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Inquiry to be held into Irish refugee abortion case

22 August 2014


On the march: Thousands turn out for the National Vigil for Life organised by Pro Life Movement, in Merrion Square, Dublin, in May 

On the march: Thousands turn out for the National Vigil for Life organised by Pro Life Movement, in Merrion Square, Dublin, in May 

A YOUNG refugee, who was raped during a conflict in her native land, was denied an abortion in Ireland despite the agreement by a panel of experts that she was suicidal.

The woman, described as "extremely vulnerable and fragile", discovered that she was pregnant during a health examination some weeks after arriving in the Republic seeking asylum. Her identity and nationality cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, but it is believed that she is in her late teens.

She could have been eligible for the procedure, in the first publicly known test of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which came into force in January, after a referendum in 2013. Ireland's Heath Service Executive (HSE) failed to inform her of her rights under the new law, however. When, having been moved from one refugee centre to another location, she finally saw a GP, she was referred for assessment under the terms of the legislation, but it was too late into the pregnancy.

Suicidal ideation is provided for under the country's strict abortion laws, and she was seen by an expert panel, including a consultant obstetrician and two psychiatrists,at the end of July. Although agreeing about her suicidal tendencies, the obstetrician confirmed that it was too late to abort the foetus, as the mother was 25 weeks pregnant.

She was informed that the only way forward, owing to the likely viability of the foetus, was to undergo a Caesarean section. She then went on a hunger and thirst strike, stating through an interpreter that she no longer wanted to live.

She was treated with steroids to assist the baby's lung functions, and the HSE obtained a court order allowing her to be hydrated.

When the HSE returned to court with a care plan, her legal team indicated that she had by then agreed to undergo the Caesarean section. Her child, whom she refuses to see, is in an incubator, and will probably enter state care. The mother, who is reportedly in a very distressed condition, is being treated in an HSE medical care unit.

The Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, who has pledged that all abortion cases referred under the new Act will be closely monitored, said that the existing legislation was all that could possibly have been done constitutionally.

The Health Minister, Dr Leo Varadkar, said that there would be an inquiry into the circumstances of the case, and that he would welcome it. He intimated that some of the commentary emerging from the case might not be correct.

"I would encourage people to await the outcome of the HSE report before jumping to conclusions. . . I would again ask people to remember that we are talking about a woman and a child who need care and compassion," he said.

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