A woman who recently emigrated to Ireland has provided a sad test case for the 2013 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, a piece of legislation passed after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar. legislation that was supposed to allow for abortion when the life of a pregnant woman was at risk (not health, so kidney failure or heart attack don’t apparently matter for Irish women).

It is reported that this woman found out she was pregnant in early April, the result of a rape, and was 8 weeks and 4 days, She sought help from the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA). She was told she would need to travel to the United Kingdom for a termination. This was not possible due to cost and potential visa concerns. Her inability to get a termination caused her to become suicidal. She was eventually admitted to the hospital many weeks later. When she now couldn’t get an abortion because of her advanced gestational age she went on a hunger strike. There was talk of force feeding her and so she eventually agreed to a c-section at 25 weeks to end the pregnancy when she was told an abortion was not allowed due to being past the point of viability.

In most cases abortions are not done after 24 weeks, so there were at least 15 1/2 weeks during which time some medical professional in Ireland could have helped this woman. The Irish Times is reporting that she was voicing suicidal ideation in late May and that the IFPA referred her at this time to the HSE (Ireland’s Health Services department), presumably to consider a termination for mental health reasons. If she was 8 weeks at the end of April she would have been 12 weeks at the end of May, plenty of time to arrange a termination. However, it wasn’t until July that someone medical apparently intervened. In mid-July a GP sent her to the hospital, however by the time the panel of doctors decided that while she was indeed suicidal she was apparently past viability (24 weeks) and so an abortion could not happen. This was around July 22nd.

Flowchart for geting an abortion under the Irish Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act
Flowchart for getting an abortion under the Irish Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act

To get an abortion under the Irish Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act a woman must apparently start with her GP. So, if she is new to the country and unfamiliar with the laws that might take a bit of doing. If she doesn’t speak english well that might further compound things. If she is scared or depressed to the point of having suicidal thoughts (or both) that might also affect her ability to wade through the quagmire of Irish medicolegal abortion mumbo jumbo. It sounds like the IFPA did their due diligence in referring her along, but why did things stall in May? A catastrophically bad system, pro-life agendas, not being able to advocate for herself or all three?

To be considered for a termination because of suicidal thoughts a pregnant woman’s GP must refer her to an OB and two psychiatrists. But what if one of those four physicians isn’t willing to help? Who advocates for her then? Does she find a new GP? How long do these doctors have to decide? What if a few of them (because a few people should clearly be involved in personal health decisions) drags their feet and adds a week or two? What if one or both or her psychiatrists are pro-life (as apparently 1/3 are in Ireland) and refuse to believe her? What if the OB is pro-life? There are so many potential delays and dead ends waiting to send a disadvantaged woman back to the start it’s like a twisted board game called “forced birth.” Of course only disadvantaged women have to play because those with money and no immigration concerns can travel to the UK.

At some point we will have an accurate timeline. It sounds like the IFPA must have notified someone, otherwise how would the HSE have known about her case at the end of May? It also sounds like the GP in July sounded the alarm accurately. Why it took until mid July for this woman to actually get the “panel system” triggered when the HSE was notified in May needs to be thoroughly investigated. And while the Irish Government is at it they should enquire about the ethics of force feeding and ask why if this woman was indeed past viability that a c-section was her only option? An induction of labor could have been considered. It would have taken longer(it may have been discussed), but it would have left her without a scar. A visible one, anyway.

Pathway for a termination for suicide risk in Ireland under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act
Pathway for a termination for suicide risk in Ireland under the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act


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  1. I’ve read several reports about this; the time line is a bit uncertain. It does seem that the woman (eventually) saw a panel of two psychiatrists and an obstetrician. (I think it was a panel, the details are confusing.) Both psychiatrists agreed that she was suicidal. The (male) obstetrician was of the opinion that the pregnancy was healthy and viable, and that she should not have an abortion.

    Neither rape, incest or a non-viable foetus are grounds for abortion in the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland isn’t any better; and the NHS will not pay for patients from NI who present for abortion in Great Britain.

  2. This is the best timeline available at the moment.

    If you were going to make up a case to illustrate why the law is hopelessly unworkable, this is the case you’d make up. Except nobody would believe it would ever happen.

  3. Thank you for this posting, Dr. Gunter. What a huge FAIL this is, for the young woman, for the baby born at 25 weeks, and for the test of the law. And what about this baby, born to a suicidal, massively depressed, hunger-striking woman, what are its chances for a fulfilling, healthy life? What does this child face now? The articles never mention what physical condition the baby is in now. I wonder why. What are the physical and mental consequences of being born at just 6 months, 1 week? I imagine they can be quite severe. It means more forced suffering, for sure. Oh, and Dr. Gunter, please consider putting the term “pro-life” in quotation marks, as I have just done, because that term is nothing but a smokescreen. It makes a mockery of the word “life.” I prefer to name this movement and these people in it “forced birthers,” because truthfully that’s what they are when it comes right down to it. Thank you.

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