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June 14, 2017, 12:16 a.m.
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Ireland’s abortion laws should be changed to prevent more people from having their rights violated in the same way as a woman who had to travel to Britain for a termination after her baby was diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality, a UN committee has said.
Siobhán Whelan travelled to Liverpool for an abortion in January 2010 after being told her baby, at 20 weeks, had a rare congenital brain malformation and would probably die before or shortly after birth.
The committee’s report on her case notes that an obstetrician had told Ms Whelan that in another jurisdiction she would be offered a termination but “obviously not in this country due to Irish law”.
She felt she could not continue with the pregnancy only to see her baby suffer and die, and endured terrible mental suffering, according to committee, which recommended that the State pay the woman compensation and provide her with psychological treatment.
Following the procedure, Ms Whelan had to leave the baby’s remains in Liverpool and they were cremated there three weeks later, and sent to her by courier. The overall cost of travel, the termination and the cremation was €2,900.
This is the second time the committee has found against Ireland in a case taken by a woman denied access to abortion services following such a diagnosis. Last year, the Government agreed to pay Amanda Mellet €30,000 compensation after the UN body found her rights had been violated.
Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he hoped to see a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which gives an equal right to life to the mother and the unborn, next year.
An Oireachtas committee tasked with examining the amendment is to receive a report from the Citizens’ Assembly, which recommended a significant liberalisation of the State’s abortion regime, within weeks.
The ruling came as new official British figures showed 3,265 women, an average of nine a day, gave an address in the Republic when attending clinics in England and Wales in 2015, the lowest number since 1980. The fall in numbers has been attributed to greater use of abortion pills by women.
The anti-abortion Life Institute said that the fall in the number of women travelling for terminations underlined the importance of the Eighth Amendment “as a life-saving measure which has led to Ireland offering a better answer than abortion to women in crisis”.