Parents call for no term limit on abortion in fatal foetal cases

Dáil committee hears stories from women who travelled overseas for terminations

Noeline Blackwell and Angela McCarthy, chief executive and head of clinical services at Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, arriving at Oireachtas Committee hearing. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Noeline Blackwell and Angela McCarthy, chief executive and head of clinical services at Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, arriving at Oireachtas Committee hearing. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Parents who received a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality have said the Eighth Amendment brutalises and abuses women in their circumstances.

Gerry Edwards and Claire Cullen-Delsol, spokespeople for Terminations for Medical Reasons, outlined their personal circumstances to the Oireachtas committee examining the Eighth Amendment at a meeting of the committee on Wednesday night.

The amendment guarantees to protect as far as practicable the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.

Ms Cullen-Delsol, a mother-of-two from Co Waterford, received a diagnosis of fatal foetal abnormality at 20 weeks but was unable to terminate her pregnancy for practical reasons.

She advised members she spent the final weeks of her pregnancy anticipating when her baby was going to die and knowing she would have to give birth to a dead baby.

As a result Ms Cullen-Delsol said she dropped out of society, declined to participate in the school run, called in sick to work and never returned.

She told the committee she was denied an abortion, a medical procedure that is readily available in other countries.

Mr Edwards and his wife, Gaye, were forced to travel to England to undergo an induced delivery for their son at 22 weeks’ gestation. Their son Joshua had a fatal foetal abnormality.

He said: “We were treated with the utmost dignity abroad. We felt like we were treated like outcasts here. We did not get to attend our son’s cremation. We just got the courier package at the door.”

Mr Edwards and his wife were haunted by the thought their son was cremated alone and they could not be present.

Asked what they believed should happen, Mr Edwards stressed his belief that no gestational limit should be enforced in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. It would be completely inappropriate, he said.

If such a limit is put in place, it could force parents to make decisions more hastily than they should, he added, insisting time is necessary for individuals to think about what they should do.

Medical refugees

Ms Cullen-Delsol and Mr Edwards described how they felt abandoned and similar to medical refugees in their own country.

Mr Edwards said parents who chose to travel for terminations are then forced to decide how to bring the remains of their baby home. “If we are coming home by ferry but don’t have a car, we have to carry the coffin on public transport – buses or trains – and carry our baby on to the ferry as a foot passenger.

“If we are flying home, we may be able to bring our baby’s remains on the plane. We have to check in advance with the airlines and deal with their special assistance staff. We may need to place the coffin in a holdall or suitcase and check it in as luggage.

“This will mean our baby will be put in the hold by baggage handlers and we will have to collect them from a luggage carousel in Dublin, Cork, Shannon, Galway or Knock. Alternatively, we could take the coffin on to the plane as hand luggage.”

Meanwhile, the Oireachtas committee agreed it would not hold any further votes until November 22nd.

The committee had received a request from Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger to hold a vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment. However, this was not accepted.

McGrath dispute

Independent TD Mattie McGrath chose to leave the Oireachtas committee following a dispute in which he accused committee chairwoman Catherine Noone of bias.

Sinn Féin TD Jonathan O’Brien said he had been “mesmerised “ following a lengthy contribution from Mr McGrath in which he accused the committee of unfairness.

During his contribution, Mr McGrath argued with Sinn Féin members and accused them of refusing to say where Jean McConville, one of The Disappeared, was buried.

Mr McGrath became agitated at the word “mesmerised” and demanded that Mr O’Brien withdraw the remark, before leaving.