Belfast Telegraph

Campaigners question whether there should be time limit for some abortions

Placing time limits on abortion for women who received a diagnosis of severe or fatal foetal anomaly is unworkable, campaigners for those affected have said.

In an emotional address to the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, Gerry Edwards, chairman of Termination for Medical Reasons Ireland, laid bare the trauma of travelling home from the UK on a ferry or plane with the remains of a still born child.

He asked politicians if any of them would be comfortable with a relative or neighbour going through the ordeal.

Mr Edwards said mothers and fathers who find themselves in these distressing circumstances feel abandoned and treated like "medical refugees".

And he said they can only make a decision on whether to seek an abortion abroad after getting the best information on the diagnosis from their doctors.

"It is important that we point out here that it is impossible to require families to get this information and process it, and to arrive at a decision within a 22-week gestation limit," he said.

"This limit is one area that we feel must be reconsidered by this committee.

"Nobody should be judged for coming to the point where hope ends."

Mr Edwards's son Joshua died from anencephaly, a condition that prevents the normal development of the brain and skull.

He said some families have to leave the baby behind in the UK for a post mortem.

Others are later able to repatriate the ashes of their child.

He said there is then the question of whether a priest will grant a funeral in Ireland.

"It makes it almost impossible for us to grieve normally and leads to more traumatic, complicated and disenfranchised grief than would be expected if we were properly supported throughout this entire process," he said.

Mr Edwards said other families find the ordeal of travelling to the UK for an abortion too arduous.

He said abortion services should be part of maternity care and available to all regardless of location or financial means.

Mr Edwards also said protests or harassment of patients seeking abortion services should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

The Oireachtas committee met on Wednesday to examine recommendations on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution ahead of a planned referendum in the middle of next year.

A leading psychiatrist told the committee that everyone's mental health is being damaged by Ireland's constitutional rules and restrictions on abortion.

Professor Veronica O'Keane, of Tallaght Mental Health Services and Trinity College Dublin told politicians that there is no register of women who have sought a termination for mental health reasons and been denied.

She said there is no information to say some of those women did not die later.

The psychiatrist told the committee that legislation which allows for a termination if there is a real and substantial risk to a woman's life, including the threat of suicide, is clumsy and difficult for women.

Prof O'Keane said the experience of women who travel to the UK for an abortion has been made real, both at the Citizens' Assembly and during the @TwoWomenTravel publicity campaign.

She said: "I would go further and say that the mental health of every person in Ireland is being damaged by the Eighth Amendment.

"We are all shamed by the current situation."

Prof O'Keane said changing abortion legislation in Ireland will not lead to an increase in the number of women who terminate a pregnancy.

And she praised the Citizens' Assembly and its decision to recommend no distinction between mental and physical health for access to abortion.

"It is an enormous relief," she said.

"It is a relief to those of us working in psychiatry and to allied mental health professions, to colleagues from other medical and surgical disciplines, and to the many Irish people who suffer from mental health problems."

Prof O'Keane also noted research of more than 100,000 women in the US which found unwanted pregnancy increases the risk of perinatal depression by 50%.

She said the mental health risks associated with unwanted pregnancies are high, and are incalculable for women who are in a position where abortion care is not available.

Prof O'Keane said the mental health arguments for decent abortion services apply, but not just to the women who need abortion care and who can or who cannot travel, but to every citizen.

"We need a real-life solution to the real life problem of unwanted pregnancy and not a moral, ethical, metaphysical, philosophical discussion about abortion," she said.

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