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Pregnant Child Detained in Mental Institution For Asking For An Abortion

To access a life saving abortion in Ireland requires 3 medical professionals (two psychiatrists and one obstetrician) to agree that the woman is at risk of taking her own life. As the recent case of a young girl  shows it only takes one psychiatrist however to get sectioned for wanting an abortion in Ireland.

The girl was legally classed as a child and her identity has understandably been withheld so we know nothing more about her other than that she had an unwanted pregnancy and that when she sought an abortion from her healthcare professionals she was of the understanding that she was being taken to Dublin for the procedure. However unbeknownst to her the consultant psychiatrist had given evidence at a hearing to detain her under the Mental Health Act.

“The consultant psychiatrist was of the opinion that while the child was at risk of self harm and suicide as a result of the pregnancy, this could be managed by treatment and that termination of the pregnancy was not the solution for all of the child’s problems at that stage.”

How frightening it must have been for her to find herself in a mental hospital after travelling to Dublin expecting an abortion. We are told it was “days” later that another hearing was held that resulted in her discharge from the mental hospital. During this time her court-appointed guardian ad litem (GAL) had employed another consultant psychiatrist to access her and on the basis of their evidence the girl was released from the institution. She spent unnecessary “days” in a mental institution for the “crime” of nothing more than wanting an abortion.

I’ve heard numerous reports of suicidal people trying to access mental health units in Irish hospitals who have been sent away. In future I’ll suggest to those of them who are capable of getting pregnant to say they’re pregnant and want an abortion, as that seems to be a sure way to get sectioned.

This case raises a number of questions. How is it that it only took one psychiatrist to have the girl sectioned? Why was the PLDP act not enacted for this pregnant, suicidal child? How can the public be assured that the personal beliefs of medical professionals won’t interfere with them being able to access the healthcare they need? Did Government Ministers know of the case at the time?

Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) spokesperson Linda Kavanagh said:

“Looking at the report, it’s hard not to think that the psychiatrist in this case essentially used the Mental Health Act as a tool to force a child into continuing an unwanted pregnancy because of their own personal beliefs. It is clear we need some process which ensures medical professionals with such conscientious objections cannot block timely health care in critical cases.”

This is the latest case in a long line of women and girls who have been failed by the state. Ms X was another suicidal child prevented from accessing an abortion in 1992 and Ms Y a teenage rape victim likewise led to believe she would be given an abortion and instead detained against her will. Ireland has a disgraceful history stretching back to the Magdalene Laundries of locking up pregnant women.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act is supposed to “protect” women who are at risk of taking their own lives, not used as a tool to lock women who want abortions up.

The Irish Government are allowing this human rights abuse to happen on their watch, leaving a trail of abused and sometimes dead women, girls and children behind them.

Rally to Repeal is on Saturday 17th in Dublin. If you can’t go please contact your local T.Ds and ask them to urgently implement the findings of the Citizens Assembly.

You can sign an UPLIFT petition here:https://action.uplift.ie/campaigns/187

*I’d like to acknowledge the work of the Child Law Project. We would know nothing of this case if it wasn’t for their work. Since 2012 they have been able to report to the public on child care proceedings in the courts, they aim to report on 10% of cases.

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About Taryn de Vere

Joy bringer, writer, founder of Empowering Respectful Relating, mother of 5, parenting coach, silliness purveyor.

22 responses »

  1. Re: “Pregnant Child Detained in Mental Institution For Asking For An Abortion”. Hi. Can you explain how you know she was detained BECAUSE of her abortion request?

    Reply
    • “The Order detaining the child was made several days earlier on the evidence of a consultant psychiatrist who reported that the child had a mental health disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act. The consultant psychiatrist was of the opinion that while the child was at risk of self harm and suicide as a result of the pregnancy, this could be managed by treatment and that termination of the pregnancy was not the solution for all of the child’s problems at that stage.”

      It couldn’t be clearer.

