THE IRISH Government has compensated a woman €30,000 after she was forced to travel to Britain for an abortion in a ruling that marks the first of its kind in Ireland.
Amanda Mellet was 21 weeks pregnant when she learned that her unborn child had a fatal foetal abnormality and would die in the womb or shortly after birth.
Ms Mellet travelled to Britain in November 2011 to have a termination and was only able to afford a 12-hour stay in the country while she sought the procedure.
Minister for Health Simon Harris met with Ms Mellet on Tuesday night to apologise to her in person and inform her of the Government’s offer of an €30,000 ex gratia payment – in line with a UN committee’s ruling in June.
The UN committee found that Ms Mellet had suffered “discrimination and anguish” after she was “forced” to travel abroad for an abortion because of Irish law.
In a statement, Ms Mellet said she was grateful to Minister Harris for his personal apology and compensatory offer.
“I am immensely grateful to Minister Harris for his personal apology to me last night and offer of compensation and counselling,” she said.
“It goes a long way towards closure for what was the most painful chapter of my life. I am hopeful that ensuring the legal change outlined by the UN Committee will now be the Government’s next step.”
Figures from Britain’s Department of Health have previously shown that, on average, 12 women cross the Irish Sea each day to undergo an aborotion in Britain.
Ms Mellet and her husband James brought their case to the UN’s Human Rights Committee in 2013.
In doing so, Ms Mellet became the first of three Irish women to approach the UN to denounce Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws.
Speaking to The Irish Post, solicitor Roddy Tyrrell – who holds an MA in Healthcare Ethics & Law from the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland – said other women in similar circumstances could now be encouraged to take action.
“It may be overstating the matter to say this might open the floodgates, but it would certainly open deep consideration for other applicants who have had abortions,” he said. “It puts pressure, if not legally, then certainly politically on any government to pay out to other applicants in similar circumstances.
“I don't believe that there is a straightforward legal precedent, but this ruling would certainly make it worth individual applicants’ time to seek a similar accommodation.”
Amnesty International Ireland said the ruling in favour of Ms Mellet was “groundbreaking” for Irish women.
“This response acknowledges the harm caused to women by the current law,” said Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty Ireland. “This is likely also the experience of countless other women and girls setting out on the same journey every day.
“The Government must now comply with the Committee’s ruling that Ireland reform its laws to ensure that no woman or girl will ever face similar human rights violations.
“This is a groundbreaking decision which will help advance women’s and girls’ rights around the world.”
According to RTÉ, the Department of Health’s ex gratia compensation to Ms Mellet was a once off payment.
A spokesperson for Amanda Mellet said: "Ms Mellet's ruling does not have wider legal implications for the Irish Government. It does not give them any obligation to extend a mechanism of compensation."
Minister for Health Simon Harris meet with Ms Mellet and her husband earlier this week. Here's what he said afterwards...
Ms Mellet and her husband kindly agreed to my request to meet last evening to give me an opportunity to inform them of substance of our response to the UN Committee in advance of our formal submission.
At this meeting I again expressed my own personal view of Ms Mellet’s case, a view I have voiced previously in Dáil Éireann. When I read the report from the UNHR Committee I found the experience she went through deeply upsetting. Indeed, I have subsequently met with other families who have been through the trauma of knowing their baby will not survive and made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy abroad and I have been very moved on hearing of their experiences.
In their conclusion of Ms Mellet’s case, the UNHR Committee requested the State to amend its law on termination of pregnancy, to ensure that health-care providers are in a position to supply full information on safe abortion services, and to provide Ms Mellet with adequate compensation and to make available to her any psychological treatment she requires.
I informed Ms Mellet that our response to the UN Committee sets out the current legislative position in Ireland for termination of pregnancy where the unborn is protected by Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution. The Government has established a Citizen’s Assembly, in line with its Programme for Partnership Government commitment to consider a number of matters including constitutional reform. Under the Assembly’s terms of reference they are directed to first consider the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Article 40.3.3) and their conclusions on the matter will be submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas for further debate by Parliament.
The Regulation of Information (Services outside the State for Terminations of Pregnancy) Act 1995 does not in any way preclude health professionals from giving full information to a woman with regard to her state of health, and all the information necessary to enable her to make an informed decision about her pregnancy. However I have asked my Department to review the 1995 Act to determine if the provisions need to be strengthened or clarified.
In relation to health services, the Health Service Executive published the National Standards for Bereavement Care following Pregnancy Loss and Perinatal Death in August this year. The purpose of the standards is to enhance bereavement care services for parents who experience a pregnancy loss or perinatal death. These standards cover all pregnancy loss situations from early pregnancy loss to perinatal death, as well as situations where there is a diagnosis of foetal anomaly that will be life limiting or may be fatal. These services are available to all parents who have suffered bereavement irrespective of when the bereavement occurred.
With regard to measures directly relating to Ms Mellet in acknowledgement of the Committee’s views, the State has offered Ms Mellet an ex gratia sum of €30,000.
I will also direct the Health Service Executive to ensure that Ms Mellet will have timely access to all appropriate psychological services provided by the Health Service Executive.
Ms Mellet and her husband were gracious in their response.