My baby heartbreak changed history

The worst thing for Amy Dunne is that she never saw her daughter’s face. ‘I couldn’t at the time. I had the choice and I just couldn’t do it. I stood by the cot and touched her fingers and her toes, but she was never in my arms, and the blanket was covering her face.

‘I remember watching the priest hold her to give her a blessing, and being bitter and jealous that he was holding my baby. I think maybe even at the time I knew that I would be angry for the rest of my life because I never got to see my child.’

Her firstborn, Jasmine, came into this world in Liverpool, but is buried in a cemetery near her home in Drogheda, north of Dublin. There was no birth or death certificate because Jasmine never took a breath. Officially, she never existed. Amy has never forgotten her.

‘The coffin she came back from Liverpool in was too small to put a crucifix on, which I wanted,’ Amy explains. ‘So they had to put her in a bigger one. I remember being in the big black car with my boyfriend and we were so worried about every bump in the road.

Amy Dunne, 30, (pictured) who triggered headlines about Ireland's abortion laws in 2007, recalls being at the centre of a legal storm when she was age 17

Amy Dunne, 30, (pictured) who triggered headlines about Ireland's abortion laws in 2007, recalls being at the centre of a legal storm when she was age 17

Amy Dunne, 30, (pictured) who triggered headlines about Ireland’s abortion laws in 2007, recalls being at the centre of a legal storm when she was age 17

‘I couldn’t stop myself thinking about her being flung around and getting hurt. I know that’s a bit silly, but I couldn’t bear it. My boyfriend went to pieces in that car.’

Amy was just 17 then, in 2007. But in headlines around the world she was known as Miss D, the teenager whose pregnancy prompted an extraordinary court case and focused international attention on Ireland’s then inhumane abortion laws.

Amy faced a terrible predicament: she was carrying a baby doctors said could not survive after birth, yet was prevented by law from having an abortion. Accessing one meant taking legal action — and running a gauntlet of protesters screaming ‘murderer’ on the court steps.

A story from the dark ages? Well, yes and no.

Thirteen years on, and partly thanks to campaigning work by Amy and others like her, no young woman should ever find herself in such a predicament again.

Abortion has now been legal in the Republic of Ireland for the past year. In Northern Ireland, though — one of the last regions in Western Europe where a ban was in place — things are murkier. Although the British Parliament voted to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland, and the law effectively changed on March 31 this year, local political issues have led to gaps in provision.

Health minister Robin Swann has been accused of using the pandemic to stall the process because of his own objections.

Amy who became pregnant two months after losing her first baby, said women should be able to access an abortion for a pregnancy under 12 weeks. Pictured: Pro-Choice activists dress up as characters from The Handmaid¿s Tale in a Dublin protest

Amy who became pregnant two months after losing her first baby, said women should be able to access an abortion for a pregnancy under 12 weeks. Pictured: Pro-Choice activists dress up as characters from The Handmaid¿s Tale in a Dublin protest

Amy who became pregnant two months after losing her first baby, said women should be able to access an abortion for a pregnancy under 12 weeks. Pictured: Pro-Choice activists dress up as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale in a Dublin protest

‘The stalling is disgraceful, because when it comes to abortion, time is of the essence,’ says Amy. ‘Terrified women who need help are still finding themselves in situations they should not be in. On paper, we may have moved on, but not enough. In law, women should now be able to access an abortion as long as the pregnancy is under 12 weeks. The fact people are still debating it means there is still a question mark there. It’s still a grey area, and it shouldn’t be.’

Amy is 30 now, working as a promotional model, and is bright, articulate and informed. She is a mother, too, having become pregnant with her son Adam, now 12, just two months after losing her first baby.

‘I’ve always taken him to Jasmine’s grave, but he’s only ever known her as Princess Jasmine. I never used the word “daughter”. But one day one of his friends was with us — everyone around here knows what happened — and talked about Jasmine being Adam’s sister, which confused him.

‘I did tell him part of the story, obviously not the full story, but I will have to do that one day.’

Amy’s pregnancy at just 16 was no accident. It was planned. ‘I wanted a baby. I wanted someone to love and who would love me. I loved my boyfriend. I wanted us to be a family.’

