What is ‘Termination for Medical Reasons’
Termination for Medical Reasons (TFMR) is a group which campaign for a repeal of the 8th Amendment of the Irish constitution to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities (FFAs). The campaign began in April 2012 and five years on they are still fighting for change in Irish law.
‘It’s really about five years ago that the whole discussion around fatal foetal anomalies started off’, explains Gerry Edwards, chairperson of TFMR Ireland, ‘and I think up to that point the whole abortion debate was really handled in a pretty black and white dimension, which I think suited the anti-choice people best, because you either liked people or you were pro-abortion, that was kind of the way they liked to put it.’
Gerry, speaking clearly and confidently, shares his view that parents taking the chance and opportunity to come out and share their own personal experiences, all of which are different, lead more people to be aware of FFAs and the effects on families. This also led more people to ‘think about all of the shades of grey which occur in people’s lives’, explains Gerry, ‘all the circumstances in which you can find yourself pregnant, and that pregnancy is either unwanted for whatever reason or there’s a separate crisis that means you can’t continue it.’
Although the group has been working at changing Irish law for five years and offering support to those in need, it was at Christmas of 2016 that TFMR incorporated as the company ‘TFMR Ireland’ in order to ‘take the campaign forward.’
Gerry and his wife, Gaye, appeared on The Ray D’Arcy Show last June, just after the Amanda Mellet hearing. Mellet v Ireland involved a woman whose routine scan at 21 weeks in the Rotunda hospital showed the foetus was suffering from Edwards Syndrome, which is a fatal condition. The Centre for Reproductive Rights filed the complaint on Amada’s behalf when she was unable to obtain an abortion in Ireland and had to travel to Liverpool in order to do so. She was also not given counselling by the Rotunda, whereas those who do not terminate can avail of such. Ms Mellet further received her foetus’s ashes by courier a few weeks later unexpectedly as she had not received information about this in the U.K. hospital. The result of this case was €30,000 compensation from the government as well as counselling.
The couple’s appearance on Ray D’Arcy resulted in multiple complaints to the Broadcast Authority of Ireland (BAI) for being ‘biased’. ‘I’m a bit of a nerd about the BAI complaints’, Gerry begins, ‘but basically there’s about 20% of the complaints to the BAI that come from about three or four people, and it’s all to do with pretty much catholic ethos stuff, they’re like catholic watchdogs. You know: same sex marriage, gender recognition, abortion and pretty much once a broadcaster, or our national broadcaster, decides to discuss these topics a complaint will go in and almost every single time the complaint is rejected but I don’t think that’s the point of the complaint: I believe that the point of the complaint is to actually punish the broadcaster for discussing a topic.’ Gerry goes on to explain, ‘so if you’re a producer of a show you can say “I’m going to discuss abortion today, in which case I’m going to get formal complaints in from these serial complainants which are going to tie me up no matter what response I make. It’s going to go to the BAI or I can do a story about a cat stuck up a tree and nobody will pay any notice.”’ A small laugh escapes him before he continues, back to a more serious and quite annoyed tone. ‘It’s actually to censor and the whole broadcast code is being misused by a small group of individuals.’
Speaking out in secret
This wasn’t the first time that Gerry and Gaye had spoken out, Gaye took part in the Amnesty’s “She is not a criminal” and the pair have spoken out before. Gerry talks about the decision to come out and speak about abortion, ‘it’s a huge decision actually to come out and speak about it in your own name. For Gaye and I it’s just over 16 years since we lost our son, Joshua, and that was 2001.’
Gaye and Gerry did interviews with The Irish Times, Channel 4, and other news organisations but this was all done in secret and they were advised against using their names for security reasons. ‘One of the newspapers sent a photographer from Belfast down to take photographs of us in silhouette, so somebody who would have been used to photographing IRA informers and things like that’, he pauses as he lets out a small laugh. ‘That was the kind of environment that it was in then: you didn’t know whether coming out and saying you’d had an abortion would affect your employment prospects. You didn’t know whether Youth Defence or anybody like that was going to turn up at your doorstep or whether you were going to be accosted in the street or your property vandalised.’
