SECOND OPINION: At last women who give birth in Irish hospitals may have at least one of their human rights respected and vindicated. The Report of the Expert group on the Judgment in A, B and C v Ireland says that legislation to regulate access to lawful termination of pregnancy in Ireland is “constitutionally, legally and procedurally sound”.
The State must “provide effective and accessible procedures to establish a woman’s right to an abortion as well as access to such treatment”.
Maternal mortality rates are often quoted by anti-abortion campaigners to show that new legislation is not needed because Ireland’s maternity services are among the best in the world. These rates are meaningless when used to support an anti-abortion stance.
A 2012 analysis of maternal mortality in European perinatal health surveillance systems, including Ireland, shows that current data are insufficient for comparison between countries, because the tiny numbers and statistical variability from year to year are difficult to interpret.
Read full article by JACKY JONES here
The expert group report on abortion arose from a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in 2005 by three women, alleging that restrictions on abortion in Ireland were in breach of their human rights.
One of the women was in acute distress. She lived in poverty and had four children already, all of whom were in care. She was attempting to reunite her family when she became pregnant accidentally. She felt she could not possibly cope with a fifth child, nor with the pregnancy. She could not get an abortion in Ireland, where, irrespective of her circumstances, she risked penal servitude for life. She went to Britain, where she had an abortion.
Another of the three women had been in treatment for cancer for three years and she too became pregnant unintentionally. Medical tests were contraindicated during the early stage of her pregnancy. She was unable to get clear medical advice and feared that her pregnancy would lead to a recurrence of her cancer. She, too, felt obliged to go to Britain for an abortion. The third case was less clear-cut.
The third and first cases were dismissed on technical grounds but on the case concerning the woman with cancer, it was found that the absence of clear guidelines in Ireland for when abortion was permissible was a breach of human rights. It was this ruling which led to the expert group report published yesterday.
Full article by Vincent Browne here
The Master of the National Maternity Hospital is a woman under pressure. When I arrive at the agreed time for an interview, I am told at the front desk of the antiquated building on Holles Street that there are others waiting ahead of me. The “others” sitting in the small entrance hall waiting for Dr Rhona Mahony include a significant one – the Minister for State at the Department of Health, Alex White.
When Dr Mahony arrives about 10 minutes later to greet White, an apologetic secretary says that she is not sure how long I’ll have to wait as the master also has to go down to theatre.
Being the head obstetrician at a hospital with 700 staff and where about 27 babies are born each day is an onerous responsibility. She wears the stress lightly, although with the country convulsed over the death of Savita Halappanavar and the issues arising from that, everybody working at the coalface of the maternity services must be particularly deeply affected.
Full article by Sheila Wayman here
The State has paid substantial compensation to a woman who was forced to travel to Britain for an abortion despite being terminally ill with cancer.
The case was settled in just three months, her solicitor, Michael Boylan, said yesterday.
Michelle Harte, Ardamine, Co Wexford, sued for violation of her human rights last year after a hospital ethics forum had decided against authorising an abortion on the basis that her life was not under “immediate threat”.
“This was resolved very, very quickly, which is unusual in my dealings with the State,” Mr Boylan said. Ms Harte, a former nurse from London, has since died of her cancer.
In 2010, after she became unintentionally pregnant while suffering from a malignant melanoma, doctors at Cork University Hospital advised her to terminate her pregnancy because of the risk to her health.
Mr Boylan said her obstetrician was willing to perform a termination but was “hamstrung” by legal issues. The issue was referred to the hospital’s “ad hoc” ethics committee.
He said there was an absence of clear guidelines about what to do and an “appalling delay” ensued. After the committee refused the termination, there were further delays because Ms Harte did not have a passport.
“I couldn’t believe the decision [to refuse an abortion in Ireland] when it came,” Ms Harte, who was then 39, told The Irish Times in December 2010. “Apparently my life wasn’t at immediate risk. It just seemed absolutely ridiculous.”
Her condition worsened significantly during this time and she was not able to receive cancer treatment because she was pregnant. She eventually travelled to Britain for an abortion; she had to be helped on to the aircraft due to a deterioration in her condition.
Mr Boylan of Augustus Cullen Law then sued the State on her behalf for infringing her rights under the ABC case, in which the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland had breached the human rights of a woman with cancer who had to travel abroad to get an abortion.
In that case, the woman – “C” – had a rare form of cancer and feared it would relapse when she became unintentionally pregnant. However, the woman said she was unable to find a doctor willing to make a determination as to whether her life would be at risk if she continued to term.
Ms Harte’s lawyers served a statement of claim in May 2011 against the HSE, Ireland and the Attorney General. It was settled by July 2011. Mr Boylan declined to specify the amount but said it was substantial. Ms Harte died that November.
Mr Boylan said his client, a mother of one, was delighted not to have to go through the trauma of a court case and was pleased some compensation was available for her family.