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Woman calls for abortion law change

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A woman forced to travel from Northern Ireland to England for an abortion because her baby had no chance of survival has called for the law to be changed.

Even though her baby had not developed a skull and was completely brain dead she was refused a termination under the current legislation.

Instead, doctors said she would have to wait for the baby to die then have an induced labour.

“Before this happened to me, I didn’t agree with abortion but this is medical - this is a dead body I’m being forced to carry in Northern Ireland because of this silly law,” she said.

In Northern Ireland abortion is not illegal but is very tightly controlled. The procedure is permitted only if the life or mental health of the mother is at serious risk.

Foetal abnormality does not constitute grounds for an abortion in the region, which is not covered by the 1967 Abortion Act.

The woman, known only as Sarah, was first made aware of the severe problems last week when her 20-week scan failed to detect any sign of the baby’s head.

She said: “We were told we were carrying a baby with anencephaly - it’s the worst case of spina bifida so the baby has no skull formed and it’s brain dead. It’s very hard to come to terms with.”

She flew to London for a termination earlier this week -- a move she said added to her trauma.

Every year more than 1,000 women travel from Northern Ireland to clinics in England, Scotland and Wales where access to an abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks into pregnancy on grounds that include abnormalities which could lead to a child being seriously disabled.

The woman told the BBC’s Stephen Nolan Show she felt there was no alternative to terminating the pregnancy.

“My only choice basically was to carry the baby either until it passed away inside me or I could deliver and it would pass away,” she said.

“The law won’t let you have an abortion unless the baby is going to harm you.”

In a statement, Northern Ireland Health Minister Edwin Poots said senior officials were now looking at the case to see if lessons can be learned.

“Senior officials in my department are considering this particular case on my behalf. I want to be 100% assured that everything has been done that we would expect to be done, within the confines of the legal position that exists in Northern Ireland,” he said.

However, the minister said changes to law were a matter for the Justice Department and the power-sharing Stormont Assembly.

Mr Poots added: “The law on abortion in Northern Ireland and any potential change to it is a matter for the Department of Justice, the Executive and the Assembly. My remit is to ensure there are quality services available, within that law.

“Issues around the termination of pregnancy can present hugely difficult issues for families. I am only too aware of that from experience down the years as a local elected representative. It can be a challenging area for trust staff too. Anyone who thinks these issues are always simple has not given the issue the thought it demands.”

Bernie Smyth from the pro-life group Precious Life said better support should be provided to parents faced with a fatal diagnosis for their baby. She said her organisation has written to the Health Minister requesting perinatal hospice services but re-stated firm opposition to abortion.

Ms Smyth said: “Abortion can never be the best answer for parents and for baby in these very upsetting circumstances. If a baby is diagnosed with fatal disabilities, then we should allow nature to take its course - the baby should not be deliberately killed by abortion.

“Parents are already distraught and in shock, without having to be involved in the decision to end the life of their child.”

 

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