‘It was very scary around that time to be honest with you,’ confides Gerry. The couple could only tell those closest to them out of fear that people would look at them differently. But watching others speak they soon knew they must follow their lead, ‘we realised if we’d had a bit more courage a number of years ago maybe these women wouldn’t have had to go through that ordeal.’ With such a nerve-wracking experience before them,
Gerry also had to speak with his employers just to make sure there wouldn’t be any problems. Gerry, praising this employer for their support, tells how ‘they’re the same company I worked with at the time we lost Joshua and they were very supportive of me then and they support my right to campaign now’.
There is a real fear when speaking out about abortion and waving your anonymity open people like Gerry and Gaye up to judgement from their friends, neighbours, and acquaintances because you don’t know their views or how they’ll react to you opening up. Gerry laughs lightly again as he explains this struggle in one simple phrase, ‘once that toothpaste comes out of the tube there’s no getting it back in’, he continues to explain that, ‘when you’ve spoken out publicly that’s it, you’re out and you have to deal with it.’ While there have been a few trolls on social media, the Edwards’ have had overwhelmingly positive responses though, as have others they know who have talked about their experiences.
TFMR believe that educating others on what they stand for and what Irish laws mean to those who are given a diagnosis of any FFA is key. Gerry explains that they often come across people who believe that in cases of FFA hospitals here in Ireland will induce the pregnant person but this is not the case under current Irish law.
Gerry and Gaye thought the same until they were in this situation. Gerry clarifies what they aim to do in their work at TFMR, ‘I don’t think it’s a case of having to turn people’s views about what should or shouldn’t be done it was simply making them aware of this is what the regime is here and what it currently means.’ FFAs are being included in discussions around abortion law now and Gerry feels that many people were never against abortion in these circumstances but weren’t fully aware of the full extent of the 8th Amendment really.
Murderers and Nazis
To Gerry and Gaye, now 16 years on from their termination, name-calling is merely ‘annoying’. The couple were always confident in their decision and they knew it was the best decision for them. ‘It was always going to be my wife’s decision at the end of the day but we happened to be singing off the same sheet. I would have supported her no matter what her decision was but we were on the same page.’ He explains.
They even went to see a psychiatrist before making their final decision. Although they were sure they knew that a termination was the best decision for them, they wanted to make sure their thought process was sound at a time of great trauma. They knew this was a decision they would have to live with forever. ‘She reckoned we were sane enough’, a small, almost hollow laugh escaping, ‘the psychiatrists role wasn’t to influence our decision one way or the other but just to see did she think we had thought about it properly and were we comfortable we our decision,’ he clarifies.
And so, for the Edwards’, these insults are ‘water off a ducks back’. But the concern is there for those who have very recently gone through this process, are going through it, or are contemplating going through it, and for them it’s particularly hurtful according to Gerry. ‘I mean, if you’re in a position like that where you’re 14 weeks pregnant and you’ve opted to get genetic screening done, or you’re at your 20 week anomaly scan, and you’re visibly pregnant, you’re looking forward to it, you’ve been shopping for prams and all kinds of things’, he begins, ‘and then are told that your baby is not going to live, or in some cases that your own body is actually harming your baby, like in the case where there are no kidneys: the baby can’t produce amniotic fluid so the weight of the mother’s organs is actually compressing the baby.’ Gerry sympathises with the mothers who have to go through this ordeal. ‘That’s really, really difficult for a mother to consider that her own body is damaging her baby,’ he says angrily, ‘and then to have gobshites come out and accuse them of being murderers or Nazis is just so grossly offensive. It’s filled with so much hate, it’s totally devoid of any compassion for the mother and what she’s going through, or the father or the extended family and what they’re going through.’
Family and friends feel completely helpless to anyone going through this and hate like this is upsetting to them all. Gerry talks about people who sometimes tell the ‘version B’ story to their friends in order to avoid judgement or speaking about it further, ‘their story for their colleagues and neighbours was that they were either going to a concert or visiting a friend they were in college with and that they lost the pregnancy when they were away because they felt it was easier to go with a miscarriage or a story than to tell people the truth.’ So, hearing people in that situation being called murderers and Nazis is something Gerry finds disgusting.
To learn more about TFMR head to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TFMRIre/