February 25th 2002- Deirdre DeBarra's Letter to the Irish Times
REFERENDUM ON ABORTION
Sir,- I never thought that I would be in a position where the Government, legislature and Catholic Church of this country would violate my rights and dignity. There will have been many women in this position before, but today I must voice my anger and suffering at the inhuman treatment of women in this State.
Recently I was told that the 16-week old foetus I was carrying had a severe chromosomal abnormality, incompatible with life, which would result in death soon after birth. This was a very much wanted baby, but the trauma of this news was vastly exacerbated by the thought of being forced to carry to full term a foetus which would never know extra-uterine life.
The current media focus on the forthcoming abortion referendum has thrown into sharp relief the very real lack of attention to the substantive issue of foetal anomalies in the unborn, and the mental and physical detrimental impact on the mother.
The coincidence of the carers dispute was a further reminder of the forgotten in this society, the people who cannot function outside an institution and the parents who cannot cope.
I am a self-employed professional, I have two sons aged 12 and 10, who would welcome a baby brother or sister, but who also need and deserve my full attention. They will never see that baby-but why should they also suffer the excessive trauma visited on their mother by Irish legislation?
All three of us are citizens of a State which is turning its back on the reality of the suffering and family distress caused to the living. I pay for private health care and insurance in this country, yet in order to bring about a dignified and healthy conclusion and safeguard my mental well-being my partner and I are forced to secretly seek contact numbers, book flights and accomodation, take trains and taxis to a strange hospital in a foreign city, to meet strange medical staff who see me as yet another statistic of the Irish problem, to be sent back to this country where there is no compassion- or else to carry on for a further five months, with all the attendant mental and physical strain, knowing that there will be a burial and not a baby to look forward to.
If there is a constitutional requirement to hold a referendum, I appeal on behalf of the hundreds of women who undergo this untenable trauma every year, for recognition of foetal abnormalities as a case for humane intervention. It is a risible irony to allow the obstetric profession to carry out amniocentesis tests which identify these chromosomal abnormalities, and then demand that the harrowing results be ignored.
I do not advocate social abortion on demand. This, in my opinion, is a very separate issue.
I am very angry that men I do not know and who don't know me, people like Des Hanifin and William Binchy and others who have been complicit with Fianna Fail governments and the Catholic Church, have decided that my body is their demesne; that, regardless of the emotional and physical distress for us, I must do what they want; that their bigoted will rules my body.
They are all instrumental in perpetuating a very real human misery, with which I have tragically come face to face.
I want to hear the response of the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Attorney General, Cardinal Connell, to this specific aspect of the issue of the unborn. On behalf of other women and families who have suffered, I want to know this issue will be prioritised, addressed and resolved between the legislature and the medical profession outside of the current referendum marketing extravaganza.
The only people who will benefit from the obscene proliferation of posters and glossy leaflets are PR companies and printers. Neither a Yes nor a No vote will change the situation about which I write, but Yes will further criminalise anyone who tries to help. How backward can we be?
DEIRDRE DE BARRA