Monday, May 14, 2007

Social Worker For Miss D Was Acting 'On Legal Advice'

MAEVE SHEEHAN The Sunday Independent May 13th 2007

THE Health Service Executive has defended its handling of the Miss D case in the wake of severe criticisms from a High Court judge for trying to stop a pregnant teenager from travelling for an abortion.
As the girl at the centre of the abortion controversy spoke about her ordeal this weekend, the health authority insisted that it was acting on legal advice throughout the saga. The HSE was criticised by the High Court for calling in the gardai and for intervening with the Passport Office to impede her plans.
Miss D, who is 17 and in the care of the HSE, sought an abortion on learning that her baby suffered from a fatal brain disorder. She took High Court action after the HSE threatened to restrain her by force if necessary.
Last week, Judge Liam McKechnie ruled that there was nothing to stop Miss D from travelling abroad for an abortion. Instead she had to endure a protracted and unnecessary legal wrangle in the High Court.
Now Miss D has disclosed in an interview in the Irish Independent that she does not intend to have an abortion after all, because she doesn't want to put her baby through it. Instead she plans to have her baby induced.
"There were pictures of babies who had been aborted and I didn't like the way it was done. My baby deserves more than that - so I am going to be induced and I will get to hold my baby. I'll go through labour like a normal woman. If it breathes when it comes out, I will be able to get a birth certificate."
The girl said she was angry with the HSE for putting her under pressure when she revealed she wanted to have an abortion.
"Who are these people in the court room that can make my decision. It is my body. They [the HSE] don't own my body. I own my body. I was angry over the way the HSE were treating me. I was nothing," she said.
"They were talking all over me and I had no say in anything that happened, anything at all. I was just told what to do and I just had to do it. It should have been the other way around."
On learning of her baby's fatal brain condition, anencephaly, Miss D told her social worker that she intended to have an abortion. The HSE sought to stop her from travelling for an abortion without its consent, telling her it would use force to restrain her. The social worker wrote to gardai, saying they "must" stop her. The HSE also wrote to the passport office saying it had not consented to her application for a passport, a fact it failed to disclose until later in the court hearing.
When the girl went to the High Court, the HSE changed position dramatically, saying that it wasn't opposed to the girl travelling for an abortion after all - if the District Court allowed it. But its failure to apply to the District Court was one of Judge McKechnie's key criticisms of the HSE.
On Wednesday the High Court then ruled that there was no law preventing Miss D from travelling. Mr Justice Liam McKechnie said the case should never have been brought in the first place.
Miss D told the Irish Independent this weekend: "They could have sorted it out more quietly and then I wouldn't have been dragged to court."
The HSE said this weekend that a social worker who asked gardai to restrain the girl from travelling an abortion abroad was acting on legal advice. The HSE, which has offered to pay for Miss D's abortion, is now conducting a review of its handling of the latest abortion controversy.
"The HSE intended to make an application to the District Court on 27th April 2007. However, there was no sitting scheduled in the District Court until the following Tuesday, 1st May. Then on Monday 30th April, an application was made to the High Court on behalf of Miss D and commenced the following day," it said.

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