Abnormalities are not covered in amendment


The main proponents of a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum have declined to respond to a woman who is seeking an abortion in Britain because her unborn child would not survive outside the womb.

Her situation was not "comprehended" by the forthcoming proposed amendment to the Constitution, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General and the Taoiseach said.

In a letter to The Irish Times, published yesterday, Ms Deirdre de Barra said she had just been told the 16-week-old foetus she was carrying "had a severe chromosomal abnormality, incompatible with life, which would result in death soon after birth".

The trauma of this news was "vastly exacerbated by the thought of being forced to carry to full term a foetus which would never know extra-uterine life".

Ms de Barra is self-employed and has two sons, aged 10 and 12, "who would welcome a baby brother or sister but who also need and deserve my full attention," she wrote.

"They will never see that baby - but why should they also suffer the excessive trauma visited on their mother by Irish legislation?"

She plans to seek an abortion in Britain. She has private health insurance, "yet in order to bring about a dignified and healthy conclusion and safeguard my mental well-being my partner and I are forced to secretly seek contact numbers, book flights and accommodation, take trains and taxis to a strange hospital in a foreign city.

"If there is a constitutional requirement to hold a referendum, I appeal, on behalf of the hundreds of women who undergo this untenable trauma every year, for recognition of severe abnormalities as a case for humane intervention."

Describing them as "men I do not know and who do not know me" she said she was angry that "people like Des Hanafin and William Binchy . . . have decided that my body is their demesne" and she called for a response from "the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Attorney General, Cardinal Connell, to this specific aspect of the issue of the unborn".

While Mr Hanafin could not be contacted yesterday, Mr Binchy said he would respond in a letter to the editor. A spokesman for the Tánaiste, Ms Harney, said she "wouldn't wish to comment on an individual case".

A spokeswoman for the Taoiseach's and the Attorney General's offices said they would not comment "on a specific case".

When it was put to her that the letter-writer had raised the issue on behalf of the hundreds of women who faced such a crisis pregnancy with severe foetal abnormalities every year, she said: "That general issue is not comprehended by this proposal [the proposed amendment]".

The only response forthcoming was from the Department of Health. Although not addressed in Ms de Barra's letter, it said the Government recognised "the very sensitive and difficult nature of a pregnancy involving a serious foetal abnormality".

It said the issue of foetal abnormalities had been discussed by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution and during the drafting of the Green Paper on Abortion. "It is clear that there would be great difficulty in deciding where the line should be drawn if abortion were to be allowed on grounds of foetal abnormality.

"This is because it is not possible neatly to define conditions incompatible with life, and there is a wide spectrum of congenital malformations which cause greatly differing degrees of incapacitation or disability".

For these reasons, its statement concluded, the Government had decided it would not be feasible to provide a law, in the current proposed amendment, where abortion would be permitted in cases of severe foetal abnormality but confine that to cases where the child would not survive after birth.