Rape victim ‘didn’t have a choice’

Recent legislation was supposed to address cases such as the current one of a pregnant and suicidal rape victim. So why was she exposed to further suffering?

Photograph: Thinkstock

Photograph: Thinkstock

Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 01:00

The woman at the centre of a controversial case involving rape, suicidality and a termination of pregnancy has had a traumatic first five months in Ireland.

When she came to this country, she said, she thought she could “forget suffering”. Within days of arriving here, at the end of March, she had a medical examination. At this appointment, she said, a nurse employed by the HSE told her that her constant nausea was “probably because of the pregnancy”. The woman reacted with horror. “I told them this was very difficult to bear . . . I felt it would be a reminder of what happened in my country.” At some stage in the two months before she arrived, she said, she had been raped by a man, or men, who also played a part in murdering people close to her.

She told her story to The Irish Times, in a coffee shop, on Monday morning. She appeared thin and very fragile, and she looked about four years younger than she is. She has no English and spoke in her own language about what has happened to her over the past four months.

At several points she had to be asked to repeat herself, as she is so softly spoken. But despite getting upset several times, and being offered the opportunity to stop, she told her story in full. She had asked, through a friend, to speak with a journalist.

She said she was referred to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), which confirmed her pregnancy and told her she was eight weeks and four days pregnant. This was within the time frame to have an abortion, if she had been able to access one. Although she was extremely distressed about the pregnancy, she does not seem to have been suicidal at this point.

Limited rights

As she had no right to an abortion in the State, she would have to travel to obtain one. But her right to leave the State was limited. She would have to get visas from both the Republic and the UK. She would have to fill in application forms and gather a letter from the IFPA, an appointment letter from an abortion clinic, and passport photographs, as well as more than €150 for the visas. The process could take months.

As the weeks progressed she grew more anxious. By about 15 or 16 weeks, at a counselling session towards the end of May, she expressed suicidal thoughts so seriously that an IFPA counsellor contacted the HSE, to express serious concern for her welfare. She said that later that day she tried to take her life but was interrupted.

She was now eligible for assessment by a panel of three experts for a possible abortion to save her life under the provisions of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act. But she did not return to the IFPA, and the association reasonably believed she had come into the care of HSE psychiatric services. The next contact the IFPA had with her case was when the counsellor got a call from her hospital psychiatrist, eight weeks later.

In the intervening period, it appears, she was receiving no support. Fearful that her only family member in the State would find out that she was pregnant, she moved from her accommodation sometime in June. She appears to have been overwhelmed with despair at this stage.

In early July, through a family member in her home country, she contacted a man from her country who got information about her rights and told her to go to a GP. She was now 24 weeks pregnant.

She did as advised and was referred the same day to the hospital psychiatrist, who kept her in overnight. The following day she was seen by a gynaecologist. A scan was done. She said she was not told for a number of days of the results: that she was more than 24 weeks pregnant and, she was told, too far progressed for an abortion.

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