Wednesday 12 December 2018

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People with disabilities forgotten in abortion debate

Wednesday, 5th December, 2018 4:51pm

People with disabilities are being forgotten.

Monday was International Day of Disabled Persons, and I am calling for the Government to reconsider the decisions made for the Termination of Pregnancy Bill. The proposed legislation as it stands will have a detrimental effect on people with disabilities who face crisis pregnancies.

I suffer from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and founded Disabled People for Choice. I have previously shared my story about how future pregnancies could leave me in a wheelchair permanently or even lead to my death.

During the campaign to repeal the eighth, I travelled across Ireland explaining how people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by Ireland’s strict abortion regime.

In October, I contributed to a submission to the Department of Health. The document was a joint effort amongst other disability groups such as Inclusion Ireland, Lawyers for Choice, Disabled Women Ireland and Amnesty International, to name just a few.

The 27 page document highlights the various problems with the proposed legislation, including the 12 week limit, conscientious objection, review and appeals committees and medical consent.

As it stands, the legislation is going to cause huge problems for people with disabilities. I am very nervous and disappointed that as usual, we are not being thought about.

The 72 hour wait period, 12 week limit and conscientious objection is going to affect everyone but they will affect people with disabilities much more profoundly.

Many people with disabilities have mobility issues and experience flare-ups of their illness. This means the simple act of getting out of the house can be an enormous task, especially in rural areas. To ask people with disabilities to organise travel twice in one week could prove to be an impossible task.

It may also invade their privacy if they need to ask someone for transportation for the follow-up appointment three days later. We also have to remember that deaf or hard of hearing patients will have to hire an interpreter, which can take weeks to arrange.

People with disabilities generally have the same GP their whole lives or at least for a large portion. They know your medical history, everything from the physical to the mental wellbeing of their patients.

So, what happens if the GP refuses to prescribe Misoprostol (a drug which can be used to cause an abortion)?

In addition to the issues we discussed with the three-day wait, the patient will have to have to travel to find a doctor who can help them.

They could be in the same surgery, if they’re really lucky. What if the available GP is two or three towns over? What if the original GP refuses to even refer? What if you live in a residential unit and only have access to one GP? What then?

Medical wardship and the appeals process has also been a great concern for disability groups.

In order to truly make the Termination of Pregnancy Bill inclusive and accessible for all, our Government needs to enact the Assisted Decision Making Bill and repeal the Lunacy Act fully.

I am concerned about the review and appeals process and the time it will take to make decisions. The longer a decision takes, the longer the person remains pregnant.

With disability/chronic illness, an abortion can be more complicated so it is imperative that termination is carried out as early as possible to avoid risk to the person’s mental and physical health.

Later terminations also have their own added risks for people with disabilities so a time limit on this review process must be considered. We feel it is also important that an expert in the field of the patient’s disability is part of this review process to highlight the potential risks of continuing with a pregnancy.

I fear that pregnant people with disabilities will be the ones to show the current legislation will not work.

Pregnant people with disabilities make up the majority of maternal deaths here in the UK and Ireland. I am scared that it takes a member of our community to highlights the problems with the legislation.

In this country, we are an afterthought.

There are well over 100,000 women, girls and transgender men of childbearing age in Ireland living with disabilities.

They need to be protected.

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