HSE asks for report into facts surrounding latest case

Woman was refused an abortion and subsequently had her child delivered by Caesarean section

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she believed the constitutional ban on abortion should be revisited by a future government. Photograph: The Irish Times

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she believed the constitutional ban on abortion should be revisited by a future government. Photograph: The Irish Times

Tue, Aug 19, 2014, 06:54

The head of the Health Service Executive has requested an investigation to establish the facts surrounding the case of a woman who was refused an abortion and subsequently had her pregnancy ended with the delivery of a child by Caesarean section at about 25 weeks gestation.

The executive’s director general Tony O’Brien announced in a statement last night that he has requested that a report be completed for him by the end of September that establishes all of the facts surrounding the care given to the woman, who gave birth this month.

The pregnancy of the woman, who was adjudged by two psychiatrists to be at risk of suicide, was ended under the provisions of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, enacted by the Government last year.

The woman was a victim of rape but, because her pregnancy had advanced into its second trimester by the time the HSE said it was notified of it, it was ended by Caesarean section.

A spokesman for Minister for Health Leo Varadkar welcomed the HSE announcement, but said he was not commenting further at this stage.

The HSE said the report ordered by Mr O’Brien would allow him to establish the full facts surrounding the matter, the sequence of events, the care given to the woman, the operation of the 2013 Act and any learnings that can be gleaned from the case.

“It is hoped that the report will end any inaccurate commentary surrounding this matter currently.”

It said the report would not involve any review of the decision taken by the three clinicians who were empanelled to decide if an abortion was warranted under the 2013 Act.

“The report is expected to be completed by the end of September. Subject to privacy restrictions, the report will be published by the HSE.”

The response by the HSE comes after it emerged that the health authorities were seemingly only made aware of the crisis pregnancy when the woman was 21 or 22 weeks pregnant.

However, it is also understood that the young woman, a foreign national, had made the relevant authorities aware that she had been raped and sough an abortion when she was eight weeks pregnant.

When her request for an abortion was refused by the three-doctor panel, she went on a hunger and thirst strike, which prompted an ex parte application by the HSE for court approval to force-feed her if necessary.

Her representatives later consented to a care plan for her which provided for the Caesarean section.

One of the key issues that may be addressed in the report is why there was a gap of some 12 weeks or more between the woman’s initial request and the first notification to the health authorities.

As a number of prominent politicians, medical figures, and societal groups called for a new referendum on abortion, senior figures in the Government said it was unlikely to occur during the remainder of this Coalition’s term.

Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said she believed the constitutional ban on abortion should be revisited by a future government, but that the legislation introduced by the Coalition was “the best possible” under the circumstances.

Asked about the case, she said: “The legislation that was introduced was all that was possible under the Constitution.”

She said that, while the matter was being monitored, “I don’t think you can make decisions on the basis of one case – albeit a very difficult case.”

Earlier, the master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter- Smith, called for a new referendum on abortion.