By Ann Marie Foley - 23 September, 2018
The welfare of unborn children has been disregarded by the Oireachtas Health Committee into clinical guidelines on abortion, according to Senator Rónán Mullen.
Senator Mullen said no sooner was the ink was dry on the President’s signature, signalling the end of the Eighth Amendment, when some were already working to “radicalise the abortion legislation and diminish even further any possible protection for unborn children”.
Representatives of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (IOG), the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and the Medical Council addressed the Oireachtas Health Committee on 19 September. These organisations expressed concern about the time constraints and resources available to implement abortion law by January 2019.
Senator Mullen raised concerns in particular about the “cooling off” period which he said was in danger. “Oireachtas colleagues and leading members of the medical profession were saying the three-day ‘cooling off’ period, the only token restriction included in the Government’s abortion proposals, should be abandoned altogether.”
“They refused to acknowledge the possibility that a short delay might have a beneficial effect by saving the lives of some unborn children,” Senator Mullen said. While the unborn child no longer enjoys constitutional rights, he added that the Oireachtas has been given full freedom to try to prevent abortions and to insert safeguards in an effort to discourage abortion.
However, during Wednesday’s meeting it became clear that many of those politicians and medics who campaigned for the referendum “view even the slightest restriction on abortion as something to be resisted”, he said.
On 21 September Health Minister Simon Harris said he expects the law to be implemented from January 2019, saying Irish women have been waiting 35 years for abortion. The country’s health services will be sufficiently resourced to provide abortion, he added.
Mr Harris said it was not unusual in many countries to have a period of waiting between a first and second visit to the doctor, adding that when the three-day “cooling off” period might start was a matter to be discussed with doctors. But he acknowledged that this was a component of the debate in the lead up to the referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment. He said that it will be in the legislation which is expected to be put before Cabinet next week.
The ICGP and IOG stated at Wednesday’s meeting that they found no evidence to support a “cooling off” period and that there is some suggestion from the World Health Organisation that is harmful “in and of itself”. However, Mr Harris said that while the need for two consultations might pose difficulties, the consultation between a GP and a patient on a termination of pregnancy should not be rushed and she should be given time to articulate her concerns and wishes.
Dr John O’Brien, president of the Irish College of General Practitioners, expressed concern this week around issues of capacity, not just for abortion, but for all healthcare. He said that two surveys found that many GP practices are now closed to new patients, and that patients can face considerable waits for appointments.
Dr O’Brien said there were three cohorts of GPs: those who want to offer abortion services; those who have a conscientious objection to providing the; and a larger cohort in the middle who are completely booked out and reluctant to take on more work. He concluded that there will be capacity problems introducing abortion.
Senator Mullen had also highlighted the concerns of doctors’ organisations about capacity to provide abortion.
“There was also unanimous agreement among representatives of the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that the Irish hospital system and GP network is totally unprepared to handle the estimated 12,000 abortions per year which will be performed under the new legislation. They gave little indication that the necessary funding, equipment and personnel could be in place for the introduction of abortion services next January.”
Senator Mullen called on the Government to explain why the introduction of abortion is being rushed without the proper infrastructure in place.