      Reply
      • Sorry, but that quote does not answer my question. It says an abortion would not “solve” the issue – that’s quite different to saying she was detained because she asked for an abortion. The report states she was detailed because of intent to self-harm / commit suicide / distress (in addition to an existing diagnosis of depression) due to the pregnancy, but nowhere does it say she was detained *because* she asked for an abortion.

        Reply
        • I think you’re being deliberately disingenuous here, but in any case, involuntary admission to a mental health unit cannot take place (either as a matter of law or practice) on the basis of intent to self-harm/commit suicide/distress due to pregnancy. The only link between her having that intent and her being involuntarily admitted is the fact that she was seeking an abortion. The fact that the psychiatrist even gave a view that she should be given “treatment” and should not have an abortion makes it even clearer that it was because she was seeking an abortion that she was sectioned. But again, I think you know this.

  2. “involuntary admission to a mental health unit cannot take place (either as a matter of law or practice) on the basis of intent to self-harm/commit suicide/distress”.

    It absolutely can. Involuntary admission to a mental health unit because you request an abortion however, cannot take place. You’re avoiding my very simple question again, and the only conclusion I can draw from that is that you cannot answer it. You’d like the request for abortion to be the reason (and maybe it was), but you *cannot point to any evidence* that it was – it’s just a hunch. This article is therefore misleading.

    Reply
    • If you’re going to omit words from my sentence when quoting me, I’m going to go beyond calling you disingenuous and conclude that you’re just a liar.

      Reply
      • Hi again. I’m genuinely trying to understand the reason for the headline and thrust of the article that the girl was detained “for asking for an abortion”. I was selectively quoting yes, but I’m not lying. Maybe I’m just failing to make my point clearly.

        Let’s consider 2 cases;

        CASE A
        Behaviours/symptoms: Threatens suicide, threatens to self-harm, distress, history of depression.
        Reason for behaviour: Unwanted pregnancy, desperately wants an abortion.

        CASE B
        Behaviours/symptoms: Threatens suicide, threatens to self-harm, distress, history of depression.
        Reason for behaviour: Loss of job, huge debts, “they would be better off without me”.

        Do you think that the person in CASE B would NOT be detained under the Mental Health Act? Do you see what I’m getting at. Might the reason she was detained be because of the behaviours/symptoms, and not because of the reason? Might that be possible?

        Reply
        • Being suicidal for whatever reason is not sufficient grounds for involuntary admission under the Mental Health Act, so no, Person B probably wouldn’t be detained. They have to be suffering from a mental disorder. Being suicidal does not mean you have a mental disorder.

  3. I’m afraid you’re wrong.

    What is a mental disorder?

    You can only be admitted to hospital against your will if you have a mental disorder. For the
    first time in Ireland, the law defines mental disorder, as follows:

    You have a mental illness, severe dementia or significant intellectual disability and there is a serious risk that you may cause immediate and serious harm to yourself or others.

    or

    You have a mental illness, severe dementia or significant intellectual disability and your judgement is so impaired that your condition could get worse if you were not admitted to hospital for treatment that could only be given to you in hospital and going into hospital would be likely to improve your mental health significantly.

    (Mental Health Act 2001 Guide – http://www.mhcirl.ie/file/SUI_EnglishV2009.pdf)

    Both Cases A & B would/could be subject to involuntary admission.

    Reply
    • The *reason* for the depression & suicidal intent is irrelevant, yet the article claims the girl was detained for asking for an abortion. There is no evidence of this in the report this article cites. Therefore the article is misleading.

      Reply
    • No, they wouldn’t be. In neither of the cases you cite does the person have a mental illness, severe dementia or significant intellectual disability! Being suicidal is not, in and of itself, evidence of a mental illness.

      Reply
      • Hi Wendy. Depression is a mental illness, so Depression + being suicidal meets the criteria.

        Reply
        • “Depression” is not a mental illness. It is sometimes a symptom of a mental illness. The distinction matters.

