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Eighth Amendment

26 psychiatrists write to Simon Harris with concerns about Eighth legislation

The letter states that it was misleading for the government to “continually present abortion as a form of ‘treatment’.”

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A NUMBER OF consultant psychiatrists have written a letter to Minister for Health Simon Harris outlining their concerns for abortion for mental health reasons.

The letter, signed by 26 consultants, states that it was misleading for the government to “continually present abortion as a form of ‘treatment’.”

“This is not healthcare, but something else entirely,” the letter said.

As consultant psychiatrists, it is the so-called ‘mental health’ ground that particularly concerns us because we know from official UK statistics that 97% of the almost 200,000 abortions which occur annually in the UK take place under the ‘mental health’ ground.
In fact, these abortions are almost always for socio-economic reasons, something the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution itself admits in its report published last December.

The Eighth Amendment Committee heard from Dr Patricia Lohr, Medical Director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who told its members BPAS has been providing abortion care to women from Ireland since 1968.

“There is little difference between the reasons why women from Ireland present compared to those from the UK – they will be diverse and multifaceted, involving financial hardship, knowledge that her family is complete, inadequate partner or family support, domestic violence, or simply feeling they are not in the position to care for a baby at that point in their lives,” she said.

Today’s letter said that psychiatrists were concerned that the mental health ground clause would be used as a justification for abortion beyond 12 weeks, comparing it to the situation in the UK.

The draft legislation proposed by the Health Minister Simon Harris is not the same as what is law in the UK. Head 4 of the General Scheme of a Bill deals with terminations after 12 weeks.

It states:

It shall be lawful to carry out a termination of pregnancy in accordance with this Head where two medical practitioners certify that, in their reasonable opinion formed in good faith:
  • “There is a risk to the life of, or serious harm to the health of, the pregnant woman,
  • the foetus has not reached viability, and
  • it is appropriate to carry out the termination of pregnancy in order to avert that risk.”

Of the two medical practitioners, one would be an obstetrician. The second would be a practitioner appropriate to the situation – in this case where there would be a risk to life or serious risk to health, it would be a psychiatrist.

The two doctors would have to agree that all three of the above conditions were being met.

One of the 26 signatories to the letter sent to Harris, Prof Patricia Casey, told journalists today that of the major textbooks for psychiatry, none suggested that there were any “psychiatric grounds for abortion”.

Casey also quoted two studies – one by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and another by Fergusson et al – that showed that abortion had no “therapeutic effects in reducing mental health risks”.

Casey was one of the medical experts invited by the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment, but pulled out before her appearance because she felt that her evidence would have been ignored.

She said she’d felt as though she was being invited to speak “as a fig leaf” so that committee members could claim that it had heard evidence from both sides.

The Committee has been accused of being biased a number of times – its chairperson Senator Catherine Noone has denied those accusations.

Casey said that she contacted around 60 consultant psychiatrists about the letter, and of that number 26 were signatories. She claimed that a further 20 agreed with the sentiment of the letter, but didn’t want to sign it.

There are around 150 psychiatrists on the Medical Directory she said, and she estimated that there were around 200-300 consultant psychiatrists in Ireland.

Doctors for Yes, a group of medics campaigning for a the Eighth Amendment to be repealed, have 1,124 doctors on their list of supporters. Of those, 82 are listed under the psychiatry discipline.

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