System 'ignores and stigmatises' women who travel for abortion


FOUR WOMEN who say they had to travel abroad for abortions after developing pregnancies with fatal foetal abnormalities have described how they felt “ignored and stigmatised” by health services in Ireland.

The women have decided to highlight their stories in order to bring attention to what they say are experiences shared by many women, but which rarely receive public attention.

“We fall into a category that our healthcare system chooses to ignore and worse, to stigmatise,” said Ruth Bowie, a healthcare professional, who went abroad for an abortion after her baby was diagnosed with a fatal foetal disorder.

“The system should wrap its arms around you, instead it turns its back on you,” Ms Bowie said. “It’s hard to rationalise this in a country where you can turn off someone’s life support.”

The group plans to meet with TDs in Leinster House tomorrow as the Dáil debates a Private Members’ Bill on implementing the X-case ruling.

They also hope to meet with the 14-member expert group that is studying options on how to implement a European Court of Human Rights ruling.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland except in cases where there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother. This follows the 2002 X-case ruling by the Supreme Court. There are no figures available from authorities on the number of lawful terminations that take place in Ireland.

Where there is no risk to the life of a mother – as in the case of the four women – people must travel abroad for an abortion. However, the four women say the system offers a very inconsistent response to women in search of support.

Other members of the group of women who have decided to highlight their experiences include:

Arlette Lyons, who had a termination six weeks ago after her baby was diagnosed with severe complications

Jenny McDonald, who had an abortion last January following a diagnosis of triploidy, a fatal foetal condition

Amanda Mellet, who was 21 weeks pregnant when her baby was diagnosed with fatal foetal abnormalities.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found in 2010 that the State had violated the rights of a woman who had cancer who said she was forced to travel abroad to get an abortion. Pro-choice groups say the Government has little option except to introduce legislation or clear guidelines to provide for this type of lawful abortion. Anti-abortion groups say it is under no such obligation and have called for a fresh referendum on the issue.

Ms Bowie’s baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, a neural-tube defect which meant the baby would not survive. She says she was given two options: continue with the pregnancy until her baby died or travel abroad.

Ms Bowie said: “I’ve worked in healthcare for long enough to realise that bad things happen to people every day and that the world is simply an unfair place – but to have to travel like this? That’s cruel.”