Attempt to remove girl rape victim from EHB care fails

 

Legal proceedings which had looked likely to remove the 13-year-old pregnant rape victim from the care of the Eastern Health Board proved unsuccessful in the Children's Court yesterday. It is understood that a voluntary agreement drawn up between the EHB and the victim's parents unravelled overnight on Tuesday. It would have had the effect of ending the temporary care order and taking the child out of the health board's protection. As long as she stays under the care of the health board, an abortion is not possible.

The girl's father, who has changed his mind about the best way to protect his daughter's welfare, is believed to have told the court yesterday morning he did not want her to have an abortion.

His change of mind coincided with the appearance at the court of prominent anti-abortion campaigners, including Mr Peter Scully of Family and Life, and Una Bean Mhic Mhathuna. The girl's parents arrived in court in the company of anti-abortion campaigners who stayed with them until the case was heard.

Mr Scully said later he had been contacted by the parents. Another anti-abortion group, Youth Defence, said it, too, had been in touch with the parents, who are members of the travelling community, and planned to set up an appeal fund to help the girl.

Some sources indicated that the in camera proceedings concluded amid considerable confusion surrounding the next course of action. The EHB received a two-day extension of the interim care order for the girl. The case could be back in court again tomorrow.

With the increasing likelihood that the girl's right to travel to have an abortion will now be contested all the way through the courts, the outcome of yesterday's proceedings highlights, once again, the confused and complicated implications of the legal situation on abortion.

The EHB has been advised that, while the girl is in its care, it cannot allow her to travel to Britain for an abortion - if such a procedure is determined to be in her best interests.

The board has been informed by its legal advisers that, as a State agency, it is precluded from assisting in the procurement of an abortion. The pregnant rape victim, a minor who is in the interim care of the board, would need to be accompanied to Britain to have an abortion.

At the hearing, which lasted less than 10 minutes, Judge Mary Fahy extended the care order for two days after legal representatives of the girl, her parents and the EHB failed to agree on a course of action.

Yesterday's dramatic twist raises the possibility that the health board will have to go to the High Court in order to sort out the legal and constitutional difficulties raised by the case.

Attention will now focus on the predicament of the 13-year-old girl. If she wishes to seek an abortion, and her parents want her to continue the pregnancy, the case is likely to end up in the High Court. Lawyers will meet today to seek an agreed solution.

Mr Scully rose to prominence as a leader of Youth Defence at the time of the X case. His uncle, Father Anthony Scully, was also present at the Children's Court yesterday. Bean Mhic Mhathuna was a leading figure in the anti-divorce campaign during the referendum on the issue in 1995.

The girl in the case, who is 12 weeks pregnant, is staying with foster parents. The rape took place in late August. Gardai are searching for a 24-year-old man in connection with the case.

A spokesman for the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Desmond Connell, said priests working with the travelling community had also been in touch with the family.

The EHB declined to comment on the case, saying it was bound to observe confidentiality in childcare cases.

Meanwhile, the caravans in which the family and their 12 children live were moved overnight for the second time in 24 hours. After only a few hours in a halting site, they were moved back on to the side of the road.