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Eighth Amendment

"Why has she not gone abroad? Why would she do that to herself?"

At today’s Citizens’ Assembly, psychiatrist Anthony McCarthy expressed amazement that any woman would subject herself to the ordeal of obtaining a pregnancy termination in Ireland.

shutterstock_521566186 Shutterstock / Klahan Shutterstock / Klahan / Klahan

ONE OF THE speakers addressing today’s meeting of the Citizens’ Assembly has professed surprise that a woman in Ireland would subject herself to the ordeal of qualifying for a pregnancy termination via Ireland’s only abortion law.

Today’s meeting at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, north Dublin, was just the second time the Assembly has met, with the subject of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution the topic up for discussion.

Speakers included Supreme Court judge and chair of today’s meeting Mary Laffoy, and Professor John Higgins of Cork University Maternity Hospital.

Professor Anthony McCarthy, consultant psychiatrist at the National Maternity Hospital and one of the people charged with confirming or denying suicidal ideation in a pregnant woman with regard to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, meanwhile said that from his point of view he could not understand why a woman would try to obtain a termination in Ireland.

Three people, two psychiatrists and an obstetrician, must agree that a woman is at risk of death by suicide in order for the Act to be implemented.

mccarthy Professor Anthony McCarthy

“You need a case of a woman with an unwanted pregnancy, who is depressed, who wants a termination, and who thinks that a termination will alleviate her depression, and only in all those circumstances can the Act even be thought about applying,” McCarthy said in his address to the Assembly this afternoon.

If all three of the professionals involved agree then a termination can happen. This applies to a tiny amount of women.
And then you ask yourself: ‘Why has she not gone abroad? Why has she put herself through this?’

McCarthy quoted statistics saying that just six such terminations have happened in Ireland since the implementation of the controversial act in the wake of the death of Savita Halappanavar at University Hospital Galway in October 2012.

“There were three such terminations last year, and three the year before,” he said.

There have only ever been three appeals and only one of those was one of the six terminations mentioned.

Professor McCarthy said that when the Act was implemented there were national worries “that women would be presenting to psychiatrists, and looking up on the internet on how to fool psychiatrists”.

“That hasn’t happened. It was never likely to happen,” he said.

The majority of women carrying unwanted pregnancies are not suicidal – they may just decide to terminate by travelling to the UK or elsewhere or by ordering tablets on the internet.
The vast majority of women in such a situation are depressed but not suicidal. Likewise the vast majority of women with suicidal ideation do not want to die. Their pregnancy may be a small part of it, but they don’t want to die.

McCarthy added that suicide does occasionally occur during pregnancy in Ireland (“approximately once every four years”), and that “not too many psychiatrists in Ireland want to be involved” when it comes to assessing suicidal ideation.

“This is a highly charged issue, it’s highly political,” he added.

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email

  • National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email – (suicide, self-harm)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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