Working group pushes for changes to abortion legislation

Fatal foetal abnormalities still leading to women having to seek terminations in UK

Despite the legalisation of abortion in December 2018 and despite being told her baby would die soon after birth, Alison Lynch had to travel to Liverpool in 2019 to have her first pregnancy terminated.

At 25 weeks’ pregnant, by IVF, she was told “his long bones were too short, his kidneys had issues and most significant were his brain abnormalities”.

Doctors told her “he was going to die but they didn’t know when”. If he did survive he would have daily seizures, need multiple operations and have “severe breathing difficulties because his little ribs weren’t allowing his lungs to develop. I could not bring a child into this world to suffer like that.”

The legislation provided for cases of fatal foetal abnormality (FFA) but with neither a diagnosis nor certainty her son would die with 28 days’ of birth her pregnancy fell outside the parameters of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act.

To qualify for an abortion in Ireland in such cases, two doctors must agree the baby will die within the specified timeframe.

Ms Lynch, speaking at an event on Tuesday hosted by the National Women’s Council, said “too many” like her were still being forced to travel for abortion services.

She travelled from her home in south county Wicklow and delivered Theo at 30 weeks'.

‘One of the hardest things’

“I got to spend 24 hours with him. And then I had to leave him. I had to put him in his cot and walk out of that hospital without him. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. On the plane back I realised I was not even in the same country as my new-born son.”

Two weeks later, following a post-mortem held at her request, she and a friend returned to Liverpool for Theo’s cremation. The abortion and post-mortem cost her over €3,000.

Last year, on her second pregnancy, the same abnormalities presented. This time, however, she got a diagnosis of a genetic condition fatal to boys. Though she could have accessed an abortion she chose to continue the pregnancy and last December gave birth to Jasper.

“He lived for just under an hour. This time I left the hospital with my baby. I carried him out in his Moses basket. He wasn’t alive, but he was coming with me.”

With the aid of a cuddle-cot which keeps deceased infants cool she could spend three days with her baby, and friends and family could meet him. “And this time, as I carried his little white coffin into a crematorium I was surrounded by family and friends to hold my hand and help me through it.”

In 2020, despite strict Covid travel restrictions, 194 women and girls who had an abortion in Britain gave Irish addresses. While prior to the 2018 Act, FFA cases accounted for three per cent of Irish abortions in Britain, in 2020 they accounted for 32 per cent.

Research presented at the event by the Abortion Working Group - an umbrella of 20 healthcare and civil organisations, led by the NWCI - has found 80 per of people agree no woman should still have to travel for abortion services; 79 per cent that doctors should be trusted to provide abortion care, and, 85 per cent that anyone accessing or providing abortion services should be protected from harassment and intimidation.

Polling was conducted this month by Opinions Market Research, based on interviews with 863 nationally representative adults.

The 2018 Act is currently being reviewed and the working group is calling for key changes, including the removal of the mandatory three-day waiting period between seeking a medical abortion before 12 weeks’ and getting one; removal of the 12-week time limit for abortion on request, and, removal of the stipulation that two doctors certify a baby will die within 28 days of birth in FFA cases.