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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.

Appalling delay 

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.