights, and countless medical professionals leaving them in no doubt as to what is required those in power have failed to take action and ultimately failed to protect the women of Ireland and their families.

Enough

Just what is it that our leaders are waiting for? Another fourteen year old rape victim to test her rights within the courts? A desperately ill cancer patient to beg for a shot at life or perhaps another unnecessary death such as that of Savita Halappanavar? The people have spoken and they have said, enough. We have had enough of the antiquated and draconian notion that a living breathing woman’s right to life is valued even below that of an unviable fetus, enough of exporting dying women to England in order to undergo the lifesaving abortions they should have access to within their own country, enough of women like Savita dying needlessly and others in similar situations enduring days of agony simply because this is a “catholic country.” Yes, we the people of Ireland have had enough.

A debate is scheduled to take place in The Dail today – Wednesday 28th of November – let’s hope a real effort is made to eliminate medical confusion and find a solution to the abortion crisis in our country. Maybe then the almost 21 year wait will somehow seem worth it.

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