The Irish Times Thursday May 10th
The High Court yesterday granted a 17-year-old girl carrying a foetus that would not live more than three days outside the womb the right to travel to the UK for an abortion. Mary Carolan and Carl O'Brien report.
Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said he "firmly and unequivocally" held the view that there was no law or constitutional impediment preventing the girl - identified only as "Miss D" - travelling for the purpose of terminating her pregnancy.
He sharply criticised the actions of the Health Service Executive (HSE) in dealing with Miss D's situation, while praising the girl's maturity in confronting her dilemma.
The HSE had initially told Miss D she could not travel for an abortion without its consent and she could be restrained, by force if necessary, if she tried. This claim was not pursued during the court hearing.
The actions of a HSE social worker in telling gardaí that Miss D must be prevented from travelling were without foundation in law, the judge said.
Furthermore, the HSE never sought to establish what course of action was in her best interests. Instead, it sought to "shoehorn" the girl into an X-case-type situation, although there was no evidence she was ever suicidal.
This case, he stressed, was about the right to travel. It was "not about abortion" or about a decision to terminate the existence of a healthy foetus or a disabled child.
Miss D, who is 18 weeks pregnant and from the Leinster region, had shown "courage, integrity and maturity" in dealing with her plight, said the judge.
The girl was not in court yesterday, although her solicitor said afterwards she was "very pleased" with the ruling. Her mother, who was in court, said she was delighted on her daughter's behalf.
The HSE last night said it accepted the ruling, but emphasised it had taken what it believed to be the correct course of action. A spokeswoman said the HSE had always considered a court order was necessary for the girl to travel abroad.
"The HSE regrets any distress arising for Miss D and her family. The matters at issue were not straightforward or simple in ascertaining this girl's best interests. The HSE will continue to offer Miss D all the care and support which it is in a position to make available," the spokeswoman said.
The ruling has averted a fresh political or constitutional crisis over abortion, but it has thrown into doubt the HSE's authority to take the role of parent on behalf of hundreds of children who are the subject of interim care orders.
The Irish Times understands senior HSE officials are deeply concerned about the impact of the ruling for other children in care. It has not yet ruled out appealing at least some of yesterday's judgment.
There were contrasting reactions to the ruling from anti-abortion protesters and pro-choice groups, who staged rival demonstrations outside the court yesterday.
The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) and the Alliance for Choice group said the teenager should not have had to endure a protracted court hearing.
They said the lack of a proper legal framework on abortion in Ireland meant other cases involving women in crisis pregnancy situations will inevitably come before the courts.
However, Dr Berry Kiely of the Pro-Life Campaign said the public could not ignore the fact that abortion involved the taking of an innocent human life.
"This tragic case also reminds us of the urgent obligation on society to ensure that every possible support is put in place so that no woman feels abortion is the only option open to her."
The HSE is to pay the costs of Miss D and her mother in the legal actions in both the District and High Courts. Total costs are estimated at up to €1 million.