Irish teen takes abortion case to Supreme Court

"Miss D" pleads for the right to end a doomed pregnancy -- in England.

Published May 2, 2007 2:23PM (EDT)

This case -- mentioned here briefly Tuesday -- makes me so sad and angry I almost can't write about it. But I also can't get it out of my head, so let's get it over with. A 17-year-old Irish girl gets pregnant. She plans to stay pregnant until she finds out that the fetus she's carrying has extraordinarily severe birth defects that are, as they say, "incompatible with life." Once born, the baby will live maybe three days, tops. (This is the kind of case that, here, has been used to describe the urgent, and tragic, necessity of -- relatively rare -- later-term abortions.) There are certainly people who would, under these circumstances, choose to carry to term, people who would refuse prenatal testing in the first place because they know they'd carry to term no matter what. This gal, known only to the court as "Miss D," is not one of those people.

Yes, to the court. Abortion is illegal in Ireland. No exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormality, women's health, nothing. Just this: Women may travel to obtain one -- often to England -- if they can prove that they are suicidal. (You may recall the controversial 1992 case in which the Dublin High Court banned a 14-year-old rape survivor, pregnant by a friend of her father's, from going to England for an abortion. The Irish Supreme Court ultimately overruled and permitted the trip, finding the girl in fact -- and not surprisingly -- suicidal.) A referendum proposing to remove the suicide exception was narrowly defeated in 2002.

And so "Miss D," now four months pregnant, has also had to plead her case. (She can't just go to England for a "shopping trip" because -- this is a little unclear -- she was already in the state's care after some difficulties with her mother.) According to the BBC, she will appear Thursday before the High Court of Dublin, presenting -- since she is "distressed" but not suicidal -- what could be a "landmark challenge to the Republic of Ireland's strict laws against abortion." She is seeking not only the right to travel but also, according to, "a declaration that there is no lawful basis for interference with her right to terminate her pregnancy" and that "to prevent her leaving the State to procure a termination of her pregnancy constitutes an unlawful interference with her constitutional rights to personal autonomy, bodily integrity, private life and to travel."

Of course, there is integrity to the notion that if you're against abortion, you're against abortion, no exceptions for rape or incest; that abortion is no less "murder" when it's performed on a fatally ill fetus or one engendered under horrific circumstances. By the same token, there's something uncomfortable about the high-profile cases such as these featuring young women who -- like the protagonist in South Dakota Sen. Bill Napoli's creepy fantasy -- really "deserve" abortions. (You know, as opposed to those who have sex on purpose but get pregnant by accident.) Still and all, obviously, "Miss D" does deserve to make this decision. Let's hope the Irish Supreme Court finds a way -- and the heart -- to agree.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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