Irish medics say "dangerously unrealistic" January abortion deadline will put women at risk
10 December 2018
Health Minister Simon Harris continues to insist that the January deadline will be met.
One gynaecologist says the rush is "frightening"
The bill that will legalise abortion in Ireland passed the Dail (the lower house) last Thursday. It still has to get through the Seanad (the upper house) before it can be signed off by the president. Health Minister Simon Harris hopes to have this done by the Christmas recess - and have abortion services start on the first of January.
Doctors are warning that this incredibly short implementation period will put women at risk, their protests adding to those of pro-life GPs concerned about the lack of meaningful provisions for the exercise of genuine conscientious objection.
Risks must be addressed
The Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is to hold an Emergency General Meeting, after members called to have the introduction of abortion procedures delayed "because of risks to patient safety due to inadequate preparation." The motion says that the implementation of abortion legislation "cannot" commence next month and "should not take place until these risks are addressed".
Prof Chris Fitzpatrick, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Coombe hospital, who plans to carry out abortions "when it is safe to do so" says that legitimate clinical concerns are being "brushed aside in a frenzied attempt to meet a dangerously unrealistic deadline."
He went on:
It is “frightening” – there is no other word to describe it – to consider that with less than a month to go, there are no agreed models of care, published clinical guidelines or updated Medical Council ethical guidelines, no clarification regarding feticide or failed medical termination presenting beyond 12 weeks, no substantive engagement with paediatricians in relation to life-limiting anomalies, and no satisfactory responses to many other clinical concerns that have been highlighted, time and time again.
Prof Fitzpatrick says that despite the lessons learned from Ireland's recent cervical cancer scandal, "we are on the verge of introducing a new termination of pregnancy service, which, if rushed into operation on January 1st as scheduled, will pose a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of women, precisely for the reasons highlighted by Mr Harris – compounded in addition by inadequate planning and insufficient resources."
Warnings from across the professions
The Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr Rhona Mahony, who campaigned to repeal the Eighth Amendment, said that a full abortion service was unlikely to be ready by January. "At the end of the day it’s very unusual that legislation would be finalised and within days an entire service would be rolled out," she said.
Meanwhile, Dr John O'Brien, President of the Irish College of General Practitioners, sent a stark letter to Mr Harris "expressing strong concerns about the planned implementation of termination of pregnancy services in the community starting on the 1 January 2019." He warned that women having abortions could be put at risk unless a safe service is in in place by the January deadline.
Concerns have also been raised by 500 nurses and midwives, who signed a letter asking Mr Harris to consult with their profession.
Despite all these representatives warning of the risk to women from rushing the implementation, the Health Minister has continued to insist that the "service" will be ready by January, although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was forced to admit today that it will not be immediately available in every hospital.
The insistence on sticking to his political deadline despite even pro-abortion doctors saying it will put women as risk, illustrates very clearly just how little this has to do with women's health.
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