Woman ‘felt like a criminal’ leaving Ireland for termination

Siobhán Whelan endured ‘truly demeaning’ experience after learning baby would die

Siobhán Whelan was in the 20th week of her second pregnancy in January 2010 when an ultrasound scan at Wexford General Hospital revealed her baby had a rare congenital brain malformation.

She was told the baby would probably die in utero or, if carried to term, during labour or shortly after.

The obstetrician told her that in another jurisdiction she would be offered a termination but “obviously not in this country due to Irish law”. She was told she would continue with the pregnancy until nature took its course.

Subsequent tests a week later in the National Maternity Hospital showed the baby also suffered from Trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome), which she was told was "incompatible with life".


Ms Whelan felt she could not continue with the pregnancy only to see her baby suffer and die, and she endured terrible mental suffering, according to a UN committee’s report of the case.

She contacted Cura, Positive Options and other agencies to seek information on travelling to the UK. However, most were able to help women below 13-weeks gestation only, and so she felt “lost and totally on her own”.

She made an appointment with Liverpool Women’s Hospital, which asked her to fax over her records; this posed an additional hurdle as she did not have a fax machine.

When she returned to Wexford for the records, the report says, some staff were insensitive to her, with no regard for the devastating news she had received only a few days earlier. She had to share her records with an acquaintance, who helped her to send them by fax.

No grieving period

Ms Whelan was so consumed with arranging for the journey to England that she did not have time to process her grief, the report says. She and her husband had to leave their 20-month-old son with relatives for several days, the first time they had left him overnight. They also had to arrange for leave from work, and farm relief for her husband.

She left Ireland on January 17th, 2010, feeling like “a criminal leaving her country”.

In Liverpool, scans confirmed the fatal diagnosis for the baby. The termination was carried out using an injection of intracardiac potassium chloride to stop the foetal heartbeat. On January 20th, she gave birth to her stillborn son at 21 weeks and five days.

She had to leave the baby’s remains in Liverpool. These were cremated there three weeks later, and sent to her by courier. The overall cost of travel, the termination and the cremation was €2,900.

It was only after coming home that she had time to grieve. “Her grief was mixed with feelings of anger, as the experience of being forced to leave her country in her situation had been truly demeaning.”

She was not entitled to any maternity leave, and returned to work after one week as she feared questions from colleagues and the possibility of losing her job.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.