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New abortion guidelines spark condemnation on all sides

TD Mattie McGrath called them “a butcher’s charter”, but fellow TD Ruth Coppinger said women seeking an abortion shouldn’t have to “run a gauntlet” of doctors and bureaucrats.

Image: Abortion via Shutterstock

POLITICIANS AND ACTIVISTS have reacted strongly to new guidelines on how and when abortions may be performed under the 2013 Protection of Life Under Pregnancy Act.

The Department of Health had distributed the advice to clinicians potentially involved in certifying the termination of a pregnancy, but TDs and campaigners on both sides of the abortion debate have been strongly critical.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath has condemned the guidelines as amounting to a “butcher’s charter”, and claimed that the government parties were “deliberately providing for the legal ending of a child’s life days from birth.”

The guidelines have been circulating among health professionals such as psychiatrists, obstetricians and GPs, and set out the terms under which a woman may have a termination certified.

The Irish Times reported on Thursday that the legislation requires:

  • that a woman’s life be in real danger, either for physical reasons, or due to suicidal intentions
  • that only an abortion could avoid that risk
  • that supervising clinicians had properly considered “the need to preserve unborn human life where practicable.”

Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger said such requirements would force women to “run a gauntlet of doctors and bureaucracy to access an abortion.”

“The idea that suicidal women would be left waiting for referrals etc. is totally unacceptable when the time sensitivity of the decision to terminate a pregnancy…is taken into account,” she added.

The guidelines also state that where a psychiatrist, having met with a pregnant woman, is of the view that she is suicidal and only a termination will avoid her suicide, the psychiatrist will certify that conclusion.

If a second psychiatrist agrees that a woman’s suicidal intentions pose a risk to her life, her case will be forwarded to an obstetrician/gynaecologist for the termination to take place.

Pro-life Campaign Deputy Chairperson Cora Sherlock condemned this section of the guidelines, claiming they would allow two “like-minded psychiatrists” to “sign the life of an unborn baby away.”

This could be done, Sherlock claimed, “without a shred of medical evidence that it would help save the life of the mother.”

According to the guidelines, however, the legislation – which came into force on 1 January – would not force health professionals with a “conscientious objection” to take part in a termination.

This allowance risked being abused by doctors, according to Coppinger, and contributed to what she called the “narrowness” of the legislation.

The “conscientious objection” dispensation would not apply, however, where the risk to the life of a pregnant woman was deemed to be “immediate.”

More than 3,500 women from Ireland travelled to the UK for abortions last year>

Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act to come into force on 1 January>

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Dan MacGuill

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