Amy discovered her firstborn had a fatal abnormality that would cause her to die soon after birth during her 12-week scan. Pictured: Amy with her mother

Amy discovered her firstborn had a fatal abnormality that would cause her to die soon after birth during her 12-week scan. Pictured: Amy with her mother

Amy discovered her firstborn had a fatal abnormality that would cause her to die soon after birth during her 12-week scan. Pictured: Amy with her mother 

She was a teenager who knew her own mind, but Amy had had a difficult upbringing. Her mother had issues with alcohol and dependency, and Amy was effectively in care.

‘I was living in a B&B — it wasn’t a place for a teenager. I was still a child.’ Her pregnancy seemed to offer an escape. ‘I was so happy. It was the new start I’d wanted.’

Her family and her boyfriend’s family were shocked, but supportive. Both mothers were excited about the 12-week scan, on Amy’s 17th birthday. But during the scan, the sonographer went quiet, then said she needed to consult a superior.

Amy’s baby had anencephaly, a fatal abnormality which means the brain does not develop. The child would die soon after birth.

‘I was in shock. To me it wasn’t English. I had no idea what he was talking about. I panicked and ran off down the road, to where my mum was waiting.’

She stresses that she had never considered an abortion before. ‘At the time, I would have said I was pro-life, although I’d never even heard that term.’

When Amy got home, she Googled anencephaly. Pictures can be horrific; she was not mentally prepared for what she saw.

Amy recalls the chief social worker telling her that she has to have the baby and she would be arrested if she tried to go to England for an abortion. Pictured: Activists in Dublin in 2018

Amy recalls the chief social worker telling her that she has to have the baby and she would be arrested if she tried to go to England for an abortion. Pictured: Activists in Dublin in 2018

Amy recalls the chief social worker telling her that she has to have the baby and she would be arrested if she tried to go to England for an abortion. Pictured: Activists in Dublin in 2018

‘I remember thinking “I don’t want her in there. I can’t do this.” It felt like I had an alien in my belly.’

Abortion was illegal, but everyone knew girls could travel to England for the procedure. Amy rues the day she told her social workers she was pregnant — and wanted their help to arrange an abortion.

‘It was the one time I tried to do things the right way,’ she says. ‘I genuinely thought they would help. But instead all their Catholic views came out. They were horrified.’

The heavy-handed way Amy was dealt with is shocking. ‘The chief social worker, a man, told me I’d have to have the baby, and if I tried to go to England, I’d be arrested for murder, and anyone who helped me would be an accomplice. I could go to jail.’

His threats were unfounded, but Amy walked away terrified.

‘Now I know that was ridiculous, crazy, but at the time I was petrified. It wasn’t like a selfish thing — like I’d got pregnant then changed my mind. The baby wasn’t going to survive. But I was treated like a criminal.

‘We discovered later that the social worker had rung the guards (Irish police) and tried to get them to stop me going. The guards said they couldn’t do that. The passport office said they couldn’t get involved, but the fact they were asked shows how determined Social Services were to stop me. It was cruel. It was wrong.’

Amy said the social workers went to town trying to cause trouble between her and her mother when she went to court. Pictured: Amy with her mother

Amy said the social workers went to town trying to cause trouble between her and her mother when she went to court. Pictured: Amy with her mother

Amy said the social workers went to town trying to cause trouble between her and her mother when she went to court. Pictured: Amy with her mother 

A sympathetic social worker advised Amy and her mother to get a solicitor. ‘I called and explained what was happening,’ Amy recalls.

‘Then suddenly, I was in the High Court. It all happened so fast.’

Amy’s lawyers challenged the right of the local authority to stop her travelling to the UK for an abortion. The legal challenge was timely — Ireland’s abortion laws (some of the most draconian in Western Europe at the time) were already under scrutiny, and this would prove a significant case in shaping public opinion.

Amy found herself at the centre of a legal storm, and woefully ill-equipped to be there.

‘There were hundreds of people. Lawyers in wigs and gowns, journalists, people off the street — it was open court. They couldn’t report my name, but everyone saw me. There were protesters outside. All I saw were people with banners saying “Murderer”. One man tried to pray over me, as he was calling me a murderer. People were shouting about Satan.’

Amy’s life was laid bare — her troubled relationship with her mother, their rows.

‘My mum is my rock now, and she was in court every single day, but the social workers went to town trying to cause trouble between us. They broke down our family and separated me from my mum, at exactly the point I needed her most.’

