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A Pregnant, Suicidal Rape Victim Fought Ireland's New Abortion Law—The Law Won

Bureaucrats violated this teenager's humanity.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Mitar Art/Shutterstock.com

 

There is one thing that suicidal rape victims need: immediate assistance. But for one young woman in Ireland who was pregnant and seeking an abortion after reportedly being attacked, the only thing her government offered was the slow, bureaucratic violation of her humanity.

The unnamed woman, now 18, was reportedly raped as a minor and sought an abortion just eight weeks into her pregnancy. Even after experts found her to be suicidal – a  prerequisite for abortion under a new Irish law – she was denied access to the procedure.  According to a report by the Sunday Times, the woman, who is not an Irish citizen, believes that the government deliberately delayed her case – both through the state’s decision to ignore psychiatric experts and via her inability to travel because of her legal status – so that she would have to carry the pregnancy at least through the fetus’s viability. After going on a hunger strike, she was forced to undergo a caesarean section at just 25 weeks into her pregnancy.

That’s 17 full weeks after she first sought help.

That is not a policy; it’s a persecution. And now a country with a barbaric abortion ban that killed  Savita Halappanavar in 2012 will be forced to reckon with the horror it has inflicted on yet another vulnerable woman.

Halappanavar’s death, caused by an infection after the 31-year-old Indian dentist was denied an abortion under Ireland’s strict laws, sparked outrage across the country. So Ireland passed the  Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which made abortion legal if a woman’s life were threatened by the pregnancy or if she were suicidal.

Doctors warned, however, that the legislation could still stop women from obtaining the care that the law was meant to allow. Dr. Mary Favier, a member of Ireland’s  Doctors for Choice, told me, “We predicted it would be a bad law, that it was going to be trouble and quickly that’s been proven.”

Psychiatry professor Veronica O’Keane  told the same thing to the Guardian earlier this month:

The repeated examination of a woman’s mental state by at least four doctors, and possibly seven, the repeated question specifically about suicidal ideation and intent, will not only be overly invasive, confusing and distressing emotionally, it will also be time-consuming in a period of crisis when a suicidal woman needs access to a termination as soon as possible.

It’s not just confusing for patients, either: the  guidelines for healthcare providers on how to implement the law is confounding, complete with complicated charts and figures that demonstrate the unrealistic hoops women and doctors must jump through in order to comply with the legislation.

It’s clear from this latest young woman’s case that those guidelines and policies did what many suspect that they were designed to do: make it as difficult as possible for women to get the care they need. For women here in the US who are familiar with the war on reproductive rights, this likely sounds familiar: laws said to be in our best interest –  like mandating hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers – actually only serve to further limit our access to abortion.

Sarah McCarthy, a spokesperson for Galway Pro-Choice, told me that “even those who are entitled to an abortion under our severely restrictive legislation can still be denied that right”, and that the latest case highlights how vulnerable women are the most impacted by the law. Middle-class Irish women who have money to travel can leave the country for their abortions: “If you can’t afford to travel or don’t have the papers, it’s a nightmare,” she said. Again, this is also very much the case here in the US: if your county doesn’t have an abortion provider and you can’t afford the gas or time off from work to travel (sometimes out-of-state), procuring the procedure is near-impossible.