DUBLIN, Ireland – An Irish judge ruled Wednesday that a 17-year-old girl in state care can travel to England to abort her brain-damaged fetus, a judgment in keeping with Ireland's constitutional ban on the practice here.
The case of "Miss D," as the Dublin girl who is 4 1/2 months pregnant has been identified in court, has reopened debate in this predominantly Catholic country over whether abortion should be legalized in certain circumstances.
High Court Justice Liam McKechnie ruled that nothing in Irish law, including the constitution, stood in the way of "Miss D" traveling to England for an abortion. He rejected the argument of the girl's legal guardian, the government Health Service Executive, that it required court permission for her to travel.
During the weeklong case — which McKechnie insisted be accelerated because of the girl's pregnancy — Attorney General Rory Brady appointed lawyers to represent the right to life of the fetus. They argued that the constitution made it illegal for any state employee to help the girl travel abroad to abort her fetus.
McKechnie said that was not the issue here. He said state officials had no right to stand in the way of "Miss D," who could travel without their help.
He noted that voters in 1992 amended Ireland's constitution to make it legal to receive information about foreign abortion services and to travel for abortions in England, where the practice was legalized in 1967. About 7,000 Irish abortion-seekers annually make the trip.
"Miss D," who was placed under the Health Service Executive's care in January after taking an overdose, found out while hospitalized that she was pregnant. In an April screening, doctors discovered her fetus had a rare abnormality that meant it would be born without part of its skull and would quickly die, which spurred the girl to seek an abortion.
The Health Service Executive said in a statement it accepted the verdict and regretted causing "Miss D" stress. It pledged to offer her "all the care and support which it is in a position to make available."
A landmark 1992 Supreme Court judgment held that abortions should be legal in Ireland in cases when continued pregnancy would threaten the life of the woman — including because of her own threat to commit suicide. Successive governments have refused to pass legislation in line with the judgment.
Rival groups of pro-choice and pro-life campaigners mounted protests outside Ireland's Four Courts building. The anti-abortion side emphasized that fetuses should not be terminated simply because they faced severe handicaps or deadly abnormalities.
"Miss D's baby is just as precious as any non-disabled child, and the likelihood of a short postnatal life does not alter that fact," said Alison Davis, director of No Less Human, the disabled-rights unit of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.