The 8th Amendment has a grave impact on women and girls who face illness during their pregnancy.
In 2010, Michelle Harte became unintentionally pregnant while receiving treatment for cancer. Professor Louise Kenny, consultant obstetrician at Cork University Hospital, advised her to terminate the pregnancy and to continue receiving treatment. She further expressed willingness to carry out the procedure. However, due to legal uncertainties, the decision was first passed to the hospital’s ethics forum which decided against allowing the abortion, saying her life was not under ‘immediate threat.’
Prof. Kenny has said that she felt ‘hamstrung’ by the Eighth Amendment.
The ad-hoc forum took two weeks to make this decision, and Ms Harte was forced to wait a further three weeks to travel for a termination, since she did not have a passport. During this time, her condition worsened significantly as she could not receive treatment and by the time she travelled, she had to receive assistance in order to board the plane.
Michelle Harte was prevented from receiving a life extending therapy because of an unintended pregnancy.
Prof. Kenny has said:
“It is a fact that the Eighth Amendment casts a shadow over the care of every woman of reproductive age with complex medical needs in this State. Michelle Harte was prevented from receiving a life extending therapy because of an unintended pregnancy. She was deemed ineligible for termination under the 8th Amendment. An Amendment at the heart of our constitution which only preserves the life, under the threat of a ‘real and substantial’ risk, whilst disregarding the health of a woman has no place in modern medicine.”
Liam Herrick, director of the ICCL, said of the case:
“This tragic case is another example of the hypocrisy involved in guaranteeing the right to travel for abortion. Migrant women who do not have the necessary papers face real challenges in accessing abortion, as do people who just don’t have the economic resources.”
“The right to adequate healthcare is one of the most important human rights and one that the Irish State has committed to guaranteeing. The Eighth Amendment means that a person loses that fundamental right when they become pregnant.”