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Harris says all maternity hospitals 'should be in a position' to offer abortion services after Kilkenny medics letter

Doctors at St Luke’s wrote in a letter that they’d decided the hospital “is not an appropriate location for medical or surgical terminations”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris
Minister for Health Simon Harris
Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said that it is the policy of the Department of Health that all 19 maternity hospitals in Ireland should be in a position to provide termination of pregnancy services, following a letter sent by four doctors at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny last week.

Harris said he had asked his officials to engage with the HSE over this letter, where the doctors said that abortions should not be offered at the hospital. 

In that letter sent to the Ireland East Hospital Group chief executive, it said the four consultant obstetricians at St Luke’s had “decided unanimously that the hospital is not an appropriate location for medical or surgical terminations”. 

It added: “In the event of professional and values training of staff willing to participate in such procedures, the hospital remains an unsuitable location for these services.”

There are currently nine maternity hospitals in the country which don’t yet offer termination of pregnancy services. Abortion services are available up to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy without restrictions, but only available in certain circumstances after that. 

In the first instance, a woman seeking a termination presents to her GP and it is often the case in the first trimester that a surgical abortion in a hospital is not necessary. In a case where a surgical abortion is necessary, the woman is referred to a hospital for treatment. 

Groups such as Doctors for Choice criticised the letter from the St Luke’s obstetricians, saying that it was an “entirely unacceptable institutional objection” and called on Minister Harris to address the issue.

Harris replied on Twitter to say “I’m on it”, and a spokesperson for the minister told TheJournal.ie this evening that additional resources have been allocated to provide for the termination of pregnancy services this year, including at St Luke’s. 

The spokesperson said: “It is acknowledged that 10 out of 19 maternity hospitals/units are providing the full service.

However, the HSE has advised that additional units are expected to begin providing termination of pregnancy services in the coming months. However, it is the Department of Health’s policy that all nineteen maternity hospitals should be in a position to provide termination of pregnancy services under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018.

So far, 325 GPs have signed up to offer abortion services in a community setting. 

With reporting from Christina Finn

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