Mary O'Carolan, Dr Muiris Houston and Carl O'Brien in the Irish Times.
The State does not have any power to stop a teenage girl travelling to the UK for an abortion, the High Court was told yesterday by counsel for the Attorney General. The 17 year old, who is four months pregnant, is challenging the Health Service Executive's (HSE) decision to prevent her from terminating her pregnancy abraod. The teenager, who can only be identified as 'Miss D' and is from the Leinster region, has been in the care of the HSE since February of this year. She was told last week that her aby was suffering from anencephaly, a condition where a major part of the brain is missing. The newborn baby will not survive outside the womb for more than a few days.
Mr Justice McKechnie yesterday granted the girl leave to bring a legal action to prevent the HSE restraining her leaving the country for an abortion. The case is being rushed through the courts and it will be heard it court in full tomorrow. The girl says she was told by the HSE that it contacted gardaí to request that she should not be permitted to leave the State unless she was suicidal. However, Donal O'Donnell SC, for the State, said the Attorney General's position was that the HSE had no legal power to direct the garda to restrain a person who was the the subject of an interim care order. Furthermore the garda did not have the legal power to restrain the girl simply because she was the subject of a care order, while the HSE order did not restrain a person from travelling anywhere. Gerry Durcan SC, for the HSE, said it was anxious to take whatever course of action best secured the girls's welfare, having regard to legal restraints, having regard to legal restraints where a child is subject to a care order. The HSE also wished to have the teenager assessed by a psychiatrist, counsel added.
Gerard Hogan SC, for Miss D, said his client was deeply distressed and could not live through the pregnancy knowing her baby would die, but he stressed she was not suicidal. Abortion is illegal in Ireland except where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as distinct from the health of the mother. This includes a risk arising from the threat of suicide. In her affadavit, the girl said her family circumstances had been strained because her mother was an alcoholic. Her father had never sought any involvement with her. Her boyfriend had agreed to bring proceedings on her behalf as she is a minor.
Meanwhile the Irish Times has learned that the HSE funded the cost of an abortion in the UK for a woman whose baby had serious congenital abnormalities that were incompatible with life outside the womb. It is understood approximately six other abortions for women in similar circumstances have been funded by the HSE in the last year.
The woman, who was four months pregnant, was referred by a gynaecologist here to a colleague in Britian using an E112 form. This is an EU procedure whereby a patient's consultant states that the person has a particular diagnosis and needs a specific procedure or treatment not available in the person's own country. The HSE then assesses the application and decides whether to fund the treatment or not. It is understood that the woman, who is in her mid- to late 20s, travelled to Liverpool and had her pregnancy terminated. She has returned home and is said to be well.
A GP who was involved in the woman's care said 'Having immediate first-hand experience of the patient... I think there is a contradiction between the current case, where the HSE is attempting to prevent a 17 year old travellling, and its approach in the case I was involved with, where the HSE is attempting to prevent a 17 year old travelling, and it's approach in the case I was involved with, where the HSE funded a patient to have an abortion.' A spokesman for the HSE said it did not comment in individual cases.