The XX Factor

Immigrant Woman in Ireland Denied an Abortion, Forced Into a C-Section

Demonstrators in Dublin march in memory of Savita Halappanavar and against Ireland’s tough abortion restrictions in 2012.  

Photo by Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

After the death of Savita Halappanavar, who died in 2012 from sepsis after she was denied an abortion for miscarrying a pregnancy, Ireland agreed to relax its stringent abortion ban ever so slightly to allow women who are in real medical danger to obtain abortions. Despite that small concession to women’s basic human rights, Ireland has coughed up another horror story of what happens to pregnant women who want to terminate in distressed situations. The Guardian reports that an unnamed immigrant woman in Ireland was forced into a cesarean section to deliver a baby at a shockingly premature 25 weeks after she was denied an abortion at eight weeks.

Henry McDonald reports:*

The woman, who is an immigrant and cannot be named for legal reasons, was refused an abortion even though at eight weeks she demanded a termination, claiming she was suicidal.

After she then threatened a hunger strike to protest the decision, local health authorities obtained a court order to deliver the baby prematurely—at around 25 weeks according to some reports—to ensure its safety. The infant has been placed in care.

The New York Times reports that this is the first case under Ireland’s new Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act, which “legalized the termination of pregnancies in cases when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide over a pregnancy.” According to the Times’ Douglas Dalby, the case “was referred to a panel of three experts—an obstetrician and two psychiatrists. The psychiatrists determined that she had suicidal thoughts, but the obstetrician declared that the fetus was viable and that it should be delivered.”

It’s a case that’s reminiscent of what happened in similarly Catholic-dominated El Salvador, where a very ill woman, Beatriz, was forced to undergo an invasive and painful C-section at 26 weeks to deliver a baby with no brain rather than get a life-saving abortion earlier in her pregnancy. As with that case, the government in Ireland seems to be making a mockery of its own posturing about “life.” While this baby is currently surviving, deliberately forcing a woman to give birth to a very premature baby suggests that the supposed concern for life is nothing when compared to the desire to use pregnancy as a pretext to strip women of basic human rights.

And it gets worse. More from the Sunday Times:

The young woman, a foreign national with limited English, was not able freely to travel abroad for an abortion because of her legal status in Ireland.

She discovered she was expecting about eight weeks into the pregnancy, and immediately sought an abortion because she had been the victim of a traumatic rape. Months later, the woman believed she had been effectively refused an abortion, or the ability to travel abroad for such a procedure, by the state. She then went on a hunger and liquid strike.

The situation perfectly encapsulates how abortion bans work in the real world: The most vulnerable women are harmed, while more privileged women find ways to get abortions. In Ireland, women who can afford to travel simply go to England to get abortions, meaning that poor and immigrant women under travel restrictions are out of luck. A young immigrant rape victim has now been put through an entirely unnecessary horror show, but hey, at least Irish politicians can preen about how “pro-life” they are.

*Correction, Aug. 18, 2014: This post originally misidentified Guardian reporter Henry McDonald as Heather McDonald.