Graham Linehan 'embarrassed' by Irish abortion law

Father Ted writer speaks of wife Helen’s termination due to fatal foetal abnormality

Graham Linehan and Liam Neeson join forces to create a video urging Ireland to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the constitution. Video: Amnesty International Ireland


Father Ted writer Graham Linehan has supported Amnesty Northern Ireland’s campaign to liberalise the North’s abortion laws.

Mr Linehan travelled to Belfast on Monday to call for changes to the abortion legislation, citing how his wife Helen underwent a termination due to fatal foetal abnormality.

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Mr Linehan also referred to the situation in the Republic. “In Ireland it is illegal to have an abortion, even in cases like ours where the foetus has a fatal impairment; even in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Unless her life is in immediate danger, a woman faces up to 14 years in prison for having an abortion.

“I have always been very proud to be Irish but I am embarrassed by Ireland’s abortion laws. This is just something you can’t be proud of. It’s barbaric.”

Mr Linehan has also produced a short video called “Chains” for use in Amnesty’s campaign to decriminalise abortion in Ireland. The video is narrated by Irish actor Liam Neeson. Linehan also more generally called for the repeal of the 8th amendment in the Republic, which gives effect to the State’s ban on abortion.

“Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive and punitive in the world and that is why it was important to me to make this film,” said Mr Linehan at the launch of the video.

“These cruel and dangerous abortion laws have no place in a modern country,” he added.

Helen Linehan told the Guardian she was prompted to make the film by a sense of outrage at how she could have been criminalised for a difficult decision had she not been living in England at the time. She would have found it very hard to have been forced to carry a baby to term in the knowledge that it was going to die as soon as it was born.

Abortion is legal in Northern Ireland where there is a threat to the life of the woman or where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent.

The North’s Human Rights Commission is currently seeking to make abortion legal in Northern Ireland in instances of rape, incest and “serious malformation of the foetus”.

“There are many reasons why people might need an abortion. My wife, Helen, and I, had our own reasons, and although we had excellent care in the UK, it’s shocking to me that we would have had a very different experience in my home country,” said Mr Linehan who attended the Amnesty press conference with his wife Helen.

“Had we been in Ireland when we found out that the foetus Helen was carrying would not survive, she would have been forced to carry the baby to term. Getting the same procedure that she received in the UK would have led to her receiving a 14-year jail term,” he added.

Ms Linehan said her experience was “absolutely devastating”. She added, “It is unthinkable that, had we been living in Ireland, I would have been forced to carry the pregnancy to term and give birth to a baby that would be dead within minutes.”

Jennifer Ryan of Terminations for Medical Reasons Ireland spoke of her experience of travelling to England for a termination after a fatal foetal diagnosis and bringing the baby back to be buried. “It was sad that I had to go to travel to do that - what should be done here” she said

Grainne Teggart, campaign manager of Amnesty’s, “My Body My Rights – Ireland and Northern Ireland”, said that “women are suffering unnecessarily under Ireland’s repressive abortion laws”.

“Thousands of women are forced to leave Ireland every year to access healthcare services to which they are entitled. It’s time Irish political leaders stopped turning their backs on women and committed to a referendum to repeal the 8th amendment,” she

Tara Flynn, writer and performer, who recently spoke out about her own abortion in 2006, said current Irish legislation was “not preventing abortion, it is making abortion less safe”.

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty Ireland, said it was “profoundly wrong” and “obscene” for successive Irish Governments not to hold a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment.