In 2004, Helen Linehan terminated a pregnancy she had conceived with her husband, IT Crowd/Father Ted creator Graham Linehan, after discovering that the fetus had acrania and could not survive for more than an hour after the birth. As sad as the occasion was, the pair were more traumatised when the moved to Ireland shortly after and discovered that if Helen had had her abortion there, she'd have faced 16 years in prison.
Ireland has one of Europe's most backwards abortion laws. Under Irish law, women must carry fetuses to term, even fetuses resulting from rape and incest, even nonviable fetuses, even when the mother's life is endangered. Women who leave the country to have an abortion abroad risk arrest, forced pregnancy, and long prison sentences.
There is a large and growing movement to protect a woman's right to choose in Ireland. The Linehans' collaboration with Amnesty International resulted in a powerful short film that brings the issue home in a way that's impossible to ignore.
“In Ireland, Helen would be a criminal to have undergone the termination. She would have had to carry the child knowing it would die in great pain shortly after she had given birth to it,” he said. “I have always been very proud to be Irish but I am embarrassed by Ireland’s abortion laws. This is just something you can’t be proud of. It’s barbaric.”
Graham and Helen have collaborated with Amnesty on a short campaign film calling on the Irish government to repeal the eighth amendment of the constitution, which puts the foetus’s right to life on the same footing as a woman’s.
Helen said she was prompted to make the film by a sense of outrage at how she could have been criminalised for a difficult decision had she not been living in England at the time. She would have found it very hard to have been forced to carry a baby to term in the knowledge that it was going to die as soon as it was born.
“It would have been life-changing. To endure the full-term pregnancy, and to come home empty-handed and with the physical changes that come with pregnancy – it would have been awful. I don’t know how I would I have got through that, mentally or physically,” she said.
How heartbreak led Helen and Graham Linehan to campaign for abortion in Ireland [Amelia Gentleman/The Guardian]