I had to beg doctors for an abortion even though my life was hanging in the balance
A mother has revealed how she had to beg for an abortion in a Northern Ireland hospital — despite being warned by staff that her life was in danger.
Janice Fitzpatrick Simmons (58) believes she is only alive today because her husband insisted that doctors at the Royal Victoria Hospital carry out the termination when her pregnancy reached a dangerous stage.
The circumstances bear strong similarities with the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar in Galway. The 31-year-old Indian woman was 17 weeks pregnant when she died of blood poisoning after suffering a miscarriage in Galway on October 28. Her husband has insisted she would still be alive if she had been permitted an abortion.
Janice’s case happened in 1990 when the RVH medical team acted just in time to induce labour to save her life. They had earlier told her that the child could not survive and that her own life was in danger.
“I was in the same position as poor Savita,” she said. “I was rushed to hospital after my waters broke at home.
“My pregnancy was 17 to 19 weeks advanced. In those days, there was no real chance of the foetus surviving outside the womb.”
Janice had already suffered one difficult birth and was desperate to have another child with her husband Jimmy when the crisis broke. When they realised the pregnancy was not viable and a nurse told them it was endangering her life, the couple begged medical staff to end the pregnancy.
She said: “Although the doctor said she couldn’t legally authorise an abortion while the baby was alive the medical staff told me that the child couldn’t live without the waters in the womb and would not survive if it was born,” she stated.
“I was wheeled up to a private room at the Royal, the drips were put up and then a nurse came to us and said ‘look her life is in jeopardy, you have got to make an argument’,” she recalls.
“We had to get the senior registrar and argue and then call for the consultant and argue again. We said we couldn’t afford to put my life at risk with another child already sick at home.”
At one stage the couple showed this child, two-year-old Ben, to the doctors. He had been born with part of his throat missing, a bowel block, a pelvic kidney and other complications.
“Ben was still very ill. Jimmy was a very forceful person and he put the situation over quite firmly. Ben needed caring parents and he was an older father.
“At the same time there were signs that I was becoming unwell. My temperature was rising, I was fevered and I wasn’t quite as clear and coherent as I might have been.”
When the medical staff agreed to induce labour they warned her there was no time to lose.
“I was drugged and bleeding; the next thing I remember was waking up in the theatre with Jimmy beside me.”
Janice was unable to have any other children but she cared for her son Ben through adolescence; he has now completed a Master’s degree and is, like her, a poet.
She had high praise for staff at the Royal who she believes did their best.
Two years earlier they ensured Ben’s survival when he was born prematurely, weighing just four pounds.
“I wanted Ben so badly I would have given my life for him,” she said.
She added: “I am both pro- life and pro-choice. I could never in my life have had an abortion except in the most extreme circumstances.
“Even in the state I was in it was a very difficult issue because I wanted that baby very badly.
“Yet I still would argue the rights of any woman to make her own decision.
“The moral weight of the decision falls back on the woman. She has to live with it afterwards.”
She went on: “If they had not ended the pregnancy at that point, foetal heartbeat or not, I would not have been around to talk about that, all medical advice made that clear.
“I suffered complications afterwards. I lost my gallbladder and I had a very early menopause but I still have Ben.
“He has turned into a strapping man.”