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Stop the Fake News: It's not true that a woman was locked up for seeking an abortion in Ireland

The headlines were dramatic, and wholly misleading, but when it comes to abortion unfortunately this sort of fake news reporting has become the new standard in Ireland. So first, let’s set the record straight: a child was not locked up for seeking an abortion in Ireland, and nothing in Irish law would permit any woman to be detained because she requested an abortion.

So what are the facts of the case? Firstly, very little is known apart from what was detailed in a report from the Child Care Law Reporting Project. That project reported that a consultant psychiatrist had recommended that a pregnant girl be detained “because she had a mental health disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act  ….. and was at risk of self harm and suicide”.

Most people are aware that the Mental Health Act allows a person to be admitted into hospital, even against their will, if, as the Act states, it is believed “there is a serious likelihood that you may cause immediate and serious harm to yourself or to other people.”

Psychiatrists do not make a decision to detain someone in this way lightly then, but only when they feel someone might possibly kill themselves or harm others. What do abortion campaigners suggest a psychiatrist should do when they believe someone might harm themselves, ignore the situation? Leave a person who says she is suicidal to kill themselves? That would be grossly irresponsible.

Secondly, the psychiatrist in this case also said that while the mental health disorder was 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.” Very often, there is more than one factor causing a person to feel suicidal.

Every decent person will feel enormous sympathy for a young distressed girl, but acknowledging that abortion is not a treatment for suicidality actually reflects best medical practise, and should not have been a controversial decision. In fact, in 2013, this subject was compehensively dealt with when an Oireachtas Committee sought expert opinion on the matter and all of experts agreed that abortion is not a treatment for suicide.

Furthermore, at that time 113 psychiatrists also agreed with a statement  saying that allowing suicide as grounds for an abortion “has no basis in the medical evidence available”. In this case, two psychiatrists who subsequently examined the girl in question came to the conclusion that she was not then at risk because of a mental health disorder. That happens all the time in medicine.

None of these inconvenient facts stopped the wild allegations and hysterical responses from abortion campaigners to this case – which were endlessly amplified, of course, by the ever-willing and always-supportive media. The misinformation began, as it has done previously, with a news story from Kitty Holland of the Irish Times, who seems to be the paper’s full-time abortion correspondent.

Holland and other media outlets are careful to cover themselves, choosing the words that can give the casual reader the wrong impression rather than telling an outright falsehood. So Holland’s headline merely suggested that a girl was detained in a psychiatric institution because she wanted an abortion, although her next paragraph was more straightforwardly misleading when it stated “a girl deemed to be at risk of suicide who wanted an abortion was sectioned under the Mental Health Act because her treating psychiatrist said terminating the pregnancy “was not the solution”.

Not so: she was sectioned because a mental health expert believed she might have harmed herself.

Maybe Kitty Holland hasn’t read the Mental Health Act. Maybe she doesn’t realise that the Act makes no provision for sectioning a woman because she wants an abortion. Or maybe she is fully aware of that, but knows how to craft a sentence so that people think that if you ask for an abortion in Ireland you are locked up.

Others weren’t so careful: the Irish Mirror’s headline falsely claimed that ‘young Irish woman was sectioned for wanting an abortion’, when the truth is that nobody has ever been sectioned or charged in this country under existing laws because they wanted an abortion.

Other headlines were equally lurid and misleading, such as this from The Inquisitr – ‘Pregnant Irish Teen Locked in Psych Ward After Requesting An Abortion’, while CNN reported on the case without seeking any balance or any alternative views to the lengthy quote given to the Abortion Rights Campaign, who seem to see abortion as the solution to every crisis arising in pregnancy.

Likewise, the Irish Times, in another article penned by Ms Holland, two abortion campaigners, Dr Veronica Keane and Dr Peadar O’Grady, were quoted as saying Ireland’s laws were unworkable and lead to suicidal feelings – but the news report never mentioned that they are active members of Doctors for Choice, with O’Grady in particular having extreme views on abortion.

This is another case where misleading and crassly incorrect media reporting has distorted the truth so far that it becomes fake news. No doubt, it is also an attempt to brow beat psychiatrists who, in following best medical practise, do not believe suicide is grounds for abortion and prefer to offer support, counselling and best care. This is rejected by abortion campaigners who seem to believe that the only good solution is a dead baby. It’s past time that we rejected their counsel for a more progressive and compassionate society which cherishes both mother and child.



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