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Irish doctor says "women will die" if Roe v. Wade overturned in U.S.

Ireland's abortion rights a lesson to U.S.?
Experiences of women in Ireland who couldn't access abortion before 2018 tell of trauma and tragedy 04:35

Dublin, Ireland — Americans are waiting for a final Supreme Court decision that could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling making abortion legal nationwide. If the justices do overturn the 1973 ruling, it would see the U.S. buck the international trend, as other countries have been making the procedure more widely available.

CBS News senior foreign correspondent Holly Williams recently visited Ireland, which is one of those countries, and met Amy Callahan, who shared her own difficult experience.

Callahan is originally from North Carolina but she married an Irishman and has lived in Ireland for 17 years. She was ecstatic when she got pregnant with their second child in 2017, until her 12-week scan.

"The doctor doing the scan got very quiet, and then she turned the screen away and said, 'Is your husband here?'" recalled Callahan. "The top of the baby's skull hadn't formed properly, so the whole brain was outside of the skull… she said… the baby's not going to live."

At most, she was told, the baby would survive a few days after birth. Callahan felt an abortion was the kindest choice.

"I just couldn't imagine how it would work — that you would give birth only to watch the baby die and probably struggle to breathe and probably be in pain," she told CBS News.

Ireland votes to end abortion ban 02:02

But in Ireland in 2017, abortion was illegal in almost all circumstances. Callahan had to travel to England for the procedure. She told Williams she was lucky she could afford to do so, instead of carrying a baby for months that she knew she would never be able to take home.

"I think it's inhumane. To me as a mother, it would have been, but also to the baby. It just seems like an incredibly horrific way to pass away," she said.

Kitty Holland also traveled overseas for an abortion before it was legalized in Ireland. But she told CBS News she did it under pressure from her then partner, and immediately knew she'd made a mistake. 

"Within 24 hours of getting back, I really regretted it," she said. But she also said "it was absolutely my decision to make, my mistake to make. And, yes, my body to make that mistake with."

Regretting abortion, not abortion access 02:42

Holland said that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will be an assault on American women.

"I just think it's such a statement, if you push back on that [abortion rights], of disrespect for women, disrespect for what happens to women," she told Williams. "You have to allow them access to basic things like good abortion care."

Almost 80% of Ireland's population identify as Catholic. The country used to have some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world — so strict that in 2012, when Savita Halappanavar began to miscarry her baby at 17 weeks, she was denied an abortion.

As a result, she developed sepsis, which killed her. Her death fueled angry protests, eventually leading to a national referendum on abortion. With more than two-thirds of voters in support of the change, abortion was finally legalized in Ireland in 2018.

Illegal abortion pills are the only way some women in Northern Ireland can get the procedure 02:38

It was part of a broader trend: Abortion is now widely available in nearly all of Europe. If Roe v. Wade is overturned and some U.S. states ban abortion, even in cases of rape, they'll be joining a club that includes Iraq, Egypt and Nicaragua.

There are still many in Ireland who oppose abortion rights. Activists regularly come out to picket clinics, just as they do in the U.S. But for others in this country, the new laws don't go far enough, and some fear the Catholic Church wants to roll back women's access to abortions.

Abortion is now legal in Ireland in all cases up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and in very limited cases up to 24 weeks.  

Oklahoma passes strict bill banning nearly all abortions 03:17

Dr. Peter Boylan, a retired senior OBGYN in Dublin who's delivered more than 4,000 babies, says women should be free to make the best decision for themselves — whatever their reasons — without any interference from the state.

Williams asked him what advice he'd give to American women facing the prospect of living in a place where abortion could be made illegal.

"Living in a country the size of the United States, and the size of the individual states, where a woman cannot access abortion care, will end up with maternal death. There is no question about that," he said. "Women will die as a consequence of this."

Boylan said that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the poorest women in America — who can't afford to travel outside their states — will suffer the most if they face possible prosecution for having the procedure.

"It's medieval. You know, it's what is supposed to be the greatest democracy in the world," said Boylan. "It's just a tragedy for the United States."

"I think it's a very sad move. There are so many reasons why somebody might want to end a pregnancy," he told Williams. "I don't think that any of us are in a position to judge it, and I don't think the law should be in a position to judge it… I think it's going to have a detrimental effect on women and children."

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