A pregnant Irish minor who wanted an abortion was placed into a psychiatric clinic against her will in late 2016, according to a report published Monday by the Child Care Law Reporting Project.
A psychiatrist first evaluated the pregnant girl as depressed and suicidal before sending her to Dublin, according to the project, which examines and reports on child care proceedings in Irish courts. The girl and her mother believed they were traveling to the Irish capital for an abortion, according to the report.
Instead, when they arrived, the girl was placed into a mental health facility, where she was detained for days. Under European Union law, the minor’s identity has been withheld.
Ireland holds the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, held up by the Irish Constitution’s eighth amendment, which places the right to life of an unborn child on equal footing with the right to life of the mother.
The amendment, passed in 1983, prohibits abortion even in cases of rape, incest or ill health of the mother, allowing it as a consideration only when the woman’s life is in immediate danger under the 2014 Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act.
Under the law, the girl, who had been assessed as suicidal, could have arguably been able to access an abortion.
The referring psychiatrist argued the abortion was “not the solution for all the child’s problems at this stage” and invoked the Mental Health Act – a law that can allow health care professionals to admit patients into mental health facilities without their permission – to detain the minor in a psychiatric facility instead.
Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign said Monday in a statement it was “deeply concerned” a “law (the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act) that is supposed to help pregnant people access the care they need is instead being weaponized against them.”
“It’s hard not to think that the psychiatrist in this case essentially used the Mental Health Act as a tool to force a child into continuing an unwanted pregnancy because of their own personal beliefs,” wrote Abortion Rights Campaign spokeswoman Linda Kavanagh. “It is clear we need some process which ensures medical professionals with such conscientious objections cannot block timely health care in critical cases.”
Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris has not responded to a request for comment.
While she was in psychiatric care, the child was appointed a court guardian who argued for her release. A second psychiatrist evaluated the girl, concluding, although she “presented as being depressed…, there was no evidence of a psychological disorder… and she could not be detained under the Mental Health Act.”
The second psychiatrist also said the pregnant girl had “very strong views” as to why she wanted the abortion.
The child was released from the mental health facility several days later, after a district court ruled she “no longer had a mental health disorder.”
“As a human being and in a personal capacity, I would be very concerned if the only response to young women who sought abortion and who were extremely distressed was to detain them,” Carol Coulter, director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project, told CNN. “If a young girl who was suicidal was faced with detention, rather than addressing the cause of her distress, I would deplore that – but, as an organization as a whole, we don’t have a view of that nature.”
In April, the Irish government heard the findings of the nonbinding Citizens’ Assembly, which voted in favor of changing the country’s abortion laws. Incoming Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has promised to hold a referendum on abortion rights in 2018, but a date has not been set.