After Sarah Ewart's baby was diagnosed with anencephaly, she was forced to travel to England for an abortion - now she's campaigning to help other women in her situation
In 2013, a heavily pregnant 23-year-old was called into her local hospital, and told that her unborn baby was suffering from anencephaly – a condition that meant it was already brain dead, and hadn’t developed a skull.
But despite begging her doctor for an abortion – despite visiting every family planning clinic in her region, desperate for advice – Sarah Ewart found herself confronted by pro-life protesters at every corner, and was turned away by every medical professional. Meaning that – at 20 weeks pregnant, and while going through a terrible tragedy, she and her partner had to spend £1350 on flights to England, check into a hotel, and go through the procedure away from home.
‘I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare,’ she recalls. ‘I simply could not face it, but the law in Northern Ireland meant I had no option but to go to England and take myself away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me. I was 23 years old and totally devastated.’
‘If this child had Downs Syndrome, I wouldn’t even have been dreaming of doing this,’ Sarah explained emotionally. ‘But this child is already dead before it’s born, there is no choice. There is no treatment. There is no skull. There is no brain. There is nothing that they can make grow to make this baby live. This baby is brain dead. It’s just a dead body, that’s it.’
‘It’s very hard to come to terms with,’ she added. ‘They said that they don’t offer terminations in Northern Ireland so my only choice really was to carry the baby either until it passes away inside me or I can deliver and it would pass away,”
Now, two years on, Sarah has taken her experience to Belfast’s High Court, in a bid to overturn the stringent abortion regulations that are currently in place in Northern Ireland. Because, as it stands, even women who have been raped, or have babies who are diagnosed with severe foetal abnormalities or malformation aren’t allowed a termination. In fact, they’re only rarely allowed if the health of the woman carrying the baby is at risk.
Grainne Teggart, Campaign Manager for Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign is supporting Sarah’s campaign.
‘Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion date back to the 19th Century carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe and fail to protect women who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal foetal diagnosis.’
‘By not legislating for change, the Northern Ireland Assembly fails women with every passing day. Up to 2,000 women leave Northern Ireland every year to access termination of pregnancy services. That reality is a damning indictment of the Executive’s failure to prioritise women’s healthcare.’
‘Change is long overdue and change is coming. Whether through the courts or the Assembly, Northern Ireland’s abortion laws must be brought into the twenty-first century.’
‘I and many women like me have been failed by our politicians, after they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care,’ adds Sarah, emphatically. ‘Now, by their refusal to change the law, they leave me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.’