Citizens’ Assembly hears from women affected by Eighth Amendment
‘They made me feel my life didn’t matter, that my life was the same as my unviable baby’
Doctors for Choice’s Prof Veronica O’Keane, Dr John Monaghan of Doctors for Life, and Dr Orla Halpenny, Doctors for Life Ireland, at the Citizens’ Assembly. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The Citizens’ Assembly, which is deliberating on the issue of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, heard personal and often harrowing testimony at the weekend from woman affected by the State’s current abortion regime.
Pre-recorded interviews with six women were broadcast to the members of the assembly. None of the women were identified, but one has since come forward to reveal her identity.
Amy Walsh lost a daughter Rose to a fatal foetal abnormality and had been campaigning with the Terminations for Medical Reasons group.
Ms Walsh, a mother of two, became pregnant in late 2014. Her baby was diagnosed with a complete extra set of chromosomes, a condition known as triploidy. The doctor informed her that the baby was not likely to live past 16 to 17 weeks in the womb, but she did not die.
She said she was forced to carry the baby despite the fact that it was not likely to live.
“They [the doctors] told me that as long as there was a heartbeat, they couldn’t induce me. They made me feel like my life didn’t matter, that my life was the same as my unviable baby.
“I felt that going ahead with the pregnancy was putting my life at risk and it wasn’t going to change the outcome.”
She said her health started to deteriorate, and she decided late in the pregnancy to go to Liverpool. She expressed anger at having to do this. “Not all pregnancies will have a happy ending. Women will have to end their pregnancies.”
Her baby had been diagnosed in the womb with anencephaly, a condition incompatible with life. She was told that the child might be born alive, but would certainly die a short time afterwards. She was told by a doctor that she could end her son’s life by way of an abortion which involved an injection through the heart. She told the assembly that she and her husband had been grateful that she allowed him to be born.
“I get so upset when I hear mothers like myself being ‘forced’ to carry our babies to term, and that babies like this are the reasons we need abortion in Ireland. ”
Another anti-abortion perspective was given by a woman who had a baby at the age of 19 in 1970. She said the option of abortion was not available to her then, but, if it had been, she would have availed of it given the stress she was under as a single mother at that time.
However, she does not regret keeping her child and has two grandchildren. “I would hate to think where my life would have gone if I had had an abortion.”
Another who was married with two children said she could not mentally or financially bear the strain of another child. She borrowed money from a loan shark to go to Liverpool for an abortion.
“They ship you across the Irish Sea and let others deal with your mistake. Even though you know you are doing the right thing, you are still ashamed. I don’t think that is right.”
The sixth woman who gave testimony said she got pregnant at the age of 20 in 1999, and her life took a different trajectory as she had to drop out of college.
She told the assembly she was glad she kept her son, but felt angry that the choice of an abortion was not available to her at the time. “Living with the consequence of it [the pregnancy] was forced upon me. All sense of dignity went out the window.”