If men had babies

What’s wrong with Ireland:

When Helen Linehan found out in 2004 that there was something fatally wrong with the 11-week-old foetus she was carrying, she was advised to have an immediate termination, because doctors knew there was no chance that the baby would survive longer than an hour after birth.

The foetus had a condition known as acrania, which meant that its skull had not closed over the brain. Although it probably would have survived inside the womb, it would not have lived once it was born, and doctors were clear that termination was the only option. Accompanied by her husband, Graham – writer of the television comedy series Father Ted, Black Books and The IT Crowd – she had an abortion three days later in a hospital near their home in London. “It was terribly sad and devastating, but it was handled well,” she said.

Some months later, they moved back to Ireland, where they discovered that, had they been living there during this first pregnancy, Helen would have been forced to carry the pregnancy to term, or face a 14-year prison sentence for procuring an illegal abortion.

In the certain knowledge that the baby born of the pregnancy would die at birth. Ireland considered it right for Helen Linehan and the baby to go through that, rather than closing down the process early.

The shock of that revelation has prompted the couple to speak out about their experience for the first time, as part of a campaign by Amnesty Internationalcalling for decriminalisation of abortion in Ireland. The fact that abortion is illegal in Ireland, even in cases where there is no chance for the foetus to survive, makes Ireland “a dangerous place to be pregnant”, said Graham. “I don’t think it is safe for women in Ireland to be pregnant. Abortion is an important medical procedure and when that’s taken off the table, then you’re not safe. A place without abortion puts two lives in danger, not one,” he said.

Bishops are cruel men.

Helen said she was prompted to make the film by a sense of outrage at how she could have been criminalised for a difficult decision had she not been living in England at the time. She would have found it very hard to have been forced to carry a baby to term in the knowledge that it was going to die as soon as it was born.

“It would have been life-changing. To endure the full-term pregnancy, and to come home empty-handed and with the physical changes that come with pregnancy – it would have been awful. I don’t know how I would I have got through that, mentally or physically,” she said.

She described Ireland’s abortion laws as “abusive”. “It is a form of abuse against women. We need to have our own choices,” she said. “If men had babies, the laws would be very different.”

But men don’t have babies, so the law is what it is.

There has been growing demand for the Irish government to allow a referendum on legalising abortion, and last month thousands marched through Dublin to show their support for decriminalisation. The death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, after she was denied an abortion when she began miscarrying, focused attention on the issue, as did reports last year of the treatment of a young asylum seeker who had been raped before coming to Ireland, who was refused an abortion by the Irish health service. When she tried to escape to England to have an abortion, she was arrested and deported back to Ireland, where she was forced to go ahead with the pregnancy. The baby was given up for adoption.

If men had babies, the laws would be very different.

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