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Irish judge to rule whether government agency can stop 17-year-old from getting UK abortion

Irish judge to rule whether government agency can stop 17-year-old from getting UK abortion

A judge agreed Tuesday to hear a case that throws the spotlight on Ireland's confused abortion laws: a 17-year-old girl who is being prevented by a state agency from terminating her brain-damaged fetus in England.
The girl, identified in court only as "Miss D," is under the legal care of the Health Service Executive. The government agency has overruled her wish for a British abortion, citing the constitutional ban on abortion in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
The girl's lawyer, leading Irish constitutional expert Gerard Hogan, said the girl wanted an abortion because the fetus, now 4 months old, was diagnosed last week as suffering from an abnormality that means it will be born without much of its brain, skull and scalp _ and would die within three days of birth.
High Court Justice Liam McKecknie said he would hear both sides' arguments Thursday and issue a verdict by next week, given the girl's need for a decision as soon as possible.
A lawyer representing the government's Office of the Attorney General, Donal O'Donnell, suggested that the Health Service Executive was in error in trying to prevent the girl from traveling to England, where 7,000 Irish women receive abortions annually. He said the agency had no power to order the police to bar her from boarding an aircraft or ferry.
Abortion has been stuck in legal limbo in Ireland since 1992, when the Supreme Court ruled that the government and police had been wrong to stop a 14-year-old rape victim from traveling to England for an abortion.
In that case, Ireland's highest court ruled the girl's abortion request should have been granted in Ireland _ because she was threatening to commit suicide. The court ruled abortions should be legal in all cases where the pregnant woman's life would be at risk from continued pregnancy, including the risk of suicide.
But since then, four governments have refused to introduce legislation confirming the Supreme Court's judgment, and instead tried to get public support for a more restricted move _ excluding the risk of suicide _ in two referendums. Voters refused to pass both measures, some because they wanted wider abortion rights, others because they wanted no abortion at all.
The Supreme Court ruling, combined with the governments' legislative inaction, means that abortions might legally be granted in Irish hospitals for women whose pregnancies constitute a risk to their life _ but at the risk of facing lawsuits from anti-abortion groups.
In practice, this has meant that Irish hospitals have continued to refer all abortion-seekers to England, where abortion has been legal since 1967.
Hogan, the lawyer for "Miss D," said she had been told by her Health Service Executive supervisors she could be permitted to receive an English abortion only if she threatened suicide.
Hogan said his client _ who appeared in court on condition that reporters not seek to identify her in any way _ was distressed and did not want to pursue the pregnancy to full term knowing her baby would die, but was not suicidal.


Updated : 2021-04-19 03:00 GMT+08:00