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Referendum debate continues, with worrying questions about the implications for healthcare professionals

By editor - 06 May, 2018

“If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, it will have on impact on both the general public and those of us working in the health sector,” says one nurse, as Ciara Ferry continues her reports on the referendum debate over the past week.

Healthcare continued to be a watchword this week as both Yes and No sides of the campaign tried to engage as many voters as possible before 25 May. Healthcare professionals were making their voices heard, as groups of doctors and nurses spoke about their aim of providing real, compassionate healthcare to all of their patients, in the womb or out.

Eilish Butler, a nurse who works in Cork, told Choose Life that she is concerned at how healthcare professionals will be affected if the Eighth Amendment is removed.

“The possibility of unrestricted abortion access up to 12 weeks is a major concern for me and many other nurses on the wards. We are shocked, and nervous, that abortion could be available in Ireland up to full term of pregnancy in some instances.

“Science shows us the humanity of the unborn child. A unique human life begins at conception. Our gender, fingerprints, freckles, eye colour and blood type are determined at that moment.

At present doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals work to protect the lives and health of their two patients, mother and baby. If the Eighth Amendment is repealed, it will have on impact on both the general public and those of us working in the health sector.”

Concerns were also raised at an event organised by a group of midwives and nurses calling for a No vote about the clause in the proposed legislation dealing with conscientious objections. Many in the healthcare sector have expressed concerns that if abortions are carried out in Irish hospitals, nurses, doctors and midwives – among other staff – would be obliged to participate in the procedures. The legislations set out by the government states that those with a conscientious objection may make provision for patients seeking abortions to be “transferred” to another caregiver to facilitate their abortion.

Mary Kelly Fitzgibbon of Nurses for Life says that this would violate the consciences of many in the field: “That would mean that we would be co-operating in the act of abortion … It’s quite clear in the general scheme of the legislation that we would be required to facilitate [abortion]. For many of us, because that is against our core belief of upholding the right to life of both the mother and baby, we could no longer practice. So that has real implications.”

She also cited a case in Scotland in 2014, when two Catholic midwives were told by the UK’s highest court that they would not be exempt from supervising staff that were performing terminations. They had objected on conscientious grounds, but were told that their right to object covered only the direct provision of abortion. The implications for Irish healthcare professionals are clear, especially in an already over-stretched system.

In a similar event held by the Irish Doctors for Life group, Dr Andrew O’Regan, whose appearance on the Late Late Show debate was welcomed by pro-life supporters, drew attention to the government’s proposal for the legislation to be implemented post repeal. Despite the many attempts to shy away from it by pro-choice campaigners, the reality of the intended result of abortion is clearly spelled out early on in the document: “termination of pregnancy means a medical procedure which is intended to end the life of the foetus.”

Dr O’Regan summed up the feelings of many in the sector as he continued: “Not medicine, not healthcare, and not of any benefit to anybody. And we are going to be expected to do this.”

As the debate wears on and the picture of an Ireland that would embrace the abortion culture becomes ever more defined, healthcare professionals are not the only ones who don’t know what they are hearing. This week, Prime Time attempted to get at just that question – what will repealing the Eighth Amendment really mean for Ireland?

The video shown before the debate of Mary Butler and Josepha Madigan emphasised the fact that the proposed legislation is just that: suggested, and not in any way set in stone. The public won’t be asked to vote on that specific document, but rather on the simple question of retaining the Eighth Amendment, the only remaining legal protection for the unborn, or removing it and allowing the Oireachtas to legislate for the provision of abortion.

Campaigners for a No vote have been warning for weeks that a Yes vote means handing over control on the issue of abortion completely to politicians. With copies of old letters pledging support to the pro-life agenda written by politicians who were on the local election campaign trail (including Simon Harris) doing the rounds of the internet this week, No campaigners are not intending to put their trust in that illustrious body lightly.

That said, the No side was heartened this week as more than half of the parliamentary party of Fianna Fáil came out in support of a No vote. Prominent among them was Mary Butler, the Waterford TD who was seen on Prime Time on Thursday night, where she emphasised that “we’re not going to be asked to vote on the special cases. We’re being asked to remove the constitutional protection of the unborn child.”

The Prime Time segment, along with the proposed legislation, has made one thing very clear: when the campaign rhetoric is set aside, the choice we will be faced with on 25 May is simply Yes or No to abortion in Ireland. Thousands across the country continue to appeal for a No vote, so that Ireland can say Yes to real support, compassion and healthcare for mothers, Yes to every child, and Yes to Life.

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