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Proposals for six-person abortion panel 'ridiculous' and 'a sick joke', says expert

One of Ireland’s three perinatal psychiatrists slams reports that a pregnant woman may need to be evaluated by a panel of six people in order for an abortion to be permitted.

Dr Anthony McCarthy:
Dr Anthony McCarthy: "If she's pregnant, somehow the implication now here is, 'I don't believe you. You're being manipulative.'"
Image: Oireachtas screengrab

ONE OF ONLY three perinatal psychiatrists in Ireland has slammed reports that a panel of six doctors would be asked to assess a pregnant woman before deciding whether she could be given an abortion.

Dr Anthony McCarthy rubbished the plans, as reported in yesterday’s Sunday Times, as “ridiculous”, “a sick joke”, and “abusive” to any woman who may seek an abortion.

“It can only have been designed by – or thought about, even – by people who really do not understand how doctors work,” Dr McCarthy said this morning.

The proposals had been earmarked to be brought to tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting – but are now thought to have been put back because of disagreement between Fine Gael and Labour about the extent of the medical oversight needed to approve an abortion.

The plans had reportedly included a clause requiring two obstetricians and four psychiatrists- including one perinatal psychiatrist - to assess a woman seeking an abortion. Ireland only has three such psychiatrists, all three of whom are based in Dublin.

“There being three perinatal psychiatrists in the country, the idea that with our busy schedules – already overworked, already overburdened, trying to fit in emergencies all the time – would drop everything to assess women in circumstances like this is completely impractical,” Dr McCarthy told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“It would be an abuse of women,” he said, attacking the proposal of asking women to attend “an inquisition” where they would have to tell their story to six different medical professionals.

“It’s truly idiotic,” he said.

McCarthy, who is based at the National Maternity Hospital on Holles Street, said Ireland had been working to destigmatise mental health issues – an attempt that would be undermined if pregnant women had to see six different people to convince them of a suicidal risk.

If she’s pregnant, somehow the implication now here is, ‘I don’t believe you. You’re being manipulative. Now you may be lying. I’m going to bring you to six people to tell your story.’

When I first heard it yesterday I thought it was almost a sick joke. I began to wonder: where are we in Ireland?

Women will go abroad to escape ‘inquisition’

McCarthy gave evidence to the Oireachtas health committee hearings on abortion earlier this year, when he said suicidal women were unlikely to go through the Expert Group’s recommended process of seeing three medical professionals – instead simply travelling to Britain for an abortion.

This morning he said that while it was true to state that abortion was never a treatment for suicidal thoughts, there would be some suicidal women who would rather seek an abortion abroad than go through a process where they would see six medical professionals.

By discouraging those women from entering the Irish process, they were less likely to engage with Irish mental health professionals and receive the treatment they needed, he said.

While there would always be some pregnant women who still believe an abortion was “the right solution”, even after being seen by a perinatal psychiatrist, they would never receive the correct treatment if they preferred to travel to Britain than be seen by an Irish doctor.

“If we put them through a process where someone cannot be listened to, or see this inquisition in front of them, they’re going to come nowhere near us,” he said.

Read: Rabbitte: Labour ministers “haven’t seen” draft abortion bill

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Gavan Reilly

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