Ireland denies suicidal rape survivor an abortion and forces her to undergo a C-section

Ireland’s abortion law drew international outrage after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar a couple years ago. The attention, combined with the long-term advocacy of local and international human rights organizations, spurred the government to ever-so-slightly loosen its restrictions to allow abortion “when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the threat of suicide over a pregnancy.” But the new law didn’t help this teenager:

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.

As Jessica notes, the horrific ordeal shows how inadequate even this small exemption to the country’s strict anti-choice law really is. A member of Ireland’s Doctors for Choice said, “We predicted it would be a bad law, that it was going to be trouble and quickly that’s been proven.” Part of the problem is that the law requires examination of the pregnant person’s mental state by up to seven different doctors, a process which will “not only be overly invasive, confusing and distressing emotionally, it will also be time-consuming.”

It’s also probably no coincidence that this young women, like Halappanavar, is an immigrant. While middle-class Irish citizens can often go to England to end their pregnancies, poor women — who lack the funds — and immigrant women — who lack the papers to easily travel — are often out of luck. The young woman might have been able to get authorization to travel to England under the law and advocates are demanding to know if she was informed of her rights.

As Sarah McCarthy, a spokesperson for Galway Pro-Choice, says, the case “illustrates quite clearly that women are treated as little more than incubators under Irish law.”

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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