They called her Ms Y. She is a young asylum seeker who had been raped in her country of origin. When she arrived in Ireland she realised she was pregnant during the medical examination; she asked for an abortion and was told she could have one at eight weeks. But by the time she had spent weeks in hospital, being assessed by a variety of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and obstetricians, she was told that the only way of ending her unwanted pregnancy was to have a Caesarean section.
Like many other pregnant migrants, going for abortion in England was not an option for Ms Y. Although the process seemed to be in train, she found out that the estimated cost of travelling to England, having the abortion and possible overnight accommodation could be over €1,500 and that the State would not fund the costs. At this stage she was 16 weeks pregnant and although being pregnant because of rape is a source of great shame in her society, she had no option but to have that Caesarean section at 24 weeks.
A new December 2014 report by the IFPA, Right to Travel for Abortion Not Reality for All Women in Ireland (http://www.ifpa.ie/node/601) reveals that at least 26 asylum seekers or migrant women with travel difficulties who had used its counselling services in the 12 months prior were unable to access abortion abroad due to insurmountable legal, travel and financial obstacles. As a result at least five of the women were compelled to continue with their pregnancies and gave birth against their wishes.
In Ireland it is almost impossible for a pregnant asylum seeker to arrange travel to access abortion abroad. The first obstacle is obtaining an entry visa to the country they wish to go to; the UK has been reluctant to issue entry visas to women with temporary travel documents, so pregnant asylum seekers often prefer the Netherlands.
However a greater obstacle is obtaining a re-entry visa to Ireland. With queues outside the Garda National Immigration Bureau forming the night before, and with complex application forms and the need for temporary travel documents prior to the issuing of re-entry visas, the route to re-entering Ireland even if you are able to afford the €600-2,000 cost of an abortion is almost totally blocked. Such delays, according to the IFPA report, have a huge impact on women’s mental and physical health, and lead to later abortions which are more complex, expensive and invasive, as in Ms Y’s case.
Ireland continues to criminalise abortion despite the recent legislation on providing abortion services in Ireland to women’s whose lives are at risk due to unwanted pregnancies. And Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald’s assurances that there is administrative support for women to avail of visas and travel documents sound hollow in view of the experiences of pregnant asylum seekers and migrants with travel difficulties.
Abortion in Ireland is a sore issue and the lessons of previous cases, such as the X case when a girl of 14, raped by her best friend’s father and prevented from travelling for abortion abroad, and the more recent Ms Y’s case have not been learnt. Here was a young migrant woman who found herself in a foreign country, pregnant as a result of rape – an act of violence and a source of shame – who was suicidal and eligible for abortion in Ireland which she was unable to access, and unable to travel abroad due to travel and financial hardships. Forcing a woman to carry her unborn foetus to 24 weeks and have it prized out of her via an invasive C section compounded her agony and was further proof of Ireland’s uncaring approach to pregnant women in general and pregnant migrant women in particular. The racial issues are apparent – not only have generations of ‘Irish’ women forced to give birth to babies born through incest or exploitation, now migrant women are also coerced by an uncaring state to birth babies born out of violence. The eighth amendment to the Irish Constitution – legalising abortion in Ireland when a mother’s life is at risk – must be repealed to include abortion in Ireland in cases of foetal abnormalities and in cases of pregnant migrants who are unable to travel for abortion elsewhere in the EU due to the government’s harsh visa regime: no more Ms Ys.