Belfast Telegraph

Abortion debate: Her baby had no brain... but Northern Ireland's law forced her to carry it

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

It was to be her first baby but there was no happy ending for Sarah Ewart. At her 20-week ultrasound scan, the young mum and her husband were told the devastating news that their baby had no hope of survival at birth.

Her foetus had anencephaly, an extreme form of spina bifida, where its skull had failed to close over properly, leaving the brain undeveloped and exposed to amniotic fluid.

The young woman was informed by medical staff at the Ulster Hospital that it was illegal to offer her a termination as her pregnancy was not regarded as life-threatening.

Sarah, who has since had a termination in London, told her story to the Nolan Show on Radio Ulster yesterday.

While she has no complaints about the medical care she received during the crisis pregnancy, she decided to tell what she and her family have gone through in recent days to appeal to have the abortion law here changed.

The real tragedy behind Sarah's story is that she would have been offered a termination on the NHS if she lived in England, Scotland and Wales.

Before Health Minister Edwin Poots' proposed new guidelines on abortion were recently circulated throughout the health service, it's understood that a certain medical 'latitude' would have been shown for her plight and a termination offered.

The young woman, who just got married in June, gave her emotional account of the worst experience of her life during the radio interview.

She said: "I went for a gender scan last Thursday and it was picked up that they couldn't see the baby's head. So I was sent to Ulster Hospital to be told that my baby had anencephaly, it's the worst case of spina bifida.

"The baby had no brain, there was nothing from the eyes up. It would be born dead.

"I was told they don't offer terminations in Northern Ireland, that I would have to carry the baby until it passed away inside or I could deliver and then it would pass away.

"While the baby couldn't survive, it could not harm me and that's why the termination couldn't be offered."

Sarah later began to research the medical condition that her baby had and found a Facebook page where mothers who had undergone the same experiences shared their stories.

"The grieving process is just unreal for these women who had given birth to these babies. I just didn't want to go through what these women had gone through."

Sarah also painfully learnt that should she carry the baby until full-term, her labour would be "very, very traumatic", perhaps lasting several days, as it would not progress like a normal delivery.

The traumatic experience did not end there for Sarah.

She, her husband and mother went to the Family Planning Association last week to get advice, only to be met with a barrage of hostile barracking from protesters outside the Shaftesbury Square offices in Belfast.

"When I came outside it was horrendous. We had these protesters shouting in our faces, 'you're doing the wrong thing, you're ruining the child's life' and all.

"I'll never, ever forget it. It was everything you don't want to hear when they don't know your circumstance.

"If this child had Down's syndrome, I wouldn't dream of doing this. There is no skull or brain growing to make this baby live. It's got no chance."

Sarah said that she felt every woman was entitled to a termination here on medical grounds.

She was fortunate enough to have had a supportive family and the funds to go to London.

In a direct comment to Mr Poots, she said: "You need to change the law.

"I didn't agree with abortion before for people who either just didn't want a girl or boy. But this is not my choice, this is medical.

"This is a dead body that I'm carrying and being forced to carry because of the law in Northern Ireland."

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