State 'has no power to stop teen travelling for abortion'

The State has no power to stop a teenage girl travelling to Britain for an abortion, the High Court was told today.

The 17-year-old, who is four months pregnant, is challenging the Health Service Executive (HSE) which is preventing her from terminating her pregnancy overseas.

The teenager, who can only be identified as Miss D and from the Leinster region, has been in the care of the HSE since March.

Medics told her last week that the foetus she is carrying suffers from the brain condition anencephaly, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull and scalp.

The newborn baby will live a maximum of three days.

Mr Justice Liam McKechnie today granted the girl leave to bring a legal action to prevent the HSE restraining her leaving the country for an abortion.

The case is being rushed through the courts system, and will be heard in full on Thursday morning.

Abortion is still illegal in Ireland, although women do have the right to information and travel. It is estimated in the region of 7,000 Irish women travel to the UK every year for an abortion.

The girl maintains she was told by the HSE that it had contacted the gardaí to request that she not be permitted to leave the State unless she was suicidal.

However, the High Court heard the HSE and gardaí had no power to stop the girl from travelling abroad.

Donal O’Donnell SC, appearing for the Attorney General, said the HSE has no legal power to direct the gardaí to restrain a person who is subject of an interim care order; that the gardaí do not have the legal power to restrain someone simply because they are subject of an interim order; and that the HSE order does not restrain a person from travelling anywhere.

The HSE said the teenager – whose small baby bump was visible in the packed court room – will undergo a psychiatrist examination later today, with a medical to be carried out on the girl and foetus if required.

Gerard Hogan SC, representing Miss D, said in an affidavit his client said she was deeply distressed and could not live through the pregnancy knowing her baby would die, but stressed she was not suicidal.

He said the girl had asked for the case to be heard in open court, as long as her identity was protected, adding it was of great importance that the case be heard as speedily as possible.

“I ask for this case to be heard in a matter of days or at the very outset next Tuesday,” he said.

Gerard Durkan SC, for the HSE, said his client was anxious for whatever course of action for the best welfare of the girl and would do that having regard for all the legal parameters and restraints that applied.

Despite being in the care of the State, the girl’s mother appeared in the court to give the teenager her full backing.

The woman – to be known as Miss A – agreed to apply for legal aid today so she can be legally represented during the case.

Mr Justice McKechnie granted leave for a full hearing of the case on Thursday and ordered no details be reported which could identify the teenager.

Miss A was ordered to appear before the judge tomorrow morning to ensure the application for legal aid was successful before the full hearing is called. If not the HSE offered to cover the cost of a solicitor for the woman.

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