Amy explained that even before the judge's verdict, she knew that she couldn't go through with travelling to the UK for an abortion. Pictured: Activists in Belfast in 2017

Amy explained that even before the judge's verdict, she knew that she couldn't go through with travelling to the UK for an abortion. Pictured: Activists in Belfast in 2017

Amy explained that even before the judge’s verdict, she knew that she couldn’t go through with travelling to the UK for an abortion. Pictured: Activists in Belfast in 2017 

The government’s defence team argued Amy was not fit to make decisions about her own life, or her unborn child.

‘They were determined to prove I was mad, suicidal,’ she says.

As legal tussles continued over three weeks, her belly swelled. ‘I actually felt her first flutters on my way into court. I started to bond with Jasmine. She wasn’t this thing in my belly any more. She was my baby.’

This is another source of anger — that the legal arguments forced her to bond with a baby who could never live. ‘I didn’t have the option not to love her.’

The court found in Amy’s favour. The judge condemned her treatment, and said she was free to travel to the UK for an abortion. A few days later, now 20 weeks pregnant, Amy was in a Liverpool hospital. But not for an abortion. ‘Even before the verdict I knew I couldn’t go through with that. I’d Googled it, and watched a video. At the stage my pregnancy was at, it would have involved having the baby yanked out of me with forceps. What I saw horrified me.’

She decided on an induced birth. This would involve going through labour and delivering a child who would die shortly afterwards. Her induction was planned, and she prepared to go into labour. In the final scans, however, it became apparent Amy’s baby had died.

Amy said everything changed after her daughter was born, as some neighbours openly supported her. Pictured: Amy and her mother

Amy said everything changed after her daughter was born, as some neighbours openly supported her. Pictured: Amy and her mother

Amy said everything changed after her daughter was born, as some neighbours openly supported her. Pictured: Amy and her mother 

‘There was no heartbeat, but I was about to go into labour, so they didn’t tell me. They knew it would distress me. They told my mum, but kept it from me.’

‘When she was born I don’t remember anything more than being so tired. I went to sleep. Later they told me she’d died inside me. They were very good. They took her fingerprints and footprints, which I am so grateful for, because they are all I have.’

Once home, Amy found everything had changed. Although she hadn’t been identified, ‘everyone knew, or at least knew a part of the story’.

Some neighbours openly supported her, but she felt others ‘still judged’. ‘I felt shame about it. I had this guilty secret, something too taboo to even talk about.’

Yet last year as the movement for abortion reform gathered pace, Amy bravely decided to share her story publicly in Ireland. She was floored by the response. ‘People would come up to me in the street — women, men; couples — telling me their stories.’

She supported the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, allowing abortion in certain circumstances, yet insists she is by no means pro-abortion. ‘I still struggle with it. But I am pro-choice. No one makes these decisions lightly, and you have to live with the decision for the rest of your life.’

Amy revealed she doesn't regret speaking out, although things have been more difficult than they would've been if she stayed under the radar. Pictured: Activists in Belfast in 2019

Amy revealed she doesn't regret speaking out, although things have been more difficult than they would've been if she stayed under the radar. Pictured: Activists in Belfast in 2019

Amy revealed she doesn’t regret speaking out, although things have been more difficult than they would’ve been if she stayed under the radar. Pictured: Activists in Belfast in 2019

Going public also brought problems. She has had to reset social media accounts due to unwelcome messages online. Charges have been brought, in Ireland, against a man she claims broke into her home and harassed her. Court proceedings are active, so she cannot elaborate; suffice to say her notoriety has been a ‘double-edged sword’.

‘Things have been more difficult for me than they would have been, had I just stayed under the radar,’ she says. ‘But I still don’t regret speaking out, because women of my generation have to, to protect the ones coming behind us.’

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about her story is that she found the strength to rebuild her life. The birth of her son gave her a focus.

‘I was terrified all the way through that pregnancy, but when he was born it was the best moment. Having him was the best thing I’ve ever done.’

She did not stay with Adam’s father. ‘We weren’t strong enough to withstand everything that happened,’ she says, but they remain on good terms. And her relationship with her mother is now stronger than ever.

One day she will tell Adam the full story of his sister. Until then, there is a simpler version.

‘I’ve told him Princess Jasmine was my baby too, and now she’s an angel and she’s in Heaven. He’s happy with that, for now.’

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