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Irish justice minister 'concerned' after woman is refused abortion

Frances Fitzgerald
Image caption Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she was concerned, and people reading the accounts would be concerned, for the woman and the baby involved

The Irish justice minister has said she is "concerned" about a woman and baby at the centre of a controversy over the state's new abortion legislation.

The woman had asked for an abortion but her request was refused, despite a panel of medical experts assessing her as being at risk of suicide.

She went on hunger strike, but later agreed to a caesarean and gave birth to a child, who will be taken into care.

Under the law, abortion is permitted if the mother is at risk of suicide.

Very few details about the woman's case have been released, due to a court order protecting her identity and that of the child.

However, the woman is understood to be very vulnerable.

The baby was delivered prematurely, at about 25 weeks.

On Sunday, Irish Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: "I can't comment, as you can appreciate, on individual cases but obviously I would be concerned, and people reading the accounts will be concerned, for the woman and the baby involved.

"Clearly we passed legislation earlier in the year and we obviously will continue to monitor that legislation and see how it is being implemented," she told the Irish broadcaster RTÉ.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act came into force on 1 January this year.

For the first time in Irish law, it set out when abortion is permitted.

Terminations are allowed when there is a threat to the life of the mother, including when she is at risk of suicide.

Women who tell health staff they are suicidal during an unwanted pregnancy are assessed by a panel of three medical experts.

If the experts agree the woman is at risk, doctors can intervene to terminate a pregnancy.

However, both pro-choice and anti-abortion groups have said the vulnerable woman's case has exposed serious problems with the new legislation.

The Pro Life Campaign spokesperson, Dr Ruth Cullen, said: "Reports that an unborn baby was recently delivered at 25 weeks, citing provisions in the new abortion Act, underlines the horror and deep-seated flaws of the government's legislation.

"To induce a pregnancy at such an early stage inevitably puts the baby at risk of serious harm, such as brain damage, blindness or even death."

Dr Cullen added: "The fact that the panel could just as easily have sanctioned an abortion in this case also brings home everything that is wrong about the new law."

Doctors for Choice, an alliance that describes itself as advocating "comprehensive reproductive health services in Ireland, including the provision of safe and legal abortion for women who choose it", also expressed concerns over the case.

They said it highlighted problems with the expert panel system, that assesses the mental health of suicidal pregnant women.

The organisation said the inclusion of an obstetrician to adjudicate on mental health matters, with no training, was a deep flaw in the system.

The new legislation was introduced following controversy over the death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012.

Mrs Halappanavar had asked for a termination after being told she was having a miscarriage, but staff at a Galway hospital refused.

Days later, the 31-year-old died from infection.

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