          Like read the link in the first paragraph, ok? “Another consultant psychiatrist was employed by the GAL to assess the young girl and determine whether or not she had a mental disorder in accordance with the Mental Health Act. That consultant psychiatrist was of the opinion that the young girl presented as being depressed, however, there was no evidence of a psychological disorder and she was dealing with her depression well.” The girl had depression but she did not have a mental disorder within the meaning of the MHA.

  4. We’re talking about the initial diagnosis here, the one which got the girl detained (“The Order detaining the child was made several days earlier on the evidence of a consultant psychiatrist who reported that the child had a mental health disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act”). As I’m sure you know psychiatrists are human beings and this is not an exact science. Threats of self-harm / threats to kill oneself / agitation & distress, on top of an existing diagnosis of depression is enough to get someone sectioned. But you choose to ignore ALL these things and focus solely on the request for a termination and assume that that was the reason. To an impartial observer this is highly questionable, but because it backs up your preconceptions (no pun intended) you’re sticking with it.

    Pregnant child detained in mental institution for asking for an abortion? Well no, not really.

    Reply
    • I quoted the second psychiatrist because her opinion shows that having depression is not necessarily the same thing as having a mental illness.

      It’s not good enough to say, oh, psychiatry isn’t an exact science. We’re talking here about the loss of someone’s fundamental right to liberty. The law takes that very seriously, as indeed it should. To say that someone is presenting with depression and threats to self-harm is, simply, not sufficient to meet the very high threshold required to overcome their right to liberty. That is why the Oireachtas took the trouble to give such precise definitions of “mental illness” and “mental disorder” in the MHA. I will not be surprised if this girl is awarded damages for false imprisonment.

      Now it is theoretically possible that the first psychiatrist had the same misunderstanding you do of the law, and innocently believed that depression + suicidal ideation were enough to give rise to a mental disorder within the meaning of the MHA. But the fact that he specifically said he didn’t think abortion was the answer strongly suggests otherwise – especially considering that at least one prominent anti-abortion psychiatrist said publicly, during the PLDPA debates, that suicidal pregnant women should be sectioned until they give birth. You want to believe otherwise, go right ahead.

      Reply
  5. So the best evidence you have for this is quoting something which *strongly suggests* it. A suggestion of evidence is not evidence. You want to believe otherwise, go right ahead.

    Reply
    • I see you don’t understand what “evidence” is, either. (Here’s a hint: it’s not the same thing as “proof”.) Don’t give up the day job.

      Reply
      • Hi Wendy. Can we focus on the details of the case please and not get personal (I’m “deliberately disingenuous”, “a liar”, told to not “give up the day job” etc).

        So, let me ask one simple question: Is there any proof that this girl was detained because she asked for an abortion?

        Reply
        • Sure, if you stop accusing me of ignoring things (that are either wrong or irrelevant anyway) and sticking to a conclusion that backs up my preconceptions.

          The excerpt from the Child Law Reporting Project is the sum total of information about this case that is in the public domain (though as it happens, I know two of the people involved in the case and did hear a bit more detail about it at the time). The information that was reported, was reported for a reason – including the part about the psychiatrist saying abortion wasn’t the answer to her problems. If that wasn’t relevant to her detention, I doubt it would even have been raised in court, far less included in the report.

          Unless the psychiatrist goes public and admits he had the girl detained because she asked for an abortion, that report is probably all we’re going to get. So you can insist on an unattainable standard of proof and then rely on it being unattainable as a self-vindicating argument, or you can look at the evidence that is available and draw the logical conclusion. It is not “misleading” or “just a hunch” to do the latter.

  6. We got there in the end. The answer is No. Thanks for your time.

    Reply
    • Actually the answer is that the question itself is meaningless in this context, apart from what it says about the person demanding an answer. You’re welcome.

      Reply
  7. An abortion would not make this child’s problems go away but only add more problems and more grief in the long run. Remove the crisis, don’t remove the baby from his mother and mother from her baby. Sometimes the best rainbows come out of the greatest storms. An abortion is only putting the blame on the unborn baby (same with adoption once the baby is born) and not on the person who got her pregnant.

    Reply

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