Ireland’s abortion law forced her to carry a pregnancy with no future

1 January 2016 marks two years since Ireland’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act came into force. But far from protecting the lives of women, it puts them at greater risk by making it even harder for women to get an abortion. This is Nicola’s story.

Nicola was 19 weeks pregnant when a routine scan revealed that the foetus she was carrying was not going to survive. This was devastating news. But things were about to get even worse.

“I was so naïve,” says Nicola.” I thought straight away they would induce me, but the nurse told me they couldn’t because it’s classed as a termination [which] isn’t allowed in this country.” Instead, Nicola was made to wait and carry the foetus until doctors could say categorically that its heart had stopped beating.

In Ireland, a woman can only get a legal abortion if her life is at “real and substantial risk”. Termination on all other grounds, including for survivors of rape or incest, where the woman’s or girl’s health is at risk, and in cases of fatal foetal impairment, is banned.

A protester calls for Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment to its Constitution at the Dublin March for Choice, March 2014. A protester calls for Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment to its Constitution at the Dublin March for Choice, March 2014.
A protester calls for Ireland to repeal the 8th Amendment to its Constitution at the Dublin March for Choice, March 2014. © Amnesty International

At the epicenter of this confusion and trauma is the protection given to the foetus under Ireland’s Constitution. The “Eighth Amendment” was voted into the Constitution in 1983. Despite the overwhelming majority of people in Ireland today calling for abortion to be decriminalized, the government has refused to hold a referendum to let people vote on repealing the Eighth Amendment. 

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act does not protect women. It actively harms them and puts their lives in danger... It is like an Orwellian nightmare at the moment in Ireland.
Dr Mark Murphy, Doctors for Choice

Grotesque and unjustifiable

Medical staff must follow the strict letter of the law – or face up to 14 years in prison – even if they feel abortion would be in the best interests of their patients. As a result, many women like Nicola are forced to endure a grotesque and unjustifiable ordeal.

“I remember thinking ‘you just can’t leave me carrying the baby when it’s going to die, if the baby is that sick. I can’t do it.’ I just couldn’t comprehend,” recalls Nicola.

Every year, around 4,000 women and girls from Ireland travel abroad for an abortion. Unable to afford this costly and traumatic journey, Nicola had no other option but to continue her pregnancy at the mercy of Ireland’s inhuman abortion laws.

“I was conforming to what they do in Ireland. [If] a woman makes that decision to carry her baby – not to have a termination as they call it – surely then there should be support for her. There was no support for me whatsoever, nothing.” 

Most women are getting scans to make sure their baby is alive. I was getting a scan to see if my baby had died.
Nicola

“I could have been saved this whole trauma”

Nicola went to the hospital every week for a check-up. “Most women are getting scans to make sure their baby is alive. I was getting a scan to see if my baby had died.” 

After five weeks, the medical staff finally confirmed that the foetus had no heartbeat, and she could now be induced legally. Following delivery, however, Nicola developed an infection due to complications, and ended up having to stay in hospital.

“I strongly believe if I had been offered the induction from the start, I could have been saved this whole trauma,” she says.When I think about it, I just feel nothingness, there was no care.

“You’re alone from the diagnosis until the baby’s heart stops. Between that, there’s just a void.”

A woman seeking an abortion is a woman trying to get the health care she needs. She is #notacriminal. Tell Ireland to change its abortion law. Sign our petition today.

My Body My Rights is Amnesty’s global campaign for sexual and reproductive rights.